Ask Sonny Anything… let’s talk about Little Roy Lewis

Good morning Chief!

Hey, looks like Larry just pulled up in the bus. Put on your warmest coat and galoshes (that’s Southern for fur lined Birkenstocks) and take these questions/comments with you from your fans and friends. Enjoy the ride and let us know how it went.

BTW, we’re heading back to the ’50s today, so your iPhone won’t do you any good if you need to text Judy about dinner.


Hey Terry…Beings we’re going back, how ’bout getting ole Lawrence to pick up Derek and Nick. See if Aynsley, Lincoln, and Professor Dan would want to see where we used to fill all 9300 seats, St. Louis, MO. Old Kiel Auditorium…or rather the spot where it was til 1992…where Waylon Jennings sneaked up behind me and whispered to me, “Trust not a man who talks through hair.” He hadn’t seen my facial hair till that day. Lord, the memories. What would we do without ‘um? St. Louis is only bout 400 miles. Larry’s got that series 60 in his bus and man, it will go yonder!


Roger that. Mr. Peabody, you heard the Chief…



I have been a big fan of bluegrass and you and your brother as long as I can remember. Thank you. I grew up and still live in the Detroit area, and would like to hear more about your times/experiences in Detroit. Really love the stories, thank you!

Doug G.


Doug the Detroit man….had some fun times in Detroit. Thank you Doug, for sharing a few minutes with us. First went to Detroit as a member of The Blue Grass Boys…bout 1952 or 53. I remember that there had been a tornado, and where we were going was pretty much leveled, except a church and it hadn’t been touched. We came back to Detroit in August ’54 till August ’55. Lived on St. Jean, about 3 blocks off Mack Ave. Me, Bobby, and Jimmy Martin joined the Casey Clark Lazy Ranch Boys Jamboree show held at 12101 Mack Ave.

Casey had a very top notch band. Good band. Buddy Emmons played steel, Hoppy Hopkins guitar, Herb Williams, Brownie, Dick Cobb played piano. That guy could play true banjo licks on the piano. Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Flint Hill Special were no problem. He got every note too. Only guy I ever saw do that. He also had perfect pitch. Hum a note, he could tell you what it was..G, A, C#…Dude could play some piano too…also if it was not on pitch, flat or sharp.

I watched Buddy Emmons come undone when he saw Earl play Flint Hill Special. I’d been telling him about Earl, and he didn’t believe me ’till that day. Cobo Hall was another place like Kiel in St Louis.

I completely lost Doug’s question…let me see hyer….Oh yeah…Cobo is where Liberace’s brother George came to hear Hank Snow and a few others. He also just came to hang out and shoot the s… with us hillbilly people. Like not playing, just standing back stage at the Opry in full dress, George came to Cobo in FULL STAGE ATTIRE. Looked like he was ready to go on with Ray Charles…or some such! We did a Sal Hepatica commercial, got standing ovations for singing “SLOWLY” and enjoyed doing CKLW TV in Windsor, and of course WJR. 50,000 watts of power in Detroit.



Sonny, I want to tell you that I am really enjoying this column each week.

The Osborne Brothers and the Lewis Family used to play at a school here in Winston Salem, NC each year. Please let us know about those shows, the Lewis Family and Little Roy.

Thanks again.
Dean S.

Dean, welcome. Thank you. Originally, that show was either them or us who had it first. Next year requesting the other join the show. Enjoyed the times we worked with the Lewis Family. That was a good show…good mixture. They went on first and just destroyed the crowd…then we tried to follow them…of course, the reasoning for this timing was so Little Roy Lewis JR could come out and mess with us…which he did lots. It was all in fun and entertaining like no other for the audience.

I remember so many things…many I have told you about…and I hate to keep telling them over…it’s hard to remember which ones I have told already. I’ll try to press on though. You ask, I’ll tell. I know.

This actually happened. Roy Lewis is one hell of a bus driver. So, now remember I might not have these cities right but the deed is correct. We’ll just say they were coming out of Oklahoma, or Texas. Winter time. Late November, colder than a well digger’s… in January.

So they’re headed for Myrtle Beach. Roy is going along at a safe speed, it might have some slick spots, so he’s careful and he starts across this 200 foot bridge. Common knowledge tells us that ice will freeze on a bridge before anywhere else. But the road is dry and as soon as he hits the bridge the bus starts slipping…woah..sideways. It’s turning and amidst holler’n and shout’n he realizes the bus is going to make a complete turn. 360°…(I bet you’re wondering how I did that. Thank you Judy)

Folks he’s on solid ice in a 45ft. 40,000-50,000lb bus and it’s probably going at least 40 mph. It came full circle and still headed the way they were going. They made it to Myrtle Beach and when he told me about this thing that happened, I just looked at my little friend standing here and I remember the feeling I had. Had it been me I would have been so scared, and I realized he must have been that scared too.

