Ask Sonny Anything… what was it like touring with Merle Haggard?

Good morning Chief! Wow, how about those storms huh? Made me think we were heading back to 2010 and the big flood here in Music City. Not to worry though, Larry just got the pontoons on the bus (which we’ve now nicknamed the BlueSplash Express) and we’re good to go. Professor Dan is launching the skiff now and headed to your porch, so grab your snorkel and Mae West and let’s go sailing!


….Lawrence told me he could back it into a rathole. Well now I wanta see him back this thing up his driveway with those skids on each side. My money is on him…I was pretty good, Benny and Raymond were better’n me, but Raymond Huffmaster was the best ever. (Incidentally, who was Mae West????)

>>> Sonny, she was the girl on the poster in your uncle’s shop.


Hey Sonny,

Looks like Bobby is at it again with a brand new cover of a Merle Haggard classic, just released on Alison Brown’s Compass label this week. Which made me wonder, got any stories about the “Hag” you can share with us?

Uncle C.

Uncle, glad to have you jump right on in hyer! Thank you for your time. YEP…I’m familiar with Bobby’s latest Compass release. If Bobby makes his next December 7 birthday, he will be 90 years old. How many 90 year old singers still sound good? Well, he does. This is not the Bobby I’m used to hearing for over 50 years, but who is? I haven’t picked a lick since 2003, so I don’t reckon I have much room to have an opinion one way or the other, would you agree? So, in my opinion…if Ms. Brown and the folks at Compass Records are pleased and happy with Bobby’s sound, and if Bobby is pleased with how Bobby sounds, and he’s making the cash registers jingle, who wants to complain? Hey, I still have Decca, MGM, RCA…and a lifetime of live show memories. Carry on Brother Bob!

Merle Haggard era… There was a reason for taking the dates to open for Merle. I wanted to get to play the venues in larger cities, LA, Oakland Coliseum, Madison Square Garden…etc. And for 4 years we played for 10,000 to 20,000 per night. That was a total of maybe 40 days per year…including The White House, Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe, Fort Worth with Bob Wills in the audience. Crowds were great, we were accepted if not loved. Lot of work, money not great but good enough…it served its purpose.

Met and became friends with Bob Eubanks. Still talk to him occasionally. Merle was relatively quiet, not rude, open for conversation but not a big mouth….just a good ole boy. One of us…the biggest star, in country music, world wide, but he didn’t act like it. Very few get that popular and stay down to earth. One night he walked through pretty steady rain over to our motorhome to just get away from that bunch, maybe drink a couple beers, see what you guys were doing. Guy that big can prove himself right quick by doing things like that. Johnny Cash and Carl Smith did basically the same thing. You just love guys like that, feel sorry for the others.



Hey Sonny,

I really like your column, so much bluegrass history in them! I just wondered if Flatt and Scruggs ever asked The Osborne Brothers to join them onstage?

Mark K.

Hey Mark. Thanks for joining our fracas…good to hear from you. So far as Lester and Earl asking us to come on stage with them, no they never did. But in 1960, Berryville, Virginia, Eddie Matherly wanted to hear Bobby sing with Lester and I tagged along. I think Benny came too. We did Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms and We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart. I picked and Bobby sang. Lester sang and Earl didn’t take any breaks. Just stood there and played a little rhythm. Looked tired, he might have been. It was very hot that day and after our show, I was standing beside our car and just had opened perhaps the coldest Budweiser ever brewed…I took one swallow and I heard this voice, and it said, “Boy I wisht I had me a cold byer.” I looked around and realized I was standing beside Lester and Earl’s bus. The voice was Earl in the driver’s seat. So I reached it up and offered him a drink of it. He took it and damned if he didn’t drink the whole thing and handed me the can back. He said, “boy that was good. Thank you!” A few years later we became closer with them. Lester told me that when Earl had the wreck in 1955, he tried to get in touch with us but couldn’t find us, and he had to have someone immediately.



Hello Sonny

In the early part of the 2000s, my grandmother served as the official photographer for a festival in West Liberty, KY, called the Old Mill Park Bluegrass Festival. She once told me about a time that you guys headlined the festival, and that you brought the house down. So, I was curious as to whether or not you have any memories of playing this festival.

Eli P.

Eli….good to have and enjoy your company. West Liberty, Kentucky. ‘Bout a hundred miles from My Old Kentucky Home….I don’t know that to be fact, I just made it up cause it sounded good. I remember playing that because a band member got mad at me that day, and quit if memory serves me correctly. I bought a good guitar from him and I think he thought I would bring it every week and he would still get to play it. Wrong, I sold it to another guy in our band who played a different instrument. Never saw the guitar again. I do remember playing there. I remember that we had a hard time finding the location. I don’t remember tearing the house down, but I do remember gong over quite well. Thank you Eli…would that be Elihue, or Elijah…or both or neither. Sandy Rothman will probably set me straight on that. See you next week if the Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise.



In all your travels, where did you find the best food? Homemade? Restaurants?

And what is your favorite meal?



NB…Thank for your time. I appreciate it very much. Outside USA would be rather easy. Canada and Germany. Not fair though. We spent a lot of time in Canada, Germany… only a little in comparison. Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick were the closest to ’40s and ’50s southern country meals.

Germany had Wiener Schnitzel. Both places were very good but right here in the USA, you can find anything a person would want. Bobby, I don’t really know what he likes most. If I had to guess, I would have to say fried chicken…actually you could mark that down for both of us. However, for the last 20 years I worked he brought his food from home. We had the freezer and refrigerator on the bus, so he rarely went into a restaurant to eat with us. But once we stopped at a truck stop South of Cincinnati and brother went in with us. He sat at a different table and when he left, he dropped a dollar bill on the table as a tip. David Crow, who played fiddle with us was sitting at our table. After Bobby left, David rushed to that table, picked up the dollar brother left and replaced it with one of his own. He wrote on it. I read what he wrote. “This dollar was left by Bobby Osborne as a tip on this date. It is the only tip I saw him leave, ever.” HOO RAH DAVID.


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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.