Ask Sonny Anything… what first got you excited to play banjo?


Let me say first off that if it wasn’t for Sonny and The Earl, I would never have picked up a banjo. I’ve been playing now for 23 years, but it only feels like 5. Did time fly by for you when you were on the road playing with Bobby and the band?

Also, One of my best mentor’s, Doug Greene (banjo) from Lake Okeechobee, FL area, and later on moved up to western NC, had a band called The Prospectors with his brother Jerry (guitar). They have both passed on now. They were huge Osborne Brothers fans that have played festivals with The Brothers in the ’70s and ’80s. My question to you is, do you have any recollections of Doug and/or Jerry Greene? They sure spoke highly of you, Bobby, and the band. Thank you so much for your wealth of knowledge and stories on this column. They are priceless!

Scott H.

Hey Scott. Thank you for your time, appreciate it. When I was on the road with the Brothers band, time did not fly by as you say. It still took 14 hours to drive 800 miles, and no matter how it felt it still took that long to get 800 miles from one date to the next. I don’t know how many times I sat there and daydreamed about time travel, and how I could just automatically be in Sacramento, CA but no….I had to go from St Louis, to Kansas City and Denver, and then think … why it’s only another 4 or 5 hours to Sacramento.

I know a guy named Doug Greene, but I’m sure it’s not the one you mentioned, because I don’t think he had a brother named Jerry. I appreciate the fact that they were friends and fans of the Brothers, and I’m sorry that I don’t remember them.


Have you considered a podcast, MC-ing festivals, or hosting a radio show? We enjoy this column, and I bet the fans would love to hear you in different settings.

– Brian M.

Brian, thank you for participating in our chaotic free-for-all. I have never considered a podcast, whatever that is, nor would I ever take the job of MC-ing a festival. And hosting a radio show takes a whole lot of planning and to maintain this little column takes all I want out of me at this point.


Hi Sonny,

Thanks for taking the time each week to answer questions and share your thoughts and memories from your career.

My question is what role did the song Foggy Mountain Breakdown play in your deciding to learn to play the banjo, or did it at all? I think for many players like me, hearing that song played by Earl, in particular the 1949 recording, spoke us in a way that pulled us in to the instrument and then kept us there. To me, the combination of both speed and maintaining separation of notes in the 1949 recording is always head-shaking stuff.

What are you memories of when you first heard this recording, and then when you would hear it over the years as you became an expert professional player?

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed reading Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown, The Making of an American Classic by Thomas Goldsmith. Did you happen to read it? It provides a wonderful overview of Earl’s life and career, but also provides a detailed analysis of the 1949 recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Finally, when you would perform the song, would you usually play the break, third section in the 1949 recording, based on Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean? I really like that break in the song.

Thanks much,

Perry…Thank you for joining us. I know this sounds a little weird, but Foggy Mountain Breakdown had nothing to do with my learning to play the banjo. The first guy who raised my interest at 11 year old was Larry Richardson, and I asked him to let me see his right hand, and instead of turning where I could see it, he turned his back on me so that I couldn’t see his right hand and that proceeded to piss me right on off.

Later that night, I told my dad, “You know what? I betcha I could learn that if you would buy me a banjo” ….which he did. And I did. I was playing Cripple Creek in no time. Not very good, mind you, but playing it.

My inspiration to play the banjo came from hearing James Bower play I’m On My Way Back to the Old Home on the Grand Ole Opry with Bill Monroe. I just had to learn how to do that. Which I did.

Books pertaining to music are so full of lies and authors’ ideas or concept of what really happened, and what should have happened…to me it’s a waste of time to read that stuff because in most cases I know what happened first-hand. I know Tommy Goldsmith, and he’s a good straight-up guy, but I did not read that book. And I knew Earl on a first-name basis, and we never discussed the making of Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I have heard people say that Earl has said in interviews that a section of it was based on Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, but the Earl never told me that personally, so I take that as hearsay…as they say on Judge Judy’s show. Thank you for your interesting comments.

My best memory of Foggy Mountain Breakdown was in the movie of Boney and Claude, when that car around that curve and the Earl hit that 1st, 3rd, and 5th string I almost went through the chair. It was so damn good.

Thank you Perry.


Hey Sonny

I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy learning more about the history of our family from the questions you are asked. Since I never saw you much after my son won that last baseball game in Goodlettsville, I was wondering if you guys were able to catch any of the other games. I appreciated the support and speaking with you guys during the team’s run. I remember looking out to center field to see if there was any Kentucky blue out there. 🙂

Galen O.

This paragraph does not pertain to music, but to my brother’s great-grandson, Blake Osborne’s Little League baseball heroics. Robby, Bobby’s son, who played drums with the Brothers’ band had a son named Galen, and Galen’s son is Blake….whose Little League team went all the way to the LL World Series championship game, and we suffered through the whole thing with them. We did not go to Williamsport, but thanks to TV we were there in spirit.

Thank you Galen, for bringing this up, and reminding us what an exciting time it was to go to Goodlettsville and watch them play.

Sitting here, dilly-dallying with your questions, we just got word that our 3rd great-grandchild has been born…. a boy. Congratulations are in order. Thank You.

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.