Ask Sonny Anything… tell us about Lester Flatt

Good morning Chief! I’m reminded of The New South’s cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s 10 Degrees And Getting Colder this morning. In fact it was 9º overnight and with this layer of ice, Larry says we’re not taking the Bluebird anywhere today. But that’s not going to keep us from a little storytelling and time travel. We’ve got her all warmed up and a fresh pot of coffee on. Oh, and Professor Dan shoveled a path all the way to your front door. So come on out and let’s get this Music City Winter party underway. Inquiring bluegrass minds have contributed a few questions to stir the conversation and your special place at the table is waiting for you!


Hey Sonny,

Marty Stuart here. I’m pulling out of your driveway. Don’t shoot. I left something for you at your front door.

This was 12:30 p.m. Sunday February 14th.

Well, Marty, I saw that strange car in the driveway and I had a Winchester 30-30 aimed at the radiator. I thought…what the hell, this is Valentine’s Day. So, like David Crow, this was our lucky day.

So I got the package and it contained, not a bomb, nor a bulldozer, but a very long hand-written letter from Marty and also 3 beautifully-made books of photographs Marty has taken. Above everything else, he has become a very good photographer. So, thank you, Marty. I appreciate the thought.



Hey There Sonny! Thanks for mentioning that You Are My Flower/Wildwood Flower YouTube video. My father, Don Clark, filmed that performance and I’m the one who uploaded it. I’m glad that video brought back memories, and hopefully makes a lot of people happy watching it.

Danny Clark
The Bluegrass Bus Museum

Danny, welcome to our little get-together, and I’m curious as to what a Bluegrass Bus Museum would look like. Man, you would have to have a pretty big building to get buses in so maybe if you could write back and tell us about the museum and what all you’ve got and we’ll talk about it some more.

So, your father Don is the guy who filmed the You Are My Flower video which turned out to be one of the funniest things to ever happen in one of our performances. Bobby was completely unaware of what was happening, and when I changed tunes he just went with the tune that I changed to. It was so funny because I started out playing You Are My Flower and changed to Wildwood Flower and Bobby just heard me playing and I guess he thought that was what he was supposed to sing. So he started singing it, and when he got into it he realized we had changed songs and he didn’t know the words to Wildwood Flower, and it just kinda escalated from there. It turned out to be, as I said before, one of the funniest things to ever happen during one of our shows.

I look forward to hearing from you again, Danny.



Greetings Chief!

Jim and Jesse were inducted into the Opry on March 2, 1964 – five months later on August 8th, you and Bobby received that distinguished honor. Two bluegrass bands inducted in the same year, I guess times have changed as we’re incredibly fortunate to have one every few years now, i.e. Del McCoury, Dailey and Vincent, Rhonda Vincent, etc. I was hoping you could speak to the importance of keeping strong bluegrass representation on that stage in the era of so called modern country music?

Billy W.

Hey Billy.

Welcome to our little get-together. Glad you could make and I appreciate your participation.

You were curious to know why Jim & Jesse and The Osborne Brothers were made members of the ‘real’ Grand Ole Opry in one year. Well, we were too but I thought both groups deserved to be there, and in 1964 the Grand Ole Opry was a completely different concept as today.

Of course, with our world situation crowds can’t go to the Opry, and so what it turns into is an amateur show with unknown artists singing unknown songs. Seriously, I don’t see how this can be called a country music show, but then they do have Vince Gill or Larry Gatlin come in and sing a couple of songs, and that constitutes a country music extravaganza. Personally, I have not been to the Grand Ole Opry, nor listened to it, nor watched it on TV because it’s just a completely different setup now from what I knew in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

During the time period that I just mentioned, the Grand Ole Opry consisted of the best country and bluegrass music artists in the world. Since then it has turned into what I consider as “no part of nothing!” And when Bill Monroe said “no part of nothing,” I didn’t understand what it meant then or now either, because the Grand Ole Opry now in my opinion as far as country or bluegrass…it is no part of nothing.

Del McCoury made it in luckily when the Grand Ole Opry was still the Opry. And more recently, Rhonda Vincent became a member but I don’t know what she’s a member of. But if she’s happy with it, I am too.



