Ask Sonny Anything… what’s this all about?

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.

Ask Anything. Where did the idea to do this come from? Why you? And why did you agree to do this? Do you remember Bob and Grace French. I heard that in the late ’50s you came to their house and stayed.
W.A. Clue

Mr. W.A. are you right sure you are real? W.A. Clue sounds like Without a clue!!!! Come on now….

Bob and Grace did, in fact put us up and fed us every time we played in New England. 1958-1962. Really, man it had completely slipped my mind. Bob gave me the idea and the first part of a banjo tune I took credit for writing, which I did not. JERICHO. Son of a gun! You know, Bill Keith and Danny Bump used to come over to their house when we were there, and we would play forever. Bob was a pretty good banjo player, and Grace a pretty good singer. They did a few albums. Thanks, those are some good memories.

Ask me anything came from Mr. Terry Herd, and John Lawless… John probably told Terry when he heard what was about to take place, “God no, don’t turn him loose!”

Why me? I guess I’m the last of the old codgers who would do this. Get to thinking about it, I’m probably the only one left who WOULD do it. This thing leaves yourself open for all kinds of criticism, but those who know me know I don’t care about that. Go ahead, criticize all you want. Get it out of your system, you’ll feel better. I bet I have had 500 people tell me they read this stuff. That, I didn’t expect. I figured after a couple weeks it would dry up, and it might yet. For now though Terry tells me it’s doing pretty good. I’m elated. I love doing this. And I’m thankful that Terry and John gave me this opportunity. True, you might like some of it, you might not like most of it, but you can always hit the delete button. But know this pilgrim, I WOULD BE DEVASTATED IF YOU DID THAT. And remember, older guys who have had heart attacks can’t take too much devastation! 😉
Thank you Mr. Withouta. Hurry back.


Mr. Osborne.

I have been a fan and follower of your banjo playing for years, and I would like to know who you believe to be the true genius among the banjo players now playing, and how do you rate these men. How do you rate one over the other, or do you? Thank you for being an inspiration to us plunkers.

Paul A.

Paul A. Thank you for being here. Are you related to John A, Dana Cupp’s lifelong friend?

Answering your question as best I can, although it is a tough one… First off, they’re not all men. Some pretty good female banjo players, and realize, I don’t know all who are great, I will tell you those who I know and have taken their playing apart. I consider the players who think and create to be the real geniuses. Players who, when you hear them you will say that is playing the banjo. People who have defining licks that you recognize. I will NOT include me, that would be considered big headed and perhaps conceited, (Isn’t that the same thing) which I am not. 50 years from now I will be judged….maybe! Maybe not!

In no kind of order, here goes. Earl, Don Reno, Sammy Shelor, Rob McCoury, Kristen Scott Benson, Alison Brown, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Ned Lubrecki, Bill Evans, Bill Emerson, Bill Keith, and I know there are more. I explained that already. There are those out there that are good players, but they only play what others played before them. That doesn’t count in my way of thinking. Creative people who hear things, create what others copy.

I thought of Earl in the late ’40s. Back when he was perfecting his right hand, He didn’t have anyone to look to and ask, “is this right, does this sound right?” There was no one. Man that’s GENIUS. LAWD HAVE MOICY….. How do I know? I was there. In the beginning Earl couldn’t move without me trying to move that way…COPIED EVERYTHING HE DID, man in 1952 he was frightening… scary for a 14 year old kid, until 1957. I still loved Earl, and his playing but I heard different things that could be done with a banjo. That’s what I’m talking about. Different, defining right hand rolls and left hand chords that we haven’t heard before on a banjo. When you hear them play, you say, “that’s playing the banjo.”

Thanks Paul. Y’all come back now, hyer?



Hi Sonny,

Our family has run bluegrass shows in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana for years. One of the guys we really looked up to was Carlton Haney and the legendary festivals that he ran back in the day. I was hoping you would share with us some of your memories especially about the time when the great Earl Scruggs was on stage and Carlton had all the awesome banjo pickers from the festival with him doing a pick along of Foggy Mountain Breakdown. What a special moment that was for all to see. Thank you Sonny for all that you and Brother Bobby have done for Bluegrass music. You’re awesome !

