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.
You’re without a doubt one of the most creative banjo players I’ve ever heard. I especially enjoy the way you’re able to put drive into your leads as well as all of the different chords and blues licks in your backup work. I’ve listened to Osborne Brothers records as a kid, I always loved the harmonies but found myself really listening for the banjo as well. I don’t recall listening to any bluegrass group that particular way, enjoying both vocals and instrument work. I like the electric recordings just as much as the acoustic albums. Considering you’re first generation bluegrass, what did you think of the Stanley Brothers playing and singing? Especially Carter’s lead singing and song writing?
I was given the opprotunity to see Ralph perform but was never lucky enough to experience a show when Carter was still alive. Some of the Frontier Ranch shows that the Osborne Brothers were at I consider to be some of the best playing at a bluegrass festival that I have ever seen.
Bobby D. Thank you for participating in our Game of Corns.
I appreciate the kind word in reference to our vocals and instrumental breaks and background. I am humbled. Thank you.
I knew Carter and Ralph pretty well and really liked Carter’s ability to write over everything else they did. My brother, Bobby, worked with the Stanley Brothers for a few weeks before he went to participate in the Korean “Conflict” as it was known by the “Higher ups!” He went in as a 20 year old fully trained Marine. So… I had the opportunity to see him perform with the Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph. Bobby played the mandolin and sang tenor, Bobby Sumner played fiddle. Their show was very, shall we say… undisciplined and loosely ran. There was no plan… in that no one in the band knew what they were going to do next. In fact, Carter announced Honey You Don’t Know My Mind and Ralph nonchalantly stepped up to the mic and said, “Carter, I thought we decided that we were not going to do that song!” So, Carter just went right into it and sang it anyhow. Funny, that’s been 69 years ago and I still remember it vividly, and just now laughed at that image.
I also remember they were driving a red 1950 Dodge car. A Stanley Brother’s song was the first break I learned to play on the banjo. We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven. Ralph took a very simple break, and I could just hear and see the notes in my head (I think that must be what is meant by one’s mind’s eye) how they fell, oh, and this was before I had a banjo.
Ralph had a unique style with his right hand that didn’t quite tell the whole story, and it just didn’t fit me. It didn’t say what I wanted to hear the banjo say, But Thank You Lord, Brother Carter could write. HE COULD. The White Dove, Vision of Mother, and Lonesome River. Among others. It just doesn’t get much better. Carter, Ralph, Bobby, and I were good friends.
Frontier ranch, 20 miles East of Columbus, Ohio was definitely a good place to hear bluegrass music at it’s best. Large, very wild crowds. Always with the “very wild” part. But GOOD music… bluegrass. And, every band with any kind of name recognition was there. 4 Days of it. One star after another. One of the top three bluegrass festivals. Camp Springs, North Carolina, Bean Blossom, Indiana, and Frontier Ranch. UM UM GOOD. The Good Marthy White!!!!! Goodness Gracious, It’s Good! All this drivel is my opinion.
Thank you for answering my question about Gene Wooten.
Here is another one:
There is a great cut on the Tribute to Paul Warren CD done by Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman of Paul playing with the Osborne Brothers. Can you tell us about Paul Warren playing with the group?
Jeff, thank you for your time. We were asked to fill in on the Martha White radio shows for Flatt when he had the heart surgery. We used our band with the addition of Paul. You must remember, Paul had been doing the theme in the key of C for years, we did it in E. That was hard on Paul to get used to, but the old pro did it and did it well. We did all our material in different keys than he was used to playing, and for a seasoned musician that ain’t easy, but he pulled it off.
Paul Warren, we knew him, not well, but we knew him from the earliest days with Earl and Lester. They had some good fiddlers in those days but Paul just fit them so well, in my opinion. He had worked with Johnny and Jack, and he was good there, but to me he fit L and E, not better than Benny Martin, but as well… and Benny fit in with Johnny and Jack. It was an excellent trade for both. Once at The Opry, we featured Paul playing Old Joe and he encored. To do that at The Ryman was not easy. It was fun to see Paul’s face. It just glowed. His son Johnny is from the same mold as Paul…good fiddlers, great men.
My name is Jim Brock the son of Carlos Brock. Sadly dad passed a few years back. Can you tell some stories about the good ole days that involves Carlos in anyway? I have been looking for any records or video of him. I have, and will never believe, bluegrass and its musicians get the credit that is due, so I want to pass along as much information as I can of the pioneers. Thanks for the help.
Jim…We had the pleasure of Jimmy D Brock playing electric bass with us for several years. Man, could he ever play. Terry Smith in my opinion is the best acoustic bass player since Bob Moore…Jimmy D. Brock was that good with the electric bass.