Once in Davenport, Iowa… 2:00-3:00 a.m., cold and pitch dark. Every inside and outside light on the bus went out. Headlights, interior lights, everything. I’m doing about 75 mph and I still had air for the brakes. I literally stood up on that pedal. 20-30 seconds later everything came back on. I was scared. For me, who or what I hit, and for the men on that bus with me. Roy had to be that scared. I felt so sorry for him.



Hi Sonny. Longtime O’Bros fan here. I have recently learned that my Morgan ancestors come from Hardy Bottom/Stinnett/Wendover, KY. The Osborne Brothers Pavilion sits at the entrance to territory that my Morgan ancestors settled in the early 1800s. This is all news to me, and pretty exciting stuff. Friends often joke that I “try to make us kin.” Did you know of any Morgans from the area coming up, and were any of them musicians? Thanks for your time, and for this great article. I look forward to it every Friday.

Roscoe Morgan Jr.

Roscoe…thank you for jumping right on in here. Man, I wish I could help out but I can’t. I remember hearing my parents mention the Morgan name, and my wife has done some extensive genealogy studies and she too remembers the name being mentioned by my parents, but neither of us knows who, what, when, nor where. We’ll keep trying though. I’m, sorry. I will mention this bit though, Mary Breckinridge, who started the Frontier Nursing Service, built it, and I came and stayed in her house in Wendover…you mentioned Wendover.



Sonny, I’m a long time fan and admirer of your very unique style of 3 Fanger Banjer pickin’… I appreciate the parameters established by Mr. Scruggs, but also delight in those – like yourself – that have crafted a unique style from within those parameters. 🙂 BTW, this column is serving to highlight some things that have never been published and once it ceases some incredible stories will perish with it. Long live Ask Sonny Anything!!

That being said, I am also a big fan of Little Roy Lewis. In my view, he too has developed a most unique style (that is immediately recognizable) from within the strict parameters of the Scruggs method. My question is this; what is your opinion of Little Roy Lewis as a musician (not necessarily the entertainer). I know that the “Brothers” have shared the stage with “The Family” and Little Roy on many, many occasions. I would love to hear your honest assessment… and perhaps a story or three about your appearances with Little Roy. Thanks again for the time and effort you put into this column!

Terry E. K.

Terry EK…thank you for your time and know that it’s appreciated.

You made some very complimentary statements concerning my banjo playing. Well, sorry to say I don’t play at all since 2003, but what you have said makes an old man feel mighty good. I thank you for that. Bless you.

Little Roy’s banjo style is the most unique. It’s not so much different than anything else you may hear, but what he hears and plays is very different, in that it fit the Lewis Family’s choice of songs and the way a 5 string banjo is made, or forced to fit that style of vocals. That in turn will tend to make The Lewis Family sound different than any other that I’ve heard..Roy has a very fast right hand and he just simply plays their songs.

I have not heard Roy and Lizzy so I can’t comment on their sound. They’re both pretty good players so I would imagine it’s pretty good music. I will add this about his ability to play the first string with his index finger in a normal forward or backward roll would be kinda hard to do, I think. But he makes it work for him and that’s all that is necessary. Wherever he is and who he’s with, that crowd of people is getting entertained.




Based on accounts documented in your Bluegrass Today articles, Ask Sonny Anything, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History interview you did in 2009, and observations provided by others as documented in Dennis Satterlee’s Teardrops In My Eyes biography, the relationship between my father (Red Allen) and you and Bobby followed the same pattern of many bands throughout Blue Grass, Country and Rock & Roll history. Make good music together and enjoy the success and notoriety that comes with that. But then egos get in the way and before you know it the band blows up. It sure seems that the Red Allen and Osborne Brothers era became victims of this same pattern. Nothing new. Egos, jealousy, all those negative human expressions that left unchecked, will certainly crater the best of the best.

The breakup of The Osborne Brothers and Red Allen is documented to be in June of 1958. Some 63 years ago. An unfortunate turn of events that makes one wonder what would have happened if things were different. Further, my father died in April of 1993, 28 years ago. Time has a funny way of affecting our memory.

So, what we are reading and hearing from you today is your account of how certain events occurred that you refer to in ways that disparage my father’s contributions and tarnish his memory. And what makes it hard to accept is that we are without the benefit of hearing Red’s side of the story. We are hearing only one side and as the Scripture says:

“Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.” (Proverbs 18:17 TLB)

I am reminded that there are always two sides to every story so I would appeal to you to refrain from disparagingly bringing my father’s name into your public accounts of the Osborne’s history with Red Allen.

Greg Allen, Red Allen’s Son

Greg, I’ve known you a very long time. I knew your brothers, Ronnie, Neil, Harley, and you , Greg. I’m sorry, I can’t remember your sister’s name. Delores comes to mind. You 5five and your devoted Mom, Clara, were the nicest people a person would want to be around.

You are correct Greg. There are two sides to every story. However, I know both sides. That’s all I’ll ever say. Red’s name will not be mentioned again by me. If the truths I told hurt you or anyone, I’m sorry. I will repeat. Red Allen’s name will not be mentioned by me in this column, or anyplace else, again.


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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.