Ask Sonny Anything… Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary

Ask Sonny Anything is a recurring feature where our readers pose questions to the great Sonny Osborne, one half of the iconic Osborne Brothers who redefined bluegrass music in the 1960s, and noted banjo maven and collector of fine prewar instruments. Everyone is encouraged to pose queries of your own each week in the comments, about his history in the music, his wealth of banjo knowledge, or regarding any life advice you might be needing.

Mr. Sonny.
I was associated with Nashville when it was a farm town and the music was hillbilly music. In the early ’50s through the ’70s it was fun. If you have watched the Ken Burns documentary on country music, tell us what is your opinion. I ask this because you have been a member of that group of people from the Grand Ole Opry for a long long time, and I thought maybe you would have some inside opinions, good and bad.
Thank you
Walter B.


Walter…Thank you for your time.

I have been a Nashville guy since 1964 as a member of the Opry when it was the Opry. And before that since 1952. Back when hillbilly/country artists drew people to the Grand Ole Opry. Difference is now the Grand Ole Opry name draws the crowds. The music then was magic. Now it is everything but. The quality of music from the Opry has diminished. It began its decline somewhere around 1990. Management and music.

Ken Burns Documentary of Country Music History.

Well, what can I say… I guess the truth as I see it. I didn’t watch it, and won’t. These things all are just about the same. I have been told that the early days, including The Grand Ole Opry, was really good and informative, but then the people in between the beginning, which is all about the music, and the last 30 years, were forgotten for the most part, and in my way of thinking, therein lies the real history of country music. I can’t see how Haggard breaking out of (jail), (prison), 17 times, or Jones not showing up, takes precedence over the folks who are what this is supposed to be all about. I thought it was about THE HISTORY OF COUNTRY MUSIC, not the screwups all these people did. When, and I repeat, I WAS TOLD, OTHER THAN A MENTION (IF EVEN THAT), left out were artists like The Browns, Conway Twitty, Barbara Mandrell, The Oak Ridge Boys, Bill Carlisle, George Stait, Sonny James… I could go on perhaps 30-50 names who deserved to be in the history, hell they ARE the history. Sounds like I have a problem with everything. NOT TRUE. I love John Deere, Cadillac, Toyota, Boston Red Sox, Kentucky Wildcats Basketball, lotta things, nature, wild animals, all things God put life into their bodies. Squirrels, rabbits, birds…not snakes though.


Dear Mr. Osborne,

Did you notice that an increasing number of banjo pickers of the bluegrass scene have no rod cover on their banjo’s peghead? Is this just a fad or do you know is there any serious technical reason to it?

Charlie S.

Charlie, Welcome.

I have noticed some pretty good players don’t put a truss rod cover on their banjo. Two reasons come to mind, and they are not going to be flattered with my response. Their neck is not made very well and needs constant adjustment. So to keep from removing those two little screws they just leave it off. Not saying that’s the case here but it could be a reason. I always used Frank Neat necks and they don’t require constant bow adjustment. The other reason is, they lost the plastic black cover, and they don’t want to shell out $40 for a pretty mother pearl cover. I always went for the pearl cover, even on the 400 Chief banjos that are out there. So to answer your question Charles…$money, lazy, or don’t care enough for appearance.

Come back and see us now, heah?



A couple months back you mentioned growing up on a farm. I’d like to hear more about that, if you’re willing to share.

Allan W.

Alan, glad you could make it. Welcome. I didn’t actually GROW UP on a farm, but my home from the age of 8 to 14 was on a farm. My parents owned a 40 acre farm about 5 miles West of Dayton Ohio, in Jefferson, TWP. (Township) Actually on Olt Road. I went to Jefferson Twp High School through the 9th grade at which time I became a Blue Grass Boy during the summer break. My Dad worked at NCR in Dayton and after Bobby left, I worked as hard on that farm as anyone else. From the time I was 11 years old, I would work until late and after my Dad went to bed, I would get my Kay, then later RB-100 and sit on the back porch in a swing and play until 5:00 a.m. then run upstairs and get under the cover cause he would come and check on me. On the weekends I would sit out there 12-15 hours and practice. I realized much later just how good I had it. When I became a Blue Grass Boy I learned what real life was all about. Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Charlie Cline, and Bessie Mauldin. Definitely not your normal family combo, but it is what it is. Need I say more?


