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.
Hi Sonny, one of my favorite tunes by the Osborne Brothers was a Hank Williams tune, May You Never Be Alone Like Me. Did you ever record other Hank songs, or were there any you just liked to play? A lot of his tunes have been done bluegrass style. What is your opinion of Hank as a songwriter and singer? Just wondering. Really enjoy the letters you get and the answers you give, keep up the good work!!
Hey Roger. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it right much. First though, I want to tell you a little related history. The following contains a couple names that I want you to realize who these people are. Hank Williams Senior. I met him when I was 14 during my time with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. It was a brief encounter but it happened. I was standing outside Roy Acuff’s very small dressing room at the Ryman auditorium and this man said, “Hot ain’t it?” I said “Yep, It sure is.” The man was Hank Williams. I was privileged at 14 to see (that man) Hank Sr. encore 6 times after singing Cold Cold Heart! Fred Rose with Roy Acuff were the owners of Acuff Rose, very big publishing company, who put Hank on MGM Records. Wesley Rose, (Fred’s son) and Tommy Sutton were responsible for putting us on MGM Records. Which was our first major record deal. Connie Francis and Conway Twitty were also on MGM. Big deal, huh?
We recorded several more Hank William songs. You Win Again and May You Never Be Alone, were my favorites although you didn’t ask for them, there you are. Take These Chains From My Heart was another of his songs we recorded that I liked, especially the mandolin break Bobby did is outstanding on that song. Where he goes from the C (4 chord) to A (6 chord), that F5 Fern sounds a mile wide. My opinion is that BOBBY’s Fern model F5 was the best tone mandolin I ever heard.
Another song I loved to play was Cold Cold Heart although we never recorded it, I loved to play it on the Guitjo. We also did Mansion on the Hill and maybe a couple more titles that escapes me right now. Hank was a good writer but he had help from Fred Rose. A story as related to me by Wesley Rose, Fred’s son, The story goes: Hank came into the office one day very early in his career and played some songs for Fred. Fred asked if he had written these songs to which Hank replied, yes. Fred didn’t believe him. So, he told Hank a story and sent him into a room and told him to write a song about the story he had just told him. Hank came out a little while later with Mansion on the Hill.
Sure do enjoy reading this column. As an old guy who has been more recently (last 10 years) following, buying CDs and downloading bluegrass music.
I am in awe of the talent and ability of you and your contemporaries to craft such an awesome sound. A sound that is growing and changing, but holding on to, and honoring the originals.
Drawing on your experience; I have been told that the harmonica is officially a bluegrass instrument.
As a lifelong harmonica player, I am wondering how often was a harmonica part of a bluegrass show? I have been pulled up on stage to play with my favorite bluegrass band on the tune Pipeliner Blues, which fits the harmonica nicely. Thanks for the memories and thanks for growing my knowledge.
Reese. I don’t know that I ever heard a harmonica referred to as an official bluegrass instrument. In fact, I’ve never heard that any instrument was an official “bluegrass” instrument. I always just thought that whatever one chose to use on a record or show was just is what it arah.
We recorded with Charlie McCoy playing the harp and on several occasions, one being Midnight Flyer, which was one of our most popular songs, and we asked Jeff Easter to join us on stage and play along as Paul Brewster sang May You Never be Alone. Jeff is SOOOO good and every time we played with him while he was working with the Lewis Family we had him do this. The crowd absolutely loved it. I mean loved it. Of course all good things must end. One night before we went on Jeff came on our bus and broke the news that Little Roy didn’t want him to come on stage with us any more.
You asked how long was a harmonica part of a bluegrass show, Well, that long.
I love your tune, Banjo Boy Chimes and play it fairly often during gigs with my band. The audiences always seem to dig the tune, which is demonstrated by the loud applause we often receive after playing it. What was the inspiration for the tune? Additionally, when will your biography be published? Can’t wait to read your story.
David. Thanks for joining us. Come right in, we’re having a good time. You ever heard that old song about Where Did the Good Times Go? Well, they ended up here.
