Ask Sonny Anything… When did you know how good Bobby was?

Hey good morning Chief! We’re all out here with coffee and donuts, looking at the buds on the apple and dogwood trees, and reminiscing. This sure feels like the official kickoff to bluegrass festival season to us. We’ve been swapping stories about the different shows we saw the bros perform all down through the years, so whadda ya say, let’s take a ride and revisit some of those memories this morning before Larry eats too many of these things and loses his boyish figure?


Hey T…we’ll be in a bit of a rush today…won’t be able to go far. Gotta get back, Larry, Nick, and Derek plus a new bass man have to take Krako #3 and lite out for Texas, I reckon. I wish I was able to go with them…man, do I ever!




My brother and I grew up in the 1970s listening and loving real country and bluegrass music. We have played together for over 40 years now and you and Bobby were some our biggest influences because of your unique harmonies. We saw you on the Opry many times and had the chance to meet you several times and you were always generous with your time and just good down home folks. I know you and Brother Bob played the White House with Hag for Pat Nixon’s Birthday. Any good White House stories? Thanks for the music and memories Brother Sonny!

Mickey J.

Mickey, welcome in here. You know, there is absolutely no need for one human to act better than another. Break it right down and we’re all God’s children. One ain’t no better’n the other. The White House was a tremendous accomplishment for us, and for Haggard, and every one of our bands. You’re on a stage, having been introduced by The President of The United States of America. Quite possibly the most powerful man in the world. Nervous? How bout scared —-less!

Let’s back up a few minutes. We are standing in an aisle to the left of the stage, and when he goes into our introductions we are supposed to make our way to the aforementioned stage. Which we tried to do. Right in front of me was a CBS camera man and he had his foot in the direct path of me boot heel…a sharp cupped heel western rodeo guys wear…my heel came down on his ankle. And I heard it crunch…I knew it was broken but getting to the stage appeared to be the most important item at the moment on our agenda! Would you agree?

I didn’t hear anything else about it, however I did notice the we got all kinds of coverage from NBC, ABC, and several other networks, all that is except CBS. NONE. Not a word. Oh, they talked about Merle, but not a word was mentioned about the Brothers. Oh well, The Brother was a little mad at Nixon right then anyhow. We did however shove Ruby and Rocky Top down their throats on that night. Sometime later Nixon’s entourage came to visit the Opry. Bob Eubanks and I were standing backstage and Nixon recognized me… “Osborne, from Kentucky!” and chose to walk over, shake hands and say a few words to me. When he left, I showed Bob my shoulder holster with a loaded 38 swinging under my arm. He called me some serious names which are not repeatable. He said had they seen it, that could have been some serious jail time. Lucky me….




I understand that you and Bobby were born in Roark, Kentucky, and that your house burned down when you were very young. Is that correct? Do you have any recollections of that event that you can share with us?

Alex W.

Alex, please come right on in here. We just kinda hanging around today…trying to solve a few world problems and not having much success.

Lets see, Roark, Kentucky. I don’t know about that. My Grandmother’s name was Nancy Roark. So maybe we were, I say “we”…. Bobby and Louise might have been borne in the house that burned. Bobby was born in 1931 and Louise 1933…I was an afterthought…1937.

I reckon the burned house had been replaced by the cabin I was born in, which was about 500 yards down the hill. Every time I go to Hyden I always go look “up in the holler.” Across the river from the Leslie County High School. Why? I don’t know. I know where the old house was before a tree fell through it. (Boyce Dixon 1941) is still carved in a tree down near the road.

Incidentally, the road is called “Osborne Way”…Proud, Yep…Bigheaded or conceited…Hell NO…not one drop of that kinda blood flows through my veins. I just stand there and look across the football field where Tim Couch broke all kind of records, (that boy could play some football. Quarterbacked the Kentucky Wildcats and then went to the Cleveland Browns) and just look, and think about how on earth did that woman raise 8 people, by her self…you got it right…by her self. Thank you Lord!




As far as I know, all bets are off when it comes to personal names. I have no idea. But I Googled it and Wikipedia lists the Biblical name simply as “Eli,” so I guess that’s another possibility along with the ones you mentioned. In the case of the murder ballad Eli Renfro, we’d have to ask songwriter Don Humphries of Asheville, NC, who also happens to be one of the best bluegrass rhythm guitarists I’ve ever picked with!

Sandy Rothman

Hey Sandy. Ole pal of yesterday. “Yodel la dee, le hee wo lay hee!” Reminds you of your Blue Grass Boy days, eh? You was a good’n….Good to know, about the name. Really, the reason I asked other than Eli’s name is Eli. BUT….and this is the reason. Blaine Sprouse, superb fiddlist who worked with the Brothers for a few years, early to mid eighties. He told me his name Blaine Sprouse. That got me to wondering if everyone who called themselves Eli were actually named Elihue or Elijah. You’d be surprised and or shocked to know what goes through your mind at 3:00 a.m. driving a bus load of sleeping bluegrass musicians across Iowa or Nebraska, two of the most desolate areas in the US…well maybe add New Mehico or Arizona at 3:00 a.m.

Good to hear from you Sandune…ah…Sandy!



Hey Sonny, do you remember the exact moment as a youngster when you realized your brother Bobby had something special in that beautiful voice of his? What went through your mind when it occurred to you this guy who is your brother, was a world class talent?

Meredith K

When I was 12 and Bobby 18, Otis Ginter brought a wire recorder to our farm and recorded some of the first Osborne recordings. Players and singers consisted of Sister Louise Osborne (16 yrs old), Bobby Osborne (18), Jimmy Martin (22), Me (12). They sang a song Ott had written entitled The New Freedom Bell. We did it in E as I remember. I don’t know which one sang the verses, their voices were identical. But I do know Louise sang the lead on the chorus. We played it through several times and Bobby sang harmony. It was/is so high and clear…I mean unbelievable.

I remember looking at him and there was no strain. Normal human beings just don’t sing that high…but he did. If you want to get that, listen to the beginning of a career that’s still going. Not that high nor clear but he’ll be 90 this coming December 7. I heard him do wonders every night for 50 years. World class is a great way to say it Meredith. Thank you for your time and interest. Come back and join us again, any time.


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.