I digress….I knew your Dad, Carlos, well. Actually, from the time we were kids. He played football for Centerville I believe and I played for Jefferson. Played against one another. Man, one night a fight broke out and your old man was right in the middle of it. Both arms going like round house. I was a freshman and Carlos was a junior or senior. Right after that, I came to Nashville and played with Monroe, and when I came back to go to school, (10th Grade) I was asked to make some recordings for the Gateway Record Company. Carlos played the guitar and sang on my first solo records.
A few months later we were playing Johnnie’s Night Club on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. Carlos, Lonnie, and I were on stage and this guy named Lucky came walking up, and I bent over and asked what he wanted to hear. He said Blue Moon Of Kentucky. I told him we would get to it in a few minutes. He pulled a single action Colt 45 out of his pocket and calmly told me he wanted to hear it NOW. The barrel of that thing looked like a cannon! Carlos, Lonnie, and my eyes opened wide, and we went right into the Bluest Moon Kentucky had ever seen. I bet if a person watching would have said; “Them Boys Standing Up There Singing LIKE THEY DON’T NEED THE MONEY”. And man, right then we all three just wanted outa Dodge!
Sonny, You said that you liked some of the Beatles songs, what about the man the Beatles idolized Buck Owens and his friend Dwight Yoakam. BUCK. ‘EM!
Matthew. My Grandson’s name. Thank you for your question. Hey Jude, Something, The Long and Winding Road, Norwegian Wood, and several more. Yesterday…Paul McCartney did some great electric bass lines, and chord progressions. I learned to play Yesterday, Something, and Norwegian Wood on the banjo. Pretty chords.
I played Danny Boy, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, and America the Beautiful at banjo camp one year. I know, I digress! Dammit!
Dwight Yoakam I didn’t know at all, so I have no comment…None…Nein! Buck I knew pretty well. We did some dates with Buck, Don, and Tom. I loved Tom Brumly’s steel playing. He got the prettiest tone…especially on Together Again. Buck had an Indian kid playing drums. I never got acquainted with him…heck don’t even know his name. That was a great band. Vocally and instrumentally.
You know Matthew, I’m going to give you my opinion. I have heard that the Beatles were influenced by, and idolized Buck, and several more country singers, including Bill Monroe. My opinion, I don’t believe a word of that. It would be like saying I was influenced by Bill Keith….while I was friends with, and thought highly of Bill, he was certainly not an influence. If you idolize someone and their music it will show up in your playing. I idolized and was influenced by Earl Scruggs, Buddy Emmons, Miles Davis, Hank Garland, Roy Nichols, James Burton, Grady Martin, Hargis Robinson, Ray Edenton, and it shows in my playing.
Can someone show me where Bill Monroe, Buck, or Roy Acuff would fit into, anywhere, on the old country standard, I Wanna Hold Your Hand? Huh? Or how bout Twist And Shout? I can’t hear anything that would resemble a country or bluegrass influence in the Beatles vocals or instrumental sounds. Ok… They recorded Act Naturally. Written by Johnny Russell and recorded by Buck Owens… and maybe others. On the Beatles cut wasn’t that Ringo who sang? (and I use that word loosely!) As stated above, I’m a Beatles fan on some of their material, not all, but some, and that was not one of them..
Someone? Anyone? Please tell me if I’m missing something here. I will gladly stand corrected. Charlie Sizemore am I wrong? Herb Pedersen, am I? Raymond McClain, you’re a smart boy… Do I have a point? How bout you Derek. Speak up if I’m not seeing something.
This can of worms being opened already brings up another question I have for you….Why is Bill Monroe in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Hello Sonny My name is Zachary. I come from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I am a fiddler/singer and I dream of one day playing at the Grande Ole Opry! I just want to tell you that you are one of my heroes in music! I spend many, many hours listening to the Osborne Brothers LP records, which is funny because I’m only 14 years of age! But what I wanted to ask you is, what advice would you give to a young singer like myself? How can I practice my voice and even make it sound a little Better? And how can I feel more confident on stage while singing? Anyway thanks so much for your time! I hope to meet you someday in the future! 🎶🎶
Hey Zachary. Thank you. I appreciate all the time you have spent listening to our records. Thank you for that. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer your question, but by golly I’ll try to make sense for you. First of all can you sing on key? This is a must. And you find this out by playing a record and while singing with the record, ask someone, a family member or friend, another musician, anyone that you know will be truthful, if you’re singing with the record. If you are that’s half the battle.
The next thing I’m going to tell you pertains to everything in life that you want to perfect. PRACTICE. Doesn’t matter what it is… Fiddle, guitar, vocal, PRACTICE..PRACTICE AND MORE PRACTICE. You can’t do that enough nor too much. The more time you put into practice will also build your confidence, and the more confidence you have in your ability the easier it will be to perform in front of a crowd. And some day, if you perfect your talent by practicing and performing for crowds, you may be able to display your talent for a crowd at The Grand Ole Opry. Good Luck! And maybe I’ll be listening to you sing on the electric radio!
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.