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.
For anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet, I’m really enjoying this to the fullest. Reminds me of Dear Abby…I drove a cab in Dayton for a couple years, 1959-1961, and there was quite a lot of down time… lots of time to do cross word puzzles and read every word of the news paper. The Dayton Herald (morning paper) and The Dayton Daily News (evening paper). Secret to making money driving a cab is L O N G hours. Anyway, that’s where I learned of Dear Abby! That was all before The Grand Ole Opry, Up This Hill and Down and Rocky Top. Just thought I would throw that in. It ain’t all been easy! But when it got easy, it got tougher!!!!!!
Hi Sonny, so sad you never got to England. Would the Brothers have gone over well here you ask? Too right you would, we were deprived of live bluegrass bands for so long. But Bill made it in ’66, as did the Stanleys just before Carter died. You would have been a sensation believe me. I met you at Summersville in ’95, ( photo ) see the joker trying to muscle in on our picture? Got my own back a few years later when I met him again when he came here with Valley Smith. I was surprised to learn Ernie lived on Long Island far from bluegrass country. Is he still doing the rounds as the ‘go to‘ Bass man?
I’ve got all your early solo stuff on both CD and treasured 78s with Carlos and Enos, imagine how those names fascinated we Brits. I go back to those early days as I am just a smitten younger than you, coming up 81 in March. Thank you so much for all those wonderful albums and your outstanding musical ability.
– John D.
Hey John in the UK….Every time it seemed to be a possibility, dates came up here in the States. And, I couldn’t justify the business side of cancelling one for the other… so as it happened we never got the opportunity although I wanted to…. so much…. so much that I wanted to see. I read a lot and just about every third book takes place in England, or Ireland. Everything here is similar, but just different enough to be interesting… at least for one who has never been there. And Scotland… Dundee and Glasgow. Liverpool, Big London, and Cockney…what is Cockney? A language to itself? I’ve been to Japan, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium. Never to France though. No desire. Never to England either. LOTS OF DESIRE though! Too bad!
Carlos Brock, Enos Johnson, Smokey Ward, and Billy Thomas… and of course ME. That made up the band who recorded the Early recordings you mentioned. I was 14, Carlos 17, Enos 24. We were children. Flying high though. Picking Bluegrass music, making records (Getting paid) big headed too., I might add, who wouldn’t be…But in a short time when we were to become part of the real world, it was a whole different ball game. (Bills, Payments) UGH! Too bad, John, that you couldn’t have seen the Stanley Brothers in the early ’50s. I hope we would have been accepted well. In many places we were considered too commercial and there were those who thought we sold out and maybe we did, but we had Bobby’s voice and a new way of doing the vocal harmony that sold records and put people in the seats. So, to make the kind of living we wanted, we went with what we had. It worked for us, for over 40 years.
Thanks for all of the timeless music you and Bob have given us! In light of the passing of Mike Lily, I was wondering if you spent much or any time with or around Mike down through the years, and what is your opinion of Mike’s style of picking?
Thank you Billie. You’re welcome here, anytime.
You mentioned Mike Lily and whether I had spent any time with him. I knew Mike and I would like to say we were friends. However we were always in different parts of the world so therefore we didn’t spent a lot of time together. Actually, not enough to form an opinion of his playing. Oh, I know he was a fine player but that’s kind of a general way to put it. I really don’t like to make a comment about someone’s playing, or style of playing until I have time to sit down and do my own analysis of them. I hope that makes sense to you. I was saddened to learn of Mike’s passing and I wish we had had more time to know one another but it just wasn’t to be.
Sonny, my girl is new to bluegrass and every week we read the column together. We really enjoy your candor and humor. Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler not the “Honeycomb” guy, and many other non-rock acts are in the Rock and Roll HOF as “Influences.” I think this bears out in Big Mon’s case, if one listens to Rocky Road Blues recorded in the early 1940’s (?), then listen to Canned Heat’s recording of Going up the Country from the late 1960’s. It is literally the same song.
My question is, did the Osborne Brothers ever do any Country Package shows in Upstate New York? Maybe with Merle Kilgore as emcee? Keep it up, Chief. We love you and what you’re doing.
Hi Tom and Girl. Thank you for taking the time to read this stuff… it really is very close to stuff. So to jump right into this Rock and Roll subject. I was wrong and I apologized last week, I think. If I didn’t, then let me do it now. I was just not thinking right. See, I was around when it all started. First by Bill Haley and Rock Around the Clock, a song written in 1952 by Max Freedman. Bill was just an old time hillbilly guitar player…. really, that’s where it all started and it was all influenced by Bill and whomever influenced him. So, now I see where Bill Monroe could deserve to be in the R and R Hall. I apologize to all who might have been offended by my stupidy…(A JIMMY MARTIN WORD)
We toured in upstate New York many times but I don’t remember the emcee ever being Merle Kilgore. Although I knew Merle well. Merle worked for years for Hank Williams Jr. all during his hey day! We played quite a few dates in upstate NY and on the Canadian side too. There was one period in the mid ’50s during the WWVA days that we worked quite a lot in that area. Hey, you didn’t tell me where you’re from although it sounds like upper New York… you might know the Gibson Brudders. (Jens Kruger) Never met ’em, but wish I could have. I had retired by the time they got their thing going right good though.
Hi Sonny. I really enjoy your replies and comments on here. Especially the great stories. A bluegrass band I played bass with opened for you all at Grundy Elementary school in the early ’70s. My memories of that show was you being in a room with us tuning up and you telling us jokes and stories like we were best friends. I think Bobby may have said hi to us, but you treated us like equal musicians and that has stayed with me all these years. You will always be one of my heroes! Thanks for all the great music through the years!
– Bobby Charles
Well Bobby Charles, I’m glad to have you join in on the good time here. I do appreciate the kind words. We played Grundy several times and I’m not sure I remember this particular school so I wouldn’t put too much money on it if I were you. I remember one place we played that we had to cross a short bridge to get to the place. Anyhow, if you remember it that’s good enough, right?
You know Bobby, just because a person has a handful of success don’t mean a thing. Bobby, Louise, and I were still born in a two room cabin, halfway up that mountain across from Hyden High School in Hyden, Kentucky and lived over on Thousand Sticks. Some of the most remote area in Kentucky. No electricity, no running water…etc. You ever go there you’d know what I mean. It was a tough area. In the early to mid ’30s our Dad taught in a one room school. Some might not know what that is… Just what it implies… one room with grades one through 6 in that one room.
Rough? what do I mean by that? He carried guns to school. Why? Well there were wild hungry animals that would like some of the horse he rode to work every day, and some just plain mean folks that would like to have his horse and what money he might have. Never knew what one would run into. Of course it isn’t like that now, I want to stress that clearly.
He..my Dad…moved us to Ohio in 1942. BUT…. We’re all equal. I don’t care where you go or what you accomplish, you don’t outgrow equal, you might think you do, but you got another think coming! Thank you Bobby Charles, check in again anytime.
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.