Ask Sonny Anything… Tell us more about The Stanley Brothers

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.


Did you ever meet or play with Earl Taylor? He was big in Cincinnati in the early ’60s. Saw him often at the Ken-Mill cafe along with Walter Hensley on banjo, Boat Whistle on bass, and Jim McCall on guitar. Thanks for taking the question.

Thaddeus N.

Hey Thad…Thank you for taking the time to jump right on in here. It’s appreciated. Question, did I know or play any with Earl Taylor. Yes I knew him but never had the opportunity to play any with him. I knew he was big in the Cincinnati area but when he came along Bobby and I were about to move to Nashville, and we kinda lost touch with the current pickers in that area, although we did play the Ken-Mil once or twice and he was in the house band. I remember Jim McCall and Vern McIntyre in the band with Earl Taylor. I don’t remember Walter Hensley, a fine banjo player from the Baltimore area, or Boat Whistle, although I knew both. They were good as I remember.

Earl went with Flatt and Scruggs for a while didn’t he? That’s pretty much High Octane for that to show up on one’s resumé, isn’t it? We used to play a place called Take It Easy Ranch in Maryland and this old boy who claimed to be TOMMY TAYLOR, always showed up there pretending to be drunker than Cootie Brown and he also claimed to be Earl’s brother. I always thought he did look a little like he could be telling the truth, but Larry Stephenson told me that he was just pretending to be drunk or Earl Taylor’s brother.

Truth, your guess is as good as mine but just when you think you have seen or heard it all….TOMMY TAYLOR shows up…pretending to be drunk.



I remember you and Bobby showing up at my house to visit my dad (former mandolin player for Jimmy Martin), and seeing a neighborhood girl/fan in shock and disbelief. So I always wondered just how often you would pull the bus up to a friend/acquaintance’s house, and just hang out for a while? I am guessing 1000x?

Bill T.

Bill T. You have to be referring to Bill Torbert. An old friend from 50 years ago who invited us to his house and we accepted, graciously. Those were the day of sparse $$. We also went a few other places but once we went to Bob French’s house in Massachusetts, and we asked him to stay home from work and pick with us. He did not. After he left for work his wife pulled me aside and explained the realities of life. It hit me like a ton of proverbial bricks. We never stayed at anyone’s house after that if my memory serves me correctly. When you think of it, what a strain it must put on a family. YIKES!



With the loss of Charlie Daniels, we mourn the passing of another legend. Just curious if you had any reflections to share with us.

Tim B.

Tim B….Thank you gracing us with your presence. Man, it’s appreciated. You ask about Charlie Daniels. Until a couple years before I retired, I always regarded Charlie’s band as Southern Rock, which was not on my list of favorite music to listen to and in fact I kinda shied away from it because it irritated me. Why? Not necessarily, because their music was so damned loud, more because the musicians seemed to look at us as a couple clicks below them, and to be honest I always thought we had a few guys playing bluegrass who could put them to shame. Jimmy Dewayne Brock was one…great electric bass man…and how bout Jens Kruger….and I know how this must sound to the several million of you who love Charlie’s music, that’s OK.

Charlie came to the Opry one night when we were there and I learned what a really wonderful person he was. He loved the Grand Ole Opry as much as we did. But then, so did James Brown. Charlie loved bluegrass too, but his THANG was where the $$ was NOT…PICKIN’ GRASS! Hey… did he put Mt. Juliet, Tennessee on the map! He lived there and oh how he supported that little town. He loved it and about 100 million folks loved him. Rest in Peace Charlie. You loved America!


Hey Sonny, last week you shared a funny story about the Stanley Brothers and said “… I’ll tell more when someone asks me!”. Okay, I’m asking! LOL.

Ronnie W.

Ronnie. This is all truth. Believe it or not. The Stanley’s had nicknames for every bluegrass band. And the few I know for sure are: We were probably The Fat Boys although I never actually heard them say it…Jim and Jesse were the HASH KNIVES. Flatt and Scruggs were THE MARTHA WHITE TWINS. Bill Monroe was THE GREAT WHITE FATHER. Mac Wiseman was THE BLIMP.

This is part of another story, I know, but bear with me. One Sunday morning as we were on our way back to Ohio, maybe 1962…Bobby, Bennie, and I saw their car parked at a motel in Culpepper, Virginia and decided to stop and see what they would do if The Brothers and Benny just showed up. They were very hospitable…even down to…at 7:00 a.m. offering us refreshment, of which we graciously accepted. We sat and talked for a few minutes and they started singing hymns, and we joined in until the manager knocked on the door and asked if we could hold it down. It seems the folks next room over were in town for a funeral and we were irritating them.

Carter, before putting his guitar away asked Ralph and George Shuffler to join in and show us their newest rendition of an old Stanley song. They started; “I Am A Man Of Constipation…I HAVEN’T SHIT IN 13 YERS!” All three of us literally fell in the floor laughing. Here we have the great legendary Stanley Brothers with George Shuffler, the third Stanley, On a Sunday Morning in a Motel in Culpepper, Virginia singing their latest hit to The Osborne Brothers and Benny Birchfield, the third Osborne. Truly an unreal occurrence…NEVER TO BE DUPLICATED…HOPEFULLY!

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

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.