I watched your appearance on the awards show and wondered about the white sox. Was that some kind of protest? And, Tell me what your thoughts were when you were giving your Bill Emerson induction speech.

Thank you
Robert B

Robert…good name. My Father’s name.

The White sox was definitely a protest. Protesting ME for being stupid enough that I didn’t bring black sox with me. I want to thank Lincoln, Josh, and brother Johnny Gooding each for offering to loan me a pair of their black sox, but I refused. I deserved to be laughed at. You noticed the wheel chair. I’m having knee surgery soon and I don’t walk very well. Larry Stephenson brought me to and from Nashville in his bus, and he (Larry), Derek Vaden, Lincoln Hensley, Josh and Johnny Gooding, and Red Jones wheeled me around during the time I was there. I can never thank them enough. If not for them I would not have been there.

You must remember I had been over that speech a hundred times so I knew it, and that allowed my mind to wander without getting lost. My thoughts? Off to my left about 15 feet was a band of very unprofessional, uncaring, disrespectful (musicians) people. I wish I could put a line through the word musicians, but my computer won’t do that. Obviously unaware of the most important part of the show which was going on about 17 feet to their right. Oblivious to the fact they were causing a major distraction and disturbance. BE QUIET. A constant roar was coming from these amateurs…whoever they were. So next, where were the stage managers and why didn’t they come out and shut them down? I was told by several who were in the audience that they heard it, Lincoln, who wheeled me out there and standing right behind me, heard it. It didn’t really bother my job, I’ve been around the block several times and I know how to just block it out. But I can see where that could be a disaster.

That’s what I was thinking while I was presenting the highest honor IBMA can offer to a most deserving Gentleman, and my almost lifelong friend, BILL EMERSON.


Dear Sonny,

Talk about your modes of transportation over the years, and who was the better driver, you or Bobby? I heard from a very reliable source it was you. Is that true?

Lawrence S

Hey Lawrence. Not many guys named Lawrence. Lawrence Waltman owned Sunset Park back in the day. I called him and several others whose name was Lawrence…called them Larnce cause that’s how they said it back in Hyden, or over on Thousand Sticks. Leslie County, Kentucky. Bobby and I drove a 35 Ford in Knoxville after I wrecked his new 54 Plymouth. Enos Johnson had a 40 Chrysler we used to go to dates. I had a 51 Ford in Detroit, Bobby had a 53 Buick we used on dates. Jimmy Martin had a 50 Ford that would run when he wanted it to. Our next vehicle for traveling was a 51 Cadillac Limo, Ray Anderson bought The Louvins 56 Cadillac Limo that we used. We went through a 59 Cadillac, 61 Chevrolet Greenbrier, 63 Greenbrier, 63 Cadillac, 65 Cadillac. Then we moved down to a bus. A 47 GMC. I lose count right in there. In 1982 we bought a 72 Silver Eagle Bus…had it all decked out with bathroom, 5 bunks and 2 rooms. Kept it for 23 years. Benny Birchfield drove for a couple years, Raymond Huffmaster drove us for 10 years and Bobby and I drove us for the rest of that time. My last couple years we leased buses. The best drivers I’ve ever been associated with is a tie with Larry Stephenson, Benny, and Raymond. However I would lean toward Raymond because he took care of our bus as it was his own. Between Bobby and I….I drove a lot more. I better not go into that any further, Bobby is an old Marine and where I can’t, he can still kick pretty hard, especially with a hatchet.

Thank you Larnce. Join us any time.

If you have something you would like to ask Sonny, be sure to post it in the comments below, or send it to us directly.

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About the Author

Sonny Osborne

Surely among the most influential banjo players of all time, Sonny Osborne has dedicated his life to bluegrass music, and the five string banjo. For 50 years he toured with his brother, Bobby, as The Osborne Brothers and were one of the top acts in bluegrass and country music in the 1960s and '70s. He retired in 2005 but remains active in the banjo world with the manufacture and distribution of his Chief banjos.