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.
First, let me just say that thoroughly enjoy reading this column and hearing about your experiences. With that being said, I would like to ask you about two different festivals. The first being Carlton Haney’s Labor Day Weekend Bluegrass Festival in Camp Springs, NC, in 1971. The second being the Old Mill Park Bluegrass Festival in West Liberty, KY in either 2002 or 2003 (I can’t remember the year exactly). What were your thoughts and experiences with these two festivals?
The festival in West Liberty, I don’t have immediate recollection of that one. I’ll think on it for a few minutes. The Camp Springs date I remember vividly. We got there early and asked to park our Motor Home as close to backstage as possible. We had to drive through a field but when the show started, we were perched within 40 feet of the backstage steps. Well, Jimmy (Frog) Martin came in later, after the partial crowd had gotten their seats. Jimmy wanted to park his bus backstage too. Carlton told him that he couldn’t do that and Jimmy, The Kang, proceeded to head the bus straight over the hill and directly toward the people who were seated. That’s when I figured the best thing I could do at that point was to “Exit, stage left….” They somehow stopped the bus and as I remember, he parked the bus where buses were parked. Earl’s bus was parked there, and Lordy, what a great day it was. Earl, Me, Ingram, Crowe, Alan Munde, Emerson, and many more…I apologize for leaving some out, Memory…Age, etc. Oh yeah, Randy and Gary Scruggs was there.
The culmination of the event was that we all got together and took turns playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown. “Twas a sight to see for sure, and to be up there and fortunate enough, being able to stand beside The Man…THE EARL of he banjo, The KANG of the five. Man, like playing at the White House, or on the 50 yard line and having 105,000 people sing Rocky Top, and the 187 piece University of Tennessee band play it with you. Yep, those were big moments for the Brothers from Thousand Sticks, But standing beside, shooting pool with, going to his house and him coming to my house, eating vegetable soup Judy made, sitting in the living room playing the banjer with the rest of us, his brother Horace came once. Kristin Benson,.5 time IBMA banjo player of the year, almost becoming sick just to sit beside him, riding around in my pickup, I mean, think about it, THE MAN THAT STARTED IT ALL. I remember thinking when he started playing Foggy Mountain… “How in the world did I ever come close to deserving this…THANK YOU LORD….AND BOBBY!”
I had heard you and Bobby were at the Opry when Flatt and Scruggs broke up? Any truth to it? If so (or not) what do you remember about them breaking up?
Love the article and go Cats!
We were for sure. We had this little bar we went to between shows that very few knew of, so we were there. When suddenly the door burst open and three or four of the Foggy Mountain Boys came in. They didn’t see us. They ordered beer… I think two each.
Bobby said, “Hut Oh, Something’s up.” Lester went home to Sparta after the first show, I know why, but for obvious reasons I will leave that for you to figure out. Earl called me Sunday and said, “I guess you heard” and of course I said yes. He asked if we were off would we be interested in filling in for them at the one date they had left. It was Wednesday in the old school house they had played probably 50 times. March 7, 1969 at Sandy Ridge, North Carolina. I agreed and we played to a packed house. We explained what had happened and you could see the hurt on the faces of the folks who had been there to see Lester and Earl each year for probably 30 years. Interesting that we had played their last date together in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and were there the last time they were on the Opry together, and the first date after the split. Well, maybe not so interesting to some, but it was to me, enough for me to mention it to you.
Take Me As I Am Or Close The School!
Sonny, please comment on these words of wisdom from a dear departed friend of mine. “A banjo is the happiest instrument – you ever heard a sad banjo song?” He went on to explain that elevator music is keyed to the same key as most banjos for that very reason. So, please, let’s hear your take on this happy subject.
Larry, thank you for opening this difficult can of “Bacon In Your Beans!” Sorry, I don’t know anything about elevator music.
I don’t think I can answer this because the banjo sounds like the guy’s mood who is playing it, doesn’t it? Course, you can come back to me with, “Well, sir… (Imaginary guy called me SIR) didn’t you have KRAKO to deal with for the better part of your career?” True, I did. I talked to him more times than I care to admit. It was not because he made the banjo sad, or happy. Krako caused problems with the mechanical makeup of my banjo. I asked other people did they ever experience the guy living in their resonator and only one said yes. ONLY ONE! And that one guy was Ned Luberecki. So, if you know Ned you can just about understand. Ned is one of the most talented players I have ever known, so I wonder just how much comes from the guy living in his resonator. Not many of us get involved deeply enough to experience a KRAKO! I suspect Ned might be one! (;-) I was, and proud of it. Come to think about it, I bet Dana Cupp had some Krako moments. s
Hi Sonny… The color on my set is off. Are these jackets Wildcat Blue or Deep Purple? Who was the fashion plate in the band?
Hey Charlie, thanks for joining in. The color would be Kentucky Wildcat Blue. Most of our clothes, at that time were made by Dixie Neidert of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Her husband, Hal Neidert, made the capo and bridge for the six string banjo. Boy was a genius, unbelievable chess player. I’ve been a Kentucky fan for most of my life. I was probably 9 when my Dad and I would listen to basketball and football broadcast then by WHAS in Louisville. Caywood Ledford was so good. He made you feel like you were right there. Ralph Hacker… man they were so good. I still listen to Mike Pratt, and watch on TV. Big Blue Nation. That says it all. Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Cliff Barker, Wa Wa Jones, and Kenny Rollins. The first Fabulous five, also included Jim Line. That team went on to form the The NBA Indianapolis Olympians. 1949 – 1953.
I saw a video on YouTube where Lonzo and Oscar (with Terry Eldredge) were playing Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On on the Opry using your arrangement. Later, I found out that they recorded Windy City and Rocky Top. This was in the 1980s when you and Bobby were still working in music. What did you think of this?
juststartingbanjo…Thanks for your contribution. All are welcome and appreciated.
When Lonzo died, Oscar hired this young guy from Missouri who was a huge Osborne Brothers fan. He played guitar and probably at one time wanted to be in a band who did a bunch of our songs. His real name was Dave Hooten. Little trivia, Oscar Sullivan died in 2012 at age 93. You asked what I thought of this. I thought it to be something amateurish at best. Something the motorcycle gang did on a regular basis. Once in Georgia they did 9 of our songs just before we went on, and thought it was funny. Who is the “motorcycle gang?” A band of Native Americans known as Goldwing Express. I digress. Back to the professional level… I mean, we’re on the biggest country music show on planet Earth and we’re all there for a reason. Each member worked really hard to perfect their skills. Those songs of ours that they did were our original arrangements. Bobby wrote several. They would hang around in our dressing room at the Opry and pick up harmony changes and then go out on the stage of the Opry and try to duplicate what we did. Terry Eldredge did in fact work with them until our job came available, and we hired him first as our first acoustic bass player, later he went to the guitar and did vocals in our trio for 12 years. When he, Terry, first came to work he replaced Jimmy Dewayne Brock. Son of the well known fiddle player with Jim and Jesse, Jim Brock. Paul Brewster left our group and we asked Terry if he wanted that position. When he agreed we immediately hired Terry Smith to play bass. Our full house was almost complete. Raymond Huffmaster had been there since ’83. All we needed was Crow and Wooten. Man, what a band.
Thank you John and Terry for allowing me to do this. I love doing it… you know that. And huge thanks to you who participate. You’re the reason it works and it wouldn’t work without youn’s.
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.