Ask Sonny Anything… tell us about singing with Ira Louvin


I’m curious about that session when Ira Louvin sang the low tenor part (is that right?) with you and Bobby on Give This Message to Your Heart. I think it was your fifth session for Decca. Pardon me if you’ve already told the story, but how did it come about that Ira joined? And do you recall whether he was there for the whole session? I like the idea (it’s just the idea…) of him sitting there while you and Bobby recorded duets. It’s a session unlike any other, as you played banjo on only one track and Bobby played mandolin on two.

For the duets, did you sing into one mic or each have your own?

I’m also curious about the beginning of Give This Message to Your Heart. It’s so tight. It couldn’t come much closer to the first bass note. Do you know if they possibly cut tape to remove noise, or anything like that, to create a very tight edit?

By the way, I understand you viewed singing as “part of the job”…but Osborne Brothers vocals wouldn’t be what they are without your voice. To my ear it sounds like you meant every word you ever sang, and I feel that’s a person who really cares about what they’re doing.

Thanks as always for the column, and best regards from an old friend and fan.


Sandy, you are a welcome visitor and I appreciate hearing from you.

For the most part, you are very knowledgeable about our career but, in this case, I think you have the record companies mixed up. Give This Message to Your Heart was recorded for MGM. When we secured the MGM contract, three names were on the contract, and when one gentlemen was relieved of his duties he refused to sign a release so Bobby and I could continue recording.

This means that we had to wait one year to record again, and at that time Johnny Dacus was singing with Bobby and me, so when we were leaving to come to Nashville to record, Mr Dacus was nowhere to be found and in fact we didn’t see him again for 2 years.

We came to Nashville and intended to record duets instead of trios. While we were in the Acuff-Rose studio rehearsing for our 6 o’clock session, Ira Louvin walked in. He had been listening to us rehearse and he said, “I have a song that I wrote and this would be perfect for you guys.” He also volunteered to do a third-part harmony and of course we jumped up and down, gleefully.

He asked what time the session was, and we told him 6 o’clock, and he informed us that Charles and he were leaving for South Dakota at 4:00, but however he would change that time if we would do that song first. And how stupid we would have been to refuse! We ran over the song a couple of times in the Acuff-Rose studio and I asked Ira what part he wanted to sing. His reply was, “just sing your normal parts and I’ll do the third.” And this is how we went into the session.

Ira and I sang on one microphone and Bobby on another. We recorded that song one time and Ira, being the talented genius that he was, never missed a note. And that includes the intro, which we did on a number count.

The duets that we did on that same session were recorded on one microphone for both of us.

As far as my singing goes, I never really liked to sing and I did it as part of my job, which I took seriously. I wasn’t aware that my voice had that much to do with our trio sound.

Thank you, Sandy, for reading this column. I appreciate it.


Hey Sonny, I always enjoy reading your column every week. You and Bobby made some great music. Here’s my question: What was the best line-up The Osborne Brothers ever had?

Andrew G

Andrew, thank you for your time and your get-to-the-point question.

The best line-up for The Osborne Brothers band would be rather lengthy, but it would include Benny Birchfield, Dale Sledd, Ronnie Reno, Robbie Osborne, Buddy Spicher, Paul Brewster, Blaine Sprouse, Glen Duncan, Gene Wooten, Terry Smith, Terry Eldredge, David Crow, and a few others who appeared after I retired.

Thank you.


Hey Sonny,

I’ve been reading the book Earl Scruggs, Banjo icon, and I noticed you were not mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements of contributors. Why is that? You have spoken fondly of yours and Earl’s relationship, and you even own his banjo. Just wondering why you were not interviewed by the authors. Thanks shedding some light.

Dan K.

Dan, thank your for your time.

The book Earl Scruggs, Banjo Icon….I know nothing about. Earl and I were friends on a personal basis, and no, I do not have his banjo. I have one of my own.

I wasn’t interviewed by the authors of that book, and I couldn’t tell you why. I guess they thought me insignificant, which I probably am.


I am so grateful to be able to see and hear live music again at festivals. These past 17 months have been hard on the ears and soul.

Two weekends in a row of live music in two different venues and states. First, I do believe I heard and saw bluegrass now and in the future in the hands and hearts of the Tennessee Bluegrass Band members. There were banjo licks that I think would make you smile, and I heard fiddle fills that had me thinking Kenny or Stuart Duncan were on stage.

To my question: the previous week I saw a well-regarded young performer, who is doing well on the charts over the past couple years. Maybe it was the time of day or the sun and heat, but the audience was a bit, shall we say, subdued. What did you and Bobby do when the crowd seemed less enthused than you were about your music? This performer was less than kind, I think, to those listening; but in light of what I heard the band do this past weekend, maybe it is the performer and not the audience?

God Bless you for taking the time and energy for this column. And I hope your autobiography makes it out into the world.

Greg H.

Greg, I’m grateful and thankful for people like you who read this drivel. Thank you for that.

The Tennessee Bluegrass Band is the real deal. The harmony, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin are all superb players so they couldn’t sound bad if they wanted to. And you’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the near future.

The Larry Stephenson Band is another really good group of musicians and the harmony featuring Larry, Derek, and Nick is absolutely on spot.

And of course there are others, but I’m familiar with these two.

When a crowd doesn’t react to your particular sound, you can point to two major contributors…the sound system and the band itself. When we ran into a situation like that, we played for 45 minutes without saying a word and then got our unappreciated carcasses off the stage and made room for other, hopefully more-appreciated, people.


Sonny, Just wondered if you could share a little bit about the banjos you have endorsed over the years. Could you share the ideas you had for these banjos?

Also, what was your favorite instrumental to play? Thanks!

Mark K.

Mark, thank you for your time and endurance.

The banjos I have endorsed, total 3. That would be the Rich & Taylor banjo, the Vega, and my own line of Chief banjos which came out in ’98. Plus, Oh my God! I forgot KRAKO.

And my favorite instrument to play forever, was the 1934 Gibson Granada 9584-2, which I still own and probably always will. I acquired it in 1978 from Tom McKinney.

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.