Hey Sonny

I’m learning to play the banjo. I’ve been working hard to learn the Foggy Mountain Banjo album stuff and I’ve got most of it down pretty well. Where do I go from there? What’s next? What should I learn now?

John G.

John, thank you for participating in our little free-for-all. I see where you’re taking up the banjo and I congratulate you on your choice of instrument to learn to play.

You mentioned that you had been working on Foggy Mountain Banjo and you said that you had most of it down pretty well. And then you said, “where do I go from here?” Well, John, I have some staggering news for you. Unless you have every tune and every note exactly right, you’re not ready to go to the next step. You see John, until you have learned every combination that Earl does with his right hand on that album, your right hand is not ready to go on. And if you do, you will wind up being a mediocre banjo player. Wherein, if you learn every move that Earl does on that album, your right hand will be in a position to play anything you hear in your head…and that is the next step. But before you enter into that next step, you need to take hundreds (yes I said hundreds) of hours on just that Foggy Mountain Banjo album. I think you need to play each tune on that album, perhaps a hundred times, and only then will you be ready to move on. If you do that, you will be a pretty doggone good banjo player.




I sure am enjoying the column, it’s the highlight of my week. Thank you for sharing all the great memories. You’ve spoken a lot about your reverence for Earl Scruggs, and rightly so, but I’m curious to know if you have any special musings you could share about Lester Flatt?

William H.


Hey there Chief,

At one point in his career, Earl Scruggs took flying lessons. In fact, he once told me personally that’s where he got the idea for the title to Ground Speed. I’m wondering, did he ever offer to fly you anywhere? Moreover, given the number of famous musicians lost in small aircraft over the years, what are your thoughts about flying on small private planes?

Alan F

William and Alan, beings that both of you asked questions about Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, I will answer both at once.

First, we’ll talk about Lester. Because Earl played the banjo and I did too, we were closer than Lester and I, but that’s not to say that Lester and I were not friendly. We were, very. I’ll just tell you this little story that occurred from about 1965 until Lester’s final words.

Every time I saw Lester, be it at the Opry or on the road, I would say, “How you doin’ you old sonofabitch?” and Lester would say, “That’s MR s’umbitch, if you will.” This continued for nearly 15 years and when I heard that Lester was in the hospital and really sick, I called the hospital and to whomever answered the phone, I identified myself and asked to speak to Lester and she told me I could speak to Lester but it would take a while to get him to the telephone. And it did. Perhaps 5 minutes. Finally this very weak, and barely audible, hello came on the phone and it just about rattled me. And I said, for the want of anything better, “How you doin’ you old sonofabitch?” And there was a long pause and I could hear this shallow breathing and he uttered the words, “That’s MR s’umbitch to you.” That was on a Wednesday and we played Lenoir, NC on Friday night and I was on the way to the concession stand to get coffee, and some guy told me that Lester had died.

About Lester and Earl’s breakup, I asked him and all he ever said was that he wanted to continue with what they were doing and Earl didn’t. And he told me that he just wanted to keep peace in the family.

So Alan, you wanted to know about Earl’s flying and if I had ever ridden with him and the answer is NO!!! I was deathly afraid of flying until 1973, and Earl knew that. We had a discussion about it and he told me that there was no sense of detachment, it was just like sitting in a chair in your living room. And I thought…yeah, right. But then we were in Ft. Worth, TX and we got the call to go the White House and play. I had originally said no to them, but I was not being fair to the other people in our band, so I agreed to go, including flying, and that would be my first time.

Bill Mack was a well-known disc jockey at WBAP in Ft. Worth, and a noted songwriter. We were on his show the night before we were to leave for DC the next morning, and on the way back to the motel we turned the radio on and Bill dedicated a song to me. He knew it was my first time to fly, and he also knew that I was scared. The song he dedicated to me was Patsy Cline’s record of I Fall to Pieces. When I got on the airplane the next morning, I was scared to death. But like Earl said, there was no sense of detachment and it was just like sitting in your living room in your recliner.

I never really got used to flying, although the Brothers had to on several occasions, and I accepted that. Now, it would take a lot to get me on an airplane…in fact, I just wouldn’t do it. As far as flying with Earl, I would never have done it. But he never asked. I don’t know the details, but he had an accident that could have ended his life or career but he was lucky.

I want to thank you guys, all of you, for participating in our little game. I really appreciate it.


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.

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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.