Ed H.

Ed, thank you for sharing a few minutes with us.

You know, I believe The Good Lord put Bobby and I here to do what we did. I know, some may say that’s Bull —-! I respect that, but I ask that you respect what I believe. We were put here to do this and we did it as best we could. We had a good run!

1971, Camp Springs North Carolina. Funny thing happened. Earl came on stage and said to me, “Can I Say Something” and I answered him back with, “No, just pick”…we both laughed..Man we laughed….I loved and respected Earl more than words can express…the best part of that was, he knew he was a BIG STAR …. then we all played. I treasure my position. He, The Man, played first then he made room for me and I took it. There must have been 20-30 banjo players there that day. One of the high points of my life was becoming friends with Earl Scruggs. We talked, visited each other’s house, ate vegetable soup that Judy made, picked a little… Mistake I made was shooting pool with him. Man could flat out shoot some pool. Another good thing, I now have become friends with his son Gary. That’s a pleasure. Some would say I’ve been blessed! Gary is a lot like Earl.

Thanks Ed!



Hi Sonny I’ve enjoyed these questions as I’m sure many have. I have listened to The Osborne Brothers all my life having heard you at many of the Bluegrass Festivals in North Georgia such as Lavonia and Dahlonega. My question is “How do you see the future of the beloved Bluegrass Festival and or the future of the live presentation of Bluegrass music that it survive for future generations. As a side question, what was your favorite Bluegrass festival?

M. Mundy

Hey M. Mundy, you got a famous name. Great banjo player named Alan Munde.

The future of The Bluegrass Festival, I can’t answer… I’ve been away from that scene too long. I remember Lavonia or Dahlonega being so hot it was hard to breathe. Mac Wiseman literally crumbled on stage. I bet it was 120 degrees on the stage. I remember when we finished our show there was two circles of perspiration where Bobby and I stood…where it had dripped from our jackets. Man, it was hot. I might have the name wrong. A creek ran behind the stage…Shoal Creek? HELP!

LIVE PRESENTATION. You know what really bothers me? And you all are probably so used to it that it isn’t a concern to you. The way the acts, artists, if you will, the way they dress. A few…Doyle Lawson, Joe Mullins, Larry Stephenson, and of course there are more. But for the most part they look like they just got out of jail. (That’s Funny) Anyway, that’s just my opinion. All of this is my opinion.

My favorite is really hard to answer, but if I were pressured I would have to say the Starvy Creek Festival located at 1933 Bluegrass Road, Conway, Missouri, owned and run by Don Day and family. Funny, Larry Stephenson was kind enough to let me ride on his bus to the IBMA thing in Raleigh, and we discussed this very thing. We agreed, this was the best. The setting is just unbelievable and Mr. Day is a pleasure to be acquainted with. However this is not a put down of every other festival. Most are really good. On a scale of 1 to 10…most would range between 7 to 9.5 and Starvy Creek would be a 10. (I got myself outa that pretty good, huh?)



I saw a video yesterday in which Lincoln Hensley used quick tuners that weren’t Scruggs, Sprung, or Keith quick tuners. I wrote him and asked. He called them “Sonny’s ugly tuners.” What are they? How do they mount? I can’t find a picture online. My only banjo now is a strange Gold Tone Electric.
Be well young man.

Mark R S, OD


Most tuners worry you half to death retuning or readjusting. These aren’t like that. Also, with the Uglies you have more creative situations because you may use both tuners at the same time. Good luck with getting the Uglies to fit on that strange peghead, as you called it. They mount on the first and fourth tuning pegs of most conventional shaped banjos.. Take the first and fourth strings off, lower the second and third strings, and remove the nuts from the first and fourth string tuners, slide the metal plate over the posts, and replace the nuts. replace first and fourth strings. Place the second and third strings in the guide wheels, and tune the banjo. Simple as that. it has thumb screws to do the final adjustments and after that you’re off on the Flint Hill Special!

Thanks for participating. Come back and remember that I also created and sell the wonderful Chief Banjo. I gotchie covered at every angle..😜😚⬇⬅➡↗↖↘↙⬆

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.