Ask Sonny Anything… Up This Hill and Down

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, I saw where someone had asked about your favorite venues to play. They mentioned Poppy Mountain, in particular. And with that in mind I would like to ask you a question about another Kentucky venue that I know the Osborne Brothers played regularly. In fact, I saw Bobby there about a month ago, Meadowgreen Appalachian Music Park. What are your thoughts and experiences with this venue?

Eli P.

Eli…glad you got here before the snow. (;-)

Meadowgreen is a new name to me. I know we played the little building that sat on the property. I hope this is what you are referring to. I have fond memories of that place. We always sorta packed the place which is always a good feeling and the crowds were always very appreciative. That’s good too. But the sound was not hardly as good as it should have been. Sometimes they would get it right and other times not so good. I remember when Bobby played there about a month ago. Lincoln Hensley played the banjo with him on that date. Bobby is still doing pretty good for 88 years old. Next time you go there try to get backstage and check out the drywall where we signed our autographs every time we were there. Yeah, and everyone who has been there signed it too. Ralph Hacker, UK Basketball commentator came there to see us once, Sonny Smith, Auburn Basketball head coach came once, Ronnie Jackson, who played the banjo for Buck Owens came to see us there once. Carl Farmer, banjo player from the Detroit area showed up one night. Renfro Valley barn was a fun place for us too. I remember once the place was full and when we sang Kentucky, the whole crowd stood and applauded. We made a video from here that night. Fun Place. s


Question for Sonny O.;

I know you were well acquainted with Tom McKinney (i.e., that “famous Granada’) who passed away this year (2019). To say Tom was a little “eccentric” might be an understatement, but I always thought he was a fine Scruggs style banjo player. Would you care to say a word or two about your relationship with Tom and your assessment of his banjo playing. Thanks for your time!

Dave C. – Asheville, NC

Hey Dave.

Tom McKinney was a long time friend. He and his wife Dale came to see us on quite a few occasions. Eccentric, kinda paranoid. He had strange ways but I always tried to look around that part of his personality. The night I bought the Granada he could have taken me to the woodshed, but he didn’t. I told him that I wasn’t leaving without that banjo and he kept telling me it wasn’t for sale. I told him whatever price he put on it, I would pay. They brought it to me the next morning at the Holiday Inn West. Money was not discussed until a month or two later. He was a good dude. I don’t think I ever actually heard Tom play enough to have an opinion. I know he played with Curly Seckler for a while and perhaps recorded with him, so he must have been a pretty good player.

Maybe someone would tell me where I could find something Tom recorded.


I have always loved your phrasing for not only lead parts but for backup rhythm arrangements, like Up This Hill and Down …strong! What are your influences in that kind of phrasing to make it rock like that?

Hello Jerry.

You learn things like that by just listening to everything you can. Country, Pop, Rock, Classical guitar, piano, steel guitar, horns. Pay attention to their instrumental breaks, fill ins, etc. Rudy Lyle had some great fill in ideas on the banjo. One in particular on a song by Bill Monroe called I’m Blue and Lonesome. After the line; “When I hear the Whistle Blow” I CAN’T REMEMBER WHETHER IT’S ON THE FIRST TIME THAT LINE COMES UP, BUT IT’S SO GOOD. I was also very fortunate in that I could hear something once and remember it until it would come up fitting in a song. I had guys in the studio, Grady Martin, Ray Edenton, Hal Rugg, they would make suggestions to me. One in particular on Loves Gonna Live Here at the end of my banjo solo, Ray said: “why don’t you use this old Chuck Berry lick.” He did it and when we did the next take, I did that lick. Ideas and different licks come from everywhere. Up his Hill and Down…we wanted to have the drum do that thing but he just never got the beat the way we wanted it, so I did it myself. Worked out OK. I thought. Thank you Jerry for chiming in. s


Hey Sonny.

My daddy told me a story about when you guys played a festival at the fairgrounds in Gray, TN back in the day. You were doing Ruby, and when you got to the ending where Bobby would sing “honey are you mad…” by himself after the band stopped, some old drunk stood up and hollered, “Hell no!” He said the whole band cracked up and you couldn’t even finish the song for several minutes. Do you remember that?

John G.

John, man that was a long time ago. I don’t remember the town but I remember a totally drunk woman doing just that. She just screamed it too…”HELL NO”…. man the crowd went berserk and we just stopped. I don’t remember finishing the song. Bobby got red and purple in the face at the same time. Some of the funniest things happen and I’m elated to have this little article going that I can answer just about anything you guys ask. Terry Herd and John Lawless have yet to tell me to tone it down, so I’m free to answer what you ask, “ABOUT ANYTHING!” It’s fun and I love it.

…and one more thought for the week.

I’m in the process of rehabbing a complete knee replacement surgery and I think I should tell you that it ain’t no friggin’ walk in the park. If you remember IBMA in Raleigh I gave my little speech for the Bill Emerson induction into the Hall Of Fame in a wheel chair. That and my white sox. (FYI, I was offered black replacements but I figured if I was stupid enough to walk off and forget dark sox with a dark suit, I deserved to be laughed at and ridiculed) Larry Stephenson was kind enough to take me there in his bus, and Derek Vaden, John and Josh Gooding, Red Jones, Larry, and Lincoln Hensley were kind enough to wheel me around, and I want to thank them for doing that for me.


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.