Banjo Boy Chimes was written when I was 14 years old. I had written Sunny Mountain Chimes and it was so successful and really accepted so well by the public, so I wrote another one and went back to the Gateway studios at 3930 Spring Grove Avenue in Cincinnati and did some more recording. Banjo Boy Chimes was one of the tunes I had put together for that recording session. Big Lee, Gunpowder, Red Wing, Blue Waves were a few more titles I remember. You know, come to think of it, I think someone released some things from those sessions. The Early Recordings of S.O. I only think that, so don’t hold me to it.
My biography is a whole different barrel of onions. So far… three people have had a shot at it and so far the wonderful man who started it, Scott Street, whose idea it was originally, and who proceeded to do a ton of interviews and just a bunch of expense and legwork, unfortunately Scott passed away before it was finished. Bill Evans, (the New Mexico Flash) who graciously agreed to do it but unfortunately his wife was diagnosed with leukemia and as principle caregiver he just didn’t have the time, and since then there has been very little, if any movement. So, you know what? I think I’ll just do it myself. I don’t write very well, and I’m not a professional, but I can write well enough for you to understand what I’m trying to tell you….Wright…NO WAIT…write?
I can get help from my friend Jay Pilzer, who has written a couple books, A Six String History of America and The Fans Went Wild, or Kristin who is writing a book now, and Judy (mine Wife) always ready to correct my sperring. So, I think I’ll be ok. Maybe It will finally get done before I buy the farm, or the Fat Lady Sings! Git Awaym Hyer! Translation follows….( That’s Bull Creek for “Git Away From Here.)
Hey, Sonny. We all heard about the recent tornado’s that ripped through Nashville and the surrounding area. Did you suffer any damage? Everything ok? Do you need any assistance from your friends and fans?
Angela. Thanks for getting right on in here.
First, our house is about 10 miles North of the real damage. If you were to follow interstate 40 East and include some of that portion of Nashville, that is where the damage was… and it was as bad, as bad can be. 24 deaths, and billions of $ in losses to everything imaginable. I mean everything these people owned in this world. One second their house and all their belongings was there, and the next it was gone.
I heard that Cookeville was hit as hard and I feel as bad for those folks as Nashville. Wilson, Williamson, and Putnam Counties are nearly destroyed. I know they are not the only ones, but seems to me they were hit hardest. The amazing thing about all this destruction was to see folks coming in every direction, some walking, some in pickup trucks carrying food, water, and chain saws. Ready to go to work helping the folks who lost it all, to search for the missing, dig some out of the rubble, cut trees that had fallen, anything and everything to help. In all the desperation a helping hand appeared, and believe me, The Lord knows how much it was needed.
The Coronavirus has a lot of folks scared. I’m wondering if you have any advice for those of us who run bluegrass festivals, as well as the artists who put their health on the line every day to travel the roads.
John, man, thank you. I’ve given quite a bit of thought to you guys who have already spent your money advertising, who stand to lose. I don’t really know what to say to you. The Coronavirus has most of us scared. Especially we older folks. If we were to get it, it just might be a long night for some of us… and those who were infected. I hear that it came from Bats…Chinese Bats. True? My wife read it in a medical article. I believe her…I better! Bats and FILTH. I don’t mean to be starting anything, but from this point on I will pay more attention where products are made and where they are coming from, you can bet on that.
I’m retired so I don’t have much to worry about, but if I were still working and traveling I’m not sure how I would handle this thing. Load up on alcohol wipes and no more hand shakes, or hugs, touches etc. I don’t think I would spend any time at a record (concession) table. In fact, I wouldn’t even set it up. How ’bout truckers, same difference.
Wash your hands 30 times a day. As a fan you can’t go to concerts of any kind, ball games, I mean this thing can stop a lot of things and cost promoters uncountable dollars. Because of Bats and FILTH!!!!!!!!!!!! REMEMBER THAT.
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.