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.
Sonny, If you don’t mind, please a few words and thoughts about Kenny Ingram. He was such a wonderful guy and I am sure you have some good thoughts to share. Thanks Chief.
Brother STLIL I would be more than happy to share with you all that I know about Kenny Ingram.
I met him in 1973, I don’t rightly remember the actual place but in one of the many hours we shared talking, and discussing “things” he told me exactly where it was but 50 years has slipped past and I have forgotten. I seem to remember Georgia though. I believe he had just started with Lester Flatt where he remained until Flatt’s passing.
We talked about banjo playing… right hands in particular. I had been around the block a few more times than Kenny, and in the beginning he was full of questions, like how did you do this, why did you do this, when do you do this. It went on like this for a couple years and Kenneth kept gaining, growing in confidence when already he had the fastest right hand I had ever seen. Boy could play some kinda fast for sure. But at the same time he was growing into a good man, and making himself into the great banjo player that we remember.
The last time I saw Kenny was one year ago last Sunday I believe. You have to know this part of the story too. The past few times Kenny came to lunch his actions and attitude were changing. But, I need to mention that he was probably the most private person I ever knew. He worked the last 10 years with Larry Stephenson. Larry and I discussed Kenny’s health more than once. He was changing right before us. We kept asking him if he was OK, and he kept assuring that he was, but dammit we could see.
After the last time we saw him, I tried to talk to Kenny, Larry, and Lincoln also tried. But like me, they got no response. Dammit, maybe I should have tried harder but he was so private that I didn’t want to invade his world, whatever it might be. We live with regrets, that will be one of mine.
Hey Sonny, so glad to see you’re still active in the bluegrass world. I so enjoyed the times I spent watching your group and many others at the Snuffy Jenkins festival at Cliffside, NC, and wondered if you had a special memory from those appearances?
– Lane K.
Lane… come right on in. Your question about the Snuffy Jenkins festival brings back a couple of memories. If I’m thinking of the right place, it’s near Earl’s home. Between shows we had several hours and I went to Earl’s house, where he lived as a kid. Where he learned to play a little bit. I got to meet Junie for the first time. Got to meet Snuffy Jenkins for the first time, and got to see and hold his RB4. I got to sit on the porch where Earl told me several years later, that’s where he learned to play Reubin the right way, and Junie heard it for the first time. It actually got a reaction out of Junie and Earl said: “I knew I had something right there!”
I sat on that porch. I SAT ON THAT PORCH, FOLKS. WHERE “THE MAN” STARTED IT ALL. And I believe it because HE told me where it was. As I’ve said many times before. Me and Brother Bobby went on one hellacious ride together.
Hi Sonny, Stan here…occasionally known as Jebbh Mixus from The Mixus Brothers (which we named as an homage to you two)…anyhoo, I have three questions for you as you were so kind to answer one for me about singing a few months ago, and now I’m being selfish… first one is: I was listening to the song you did called One Tear and noticed that the internet’s said it was written by someone named Judy Osborne… did that happen to be any relation to you?
Secondly, I have noticed that the YouTube has many live recordings of ya’ll, and in many of them there are moments during and between songs where I say you were absolutely funny as all get out with your comments and shenanigans… do you think having fun on stage is and was one of the most important parts of having as long of a career as you did??
Lastly, and I appreciate your patience with me, when you toured Sweden and recorded one of your shows there for the public consumption that is now on YouTube, you of course played Ruby but I must say that your solo during that song was one of the most god forsaken amazing displays of banjo playing in the history of mankind… in the video you, after the solo, you shook your head and it seemed like you were playing like a man possessed. Do you remember it and do you think you can pinpoint that period or any period as having the best command of the neck and your creative mind for soloing?? Even if you answer even one of these questions or none, I am much obliged to you for letting us delve into your psyche on playing and unabashed memories of your life so, thank you!
Stan…good questions. Thank you. First one…Judy is my wife of 62 years. She wrote this poem while she was in the 8th grade. And I’ll let her tell you in her own words.
Sonny was looking for new songs to record. I showed him a poem I had written, he put it to music and Voila!
They began rehearsing the next day at Bobby’s and when they got around to working on One Tear, Sonny called me and asked if I could write another verse. Words came to me as fast as I could write them down. I called him back in just a few minutes.
We ran over it a time or two, and the song came to life. It’s been recorded a dozen times or more. Very good bluegrass tune.
You asked about Sweden and the recordings made of our Stockholm show. I’ve been asked many times when I play certain things am I playing what I have planned to play or does it just happen. It’s just a thing that goes as it goes. I know the fingerboard pretty well so I don’t get lost and from there it just happens.
I’ve heard some things back and wonder what I was thinking, to do stupid things like that. Our shenanigans, as you called it, was not part of our plan but it did come in handy at times. We watched many bluegrass bands through the years and they, for the most part, were dead serious on stage and seemed as though their faces would break if they were to smile. We decided to have a good time and try to see that our audience laughed along with us.
Mr. Osborne, Joe Medford was one of the less-heralded first generation bluegrass banjoists, in spite of his ability. He recorded with Mac Wiseman in the early 1950s. Did you ever cross paths with him?
Bzrdhd…Sorry to say I never had the opportunity to meet Joe. Funny thing about him. When he recorded the several tunes with Mac and the several with Charlie Monroe, you would swear at certain points it was Earl, but I heard some other things he did and they were not so… I should say AS good. Wrong phrasing, conflicting background notes. Almost like it was some other guy playing. Strange. I talked with Mac several times about Joe, as to the kind of guy he was, etc. This probably won’t sit to well with some, but Mac said Joe had a tendency to over indulge in adult beverages so from personal experience this would cloud one’s vision…so, maybe that’s the answer.
Great tone out of an RB100..he had that “THING” didn’t he? YES HE DID.
Sonny, in my work archiving the decades of recordings and videos my mother left behind, I ran across an Osborne’s set at the Festival of the Bluegrass. On a break between songs, Bobby can be heard off mic giving you a string of jabs about “I don’t know how you ever think you are going to keep a banjo that cheap in tune.” I’m wondering if there is more to that story. This would have been around 1985.
Charles… welcome my brother… Butch Robins and I had just paid $5000 for our banjos… the highest price ever for that time. Butch bought one of the two best RB4 style banjos ever, and I think I got the finest, best sounding banjo Gibson ever made. It is a 1934 flat head Granada original 5 string. The other RB4 that is that good is owned by Dana Cupp. I rarely tune on stage with the exception when KRAKO show his a–! Then there is no tuning.
So Bobby, knowing how much I paid and realizing I did nothing during that show but tune, made his infamous statement. “I don’t know how you ever think you are going to keep a banjo that cheap in tune!”
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.