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.
As you know, I saw you lots of times, and never saw a bad set. Love your harmonies, your picking, and your great material. In your recent “Ask Sonny” column there’s a beautiful video medley attached. I truly never noticed until now how often you stopped playing, whether for vocal harmonies, for Bobby’s leads, or for band members’ solos, the way you did on Started Loving Her Again. Folks ought to learn from your tasteful example.
I miss the Sonny, Bobby, Dale, and Ronnie version of the group. As we age (I’m still a young 71) I’m glad I have a life full of great memories. The ones including you are heartwarming. I hope we get to meet again some day. Be well, my friend.
Mark R Sukoenig, OD
Mark….man it’s so good to hear from you. Hey, we go back to the ’60s. Folks, Mark is an Eye Doctor (OD) and a great friend. I too miss the band containing Dale and Ronnie. Of course, I also miss several more guys, but these two were stand outs because they were there when we were forging, or creating our thing… a thing that took us to places unheard of in bluegrass music. Sounds a little like bragging? I reckon that would be right. 😉
When you have a good band such as the aforementioned, you have to learn that their part is just as good (important) as what you hear in your head. The great thing about those two, their mindset was the same as Bobby and I. We all had this strong focus on one thing. Perfection… Get it right. And then sometimes you just have to be quiet and let the emphasis on a certain phrase, or word, or note come out better. Motto: Don’t muddy the water if it don’t need muddied! Thank you Mark for joining this free for all that we got going here. Fun! The medley you mentioned just happens to be my favorite. Brother Bobby’s voice just shone. When you have something like that to play background with…. you can’t do much wrong. My opinion.
Sonny, with all due respect to Bobby, I still think your baritone made the trio. Who were your influences vocally and who else did you like to hear sing baritone?
Don, thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate all you have said.
My vocal. I never was fond of the fact that I had to sing, but it was necessary in the early days because it was just the two of us. Like the story of the rabbit who fell into a hole and told his friend to “go get help, I can’t get out!” When the friend got back the rabbit was sitting out of the hole. The friend said..”I thought you said you couldn’t get out.” The rabbit said, “A snake crawled in and I had to!” I had to but, I never liked to sing… always thought my voice had a bad sound. That was before I knew about blending or changing your tone to match whomever you are singing with. When Benny Birchfield came to sing with us is when I started learning how to control my sound. In effect, how to blend.
My influences, I really didn’t have any because we were doing things that hadn’t been done before so, like Earl, there was no one to ask. Everyone was singing a different type harmony than we were…. with the lead voice on top and the harmony parts below. Howard Watts, (Cedric Rainwater) Earl, Jesse McReynolds. They knew HOW to sing parts. Herb Pedersen is excellent. One of the best. Had I heard him, and knew what I was listening for, he would have been my pattern. A lot comes from who you are singing with. Benny, Dale, Terry Smith and Eldredge, and Paul Brewster. They all knew how…I also believe it’s a natural thing that you’re born with. MY OPINION.
To most of us familiar with your career, you’ve just about done it all. But I’m dying to know what your bucket list looks like. Maybe even just the top one or two things you still want to check off before heading to that bluegrass festival in the sky!
Amos….What an interesting question you’ve asked.
You’re right, in that, I honestly believe I have done what God put me here to do, with a couple exceptions… One being I bought an American Motors Rambler in 1963. That was a mistake.
A black, 4 door, fully loaded GMC Pickup would be near the top. The joke here being, they cost almost 70K. NUFF SAID about that. (Stupid I ain’t) I always wanted to go to and/or play in England. We never had that opportunity, so go now you might say. Well, when I retired in 2005, I made a pact with myself that I would never fly again, and I won’t. So, beautiful England is out. I’ll always wonder whether we would have been accepted well. And, I would loved to have seen Liverpool, Strawberry Fields, (I loved some of the Beatles songs, thanks to Jimmy Dewayne Brock) and London…. and to find out what “Cockney” actually sounds like.
With fans all over the world, I’m wondering, in all your years of traveling, what was the one country you found most embracing of your music, and that of bluegrass in general? And could you talk a little about why?
Thank you Sandra.
Just for the time we were there, and not to suggest it would be the same now, it probably isn’t. But for that time, Germany and Japan would be equal. Our success would be due to records being released and played in those countries. One can also judge by sales at your concession table whether you are accepted.
Once in Japan, it was rumored the crowd was 18,000 and, understand, I’m not suggesting that we drew that many, not at all… but we had our share. Raymond Huffmaster came up to me and said; “Nig, in less than 30 minutes I sold everything I had!” and he had a lot, that was about 1985. We were in Japan first in 1978. There for a week and had about 2000 people per night. Lined up 4 deep, a block long for autographs. Crowds were very quiet and attentive until the end of a song, then the roar. Bodyguards yet! Honestly. We had four guys assigned to us and we couldn’t go anywhere without them. I mean anywhere. We were staying at The Holiday Inn in Tokyo, and so one night I decided I would outsmart my guy. At 3:00 a.m. I dressed and punched the down button on the elevator. When it opened on the lobby, my guy was standing there. “Hi” means yes. I punched 3 and went back to bed.
Then Germany, We would do a sound check every night and there was always people milling around. The first night this happened, I want to say, was Berlin. I just struck the first and fifth strings on the banjo and 5-10 guys let out this scream. Our record of Country Roads was popular at the time and on the show that night when we sang Country Roads, we encored. I’m talking about in the middle of our show, we encored. The rest of our show it was the same. UNREAL. Faron Young, The Kendalls, Charlie McClain, and Tommy Overstreet were also on the show. The promoters, Marlboro Cigarette people, came to me and wanted to put us on later in the show, like last. I told them if they would pay us closer fee, we would do it. I don’t remember whether they agreed to that but seems as though we did go on in that spot, after that. Now, whether bluegrass in general was more or less popular before or after that tour, I couldn’t tell you. And, of the two incidents described above, Japan….we were like bluegrass legends, in that we had a good following and we, The Osborne Brothers, was a name they recognized. It’s hard to talk about this without sounding big headed, and that could not be further from the truth. I could explain this by saying that along about this time people..kids…were all talking about getting back to the earth and I guess bluegrass music represented that, to them.
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.