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.
Sonny, What’s the story with your Granada? When did you get it and how did you find it?
Actually it found me. Tom McKinney had purchased it from George Gruhn, who bought it from a fellow in Illinois… three owners before that it was bought new by Scotty Wiseman of the Lula Bell and Scotty husband-and-wife team who worked in Chicago. We played a show nearby and Tom and Dale invited us to dinner. Tom was showing several old Gibson banjos and this was one of them. I played it and the sound got in my head. I let Tom know that I didn’t intend to leave without it…. His price was not an object, I simply had to have that banjo. I didn’t leave without it, and that cost me $5000, New Years day 1978. Truly the best investment I ever made.
Sonny, You’ve mentioned the pistol you used to carry a couple times. Have you ever had to actually draw down on someone?
– Alan W.
Yes, but not in the sense of “drawing down”…. I was alone in Atlanta and I thought I was about to be robbed, or killed maybe, so I showed the weapon and made it known that If they harmed me I could do that too. I think they believed me… (but I’m not sure I did). I’m glad it ended as it did. They got in their vehicle and that was that. Only time, and I hope the only time ever. Weird feeling for sure.
Sonny, we’re a seasoned band with a mediocre banjo player. We all like him very much, but secretly agree he’s holding us back. It’s not going to be easy letting him go. Any advice you can provide to help us through it?
This is one BAD situation. I’ve had to do this 6 times… It ain’t no picnic. Question would be, does he think he can really play, or does he know that he’s a little behind. If he knows his, that makes it easier somewhat. In this case you could go to him as a group and explain that you need to move ahead and you need a better banjo player. No matter how you do it, it’s gonna come out bad. JUST DO IT, or struggle along.
Sonny, How did the trio sound come about which became the defining Osborne Brothers sound?
– George Y.
Dusty Owens had written a song (Once More), and we liked it, so on the way back home to Dayton from the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree we learned it. It didn’t work too well for us with the conventional lead, tenor, and baritone, so Bobby or I told Bobby to change the key to one where he could sing it, and Red Allen and I would fill in the parts below him. Lead on top, baritone below that, and move the tenor note from top to bottom. We hadn’t heard that arrangement of parts before, but we really liked what we heard. We had an MGM recording session coming up and we decided to record it. Good move on our part, it went to number 11 on Billboard. Success. It created another way to sing in the bluegrass world. Folks started using it and it caught on… most are still doing it. It also created another very important business idea for us as time moved along and guitar players were replaced. Bobby and I had the dominant parts in our vocals so we always sounded the same. Very important.
Sonny, how’s that eagerly anticipated biography coming along good sir. Legions are hungry for the countless stories and lore that our friend Scott Street got started all those years ago. Can’t wait!
– Tim T.
Well Timmy, I’ll tell you truthfully. I believe that whole thing is jinxed somehow. Scott Street started the idea, and I agreed. He put in an untold amount of work, doing interviews etc. Well, here’s where fate entered. Scott passed away before he could finish the book. (Let me say this now. He was one of the best men I have ever been associated with. Totally honest) Bill Evans agreed to finish Scott’s work, and once again fate jumped in. Bill’s wife was diagnosed with a form of cancer and all of Bill’s time was consumed. So Daniel Mullins wanted to finish it, and through Bill, I got all the information to him. I haven’t heard anything about it since. JINXED I TELL YOU! I believe I’ll find out right now.
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.