Ask Sonny Anything… tell us about the Banjo Medley

Good morning Chief, as I look out the window on our first dusting of snow here in middle Tennessee, I’ve come to the realization that your weekly trip through bluegrass’ past might best be conducted this week in a sleigh. Hoping you picked up some nice Pre-War Granadas during Amazon’s Cyber Monday sale…they were going oh so cheap. Enjoy!

Terry Herd


With all the travel you and Bobby had, did you ever have an incident, such as in a hotel with thin walls, where someone next door complained about your banjo playing? Being a banjo player myself, it’s hard to imagine someone not enjoying the music, but not everyone appreciates the musical artistry or sound of a banjo….even a world class Granada.

Billy Joe Grundy

Billy Joe….thank you for loaning a moment of your time. You know, truthfully, I only took my banjo into a room when it was extremely hot or cold, or I needed to work on it for some reason. Strings, head, adjustment of some kind…I was never a tinkering person, and I never remember being so loud that I needed to be called down. I do remember once, in Culpeper, we found the Stanley Brothers at a motel one Sunday morning, on our way back from a date somewhere. Bobby, Benny, and I just barged in, woke Carter, Ralph, and George Shuffler up and proceeded to talk and that turned into a hymn singing. ‘Bout 25 minutes into the session, the motel guy knocked on the door and asked could we hold it down because the folks next door were there to attend a funeral and the hymns were pretty and uplifting for them, but they would like a little quiet time. I reckon we had gotten a bit loud, so we toned down, actually just stopped. Later that day we joined them at American Legion Park….that’s another story. Probably been told already.



Hey Sonny,

I wondered if you had any good Harley Gabbard and/or Art Stamper stories? I believe they both were in your band at different points and both were characters. Love the article each week!

Wes V
Lakewood Colorado

Wes Vanderpool…thank you out there in Colorado. Folks, if you don’t know already, Wes is Kenny Vanderpool’s boy, and Kenny was Dale Vanderpool’s brother. Dale, of course was the great traditional banjo player who worked in the Larry Stephenson Band, and one of my best friends. Dale went home a few years ago and Wes has taken up the banjo and become pretty good, actually.

I can tell you a Harley Gabbard thing. Harley had not been away from home very much when he went to work with us…bout 1969 (approximately). There was a place in Rockwood, Tennessee at which we almost always stopped at if we were headed that way. The Peggy Ann Truck Stop and restaurant. They had a country cooking smorgasbord for about $3 or $4 that was very good. All you could eat…and man, Harley had not seen one of those places before and he took advantage of it…big time. He went back and filled his plate 4 (at least) times. Harley ate until he was sick and barely was able to play that night… He waddled back out to the bus and went directly to his bunk…where he stayed all afternoon.

Art was a quiet guy, didn’t say much. He could fiddle though. He was pretty well seasoned when he worked with us. He had worked and recorded with The Stanley Brothers…he played twin with Gordon Terry on our first MGM records. By the time Art was with us, he had a pretty good business going in Louisville and he couldn’t take the time away to work full time with us. Fact is, we weren’t working enough to pay him…we were just barely making it ourselves.



It’s me again Sonny, quick question: What was the wildest show you ever performed, funny or not? God bless!!!

Jacob P.

Jacob… .welcome. There were so many times that I had rather be somewhere else. The Grand Ole Opry 1952…the White House 1973…The Grand Ole Opry 1964…Seeing Earl the first time Knoxville, TN. 1953…The Gary Burton Jazz album (Tennessee Firebird) I was asked to participate in… Neyland Stadium 105,000 crowd Alabama-Tennessee homecoming game 1987….San Antonio Texas Symphony about 1985, Grass Valley California 1987 (funniest ever) …The most frightened I guess had to be playing at The White House for President Nixon’s wife Pat’s birthday, and his crew, two weeks before Watergate broke out for real. It’s been an interesting trip…for sure!



I have watched your Banjo Medley video on UTube many times. It is one of my favorite videos. Can you tell us a little background on the song? Did you come up with the idea of stringing these tunes together? How hard is it to play that precise for that long? You look like you are really concentrating. I love it at the end of the song when you shake your right hand and blow on your fingertips!😄

Papaw J.

Hey there Papaw….thank you for coming right on in there. Glad you could make it….Well, that medley is not a song, it’s several tunes put together. I started playing it in 1954, in Detroit… After the Saturday night show there was a square dance and sometimes those things would last 20 minutes….other than play one tune, I would switch to several and play them all the same speed…the dancers wouldn’t know the difference and for us it wouldn’t get so monotonous.

I think the original thought might have come from some old fiddle player in the ’30s… although I wouldn’t take an oath on that. Could have been…I honestly don’t know. It was a learning time for me, to try different right hand moves and try to place them in different parts of a tune. Like Lonesome Road Blues. Take a lick from that tune and put it in Sally Anne…or maybe play Cumberland Gap from the 1 to the 4 chord and back to the 1. (1 is A. 4 is D) It can get tiring but you work on that too…by concentration.

Keep telling yourself throughout, if you’re feeling fatigue in your right hand, keep telling yourself it will go away. When I got through my hand was almost cramped, but I won this time. I wished it away and it left…I got to finish the tune. Incidentally, that YouTube Medley was done in Stockholm, Sweden and I’m playing a Stelling Sonflower banjo.


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.