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.
Sonny, years ago you said that there was a team of tiny men who lived in your banjo and were responsible for broken strings, going out of tune, etc., and that the guy in charge of them was named Krayco. What ever happened to Krayco and his team? Are they still around? Have they moved to someone else’s banjo? I notice that Ron Block tunes a lot… maybe they’re with him now?
Ned…due to the fact that I only know one person named Ned, I feel rather safe in assuming that he be thee! (That’s a little CHURCH Talk) Anyhow, You are one of the most talented musicians I have ever known. I wanted you to know that now, for fear that I hadn’t told you that before. So now let’s talk about Krako. He lived in my banjo resonator and every so often I would hear this voice that would say, “Not Tonight. You will play out of tune or not play.” He accounted for broken strings, bridges, tuning problems, just anything that could go wrong would go wrong. I never saw him… not once… but I had long conversations with him after a particularly bad tuning show. I have always detested seeing someone, anyone playing any instrument, stand up on the stage before a paying audience, TUNE…TUNE…Tune… after every song. We just never did that much. We had a Peterson strobe tuner installed on our bus, and everyone would tune with it before going on stage. You asked what happened to him KRAKO…. I had to stop playing the banjo in 2003 because of rotator surgery so I lost contact with The Kraco Team. They were with me so long, though, I had to honor them somehow so I realized, several months ago, that I had enough parts in my garage to build a banjo… so I did. It came out sounding so good, I thought someone should be playing it. Lincoln Hensley has agreed to play it, so Lincoln now plays the only KRAKO banjo in existence. Ronnie Block does not deserve a group like Krako … BUT, Come to think of it, Ron does tune a lot…HMMMMMM!
Sonny, In one of the videos with Mac Wiseman from 1999, you talked about being in some small town in Quebec, Canada in the wintertime and playing a show where the promoter never showed up. Do you remember where in Quebec this show took place and who was playing guitar for you at the time?
During that time, 1955, Bobby and I worked with Charlie Bailey in Wheeling, WV. So he would be the guitar player. It was snowing so hard you could hardly see the building. Kids were playing hockey in the street. So, showtime came and the promoter was not there to open the door, and the building was locked. We were all broke too with a half tank of gas. Tough times. I saw a few people gathering at the door so I started looking or some way to get in… I found an unlocked window and crawled through. Found a light switch and opened the front door. By then a pretty decent crowd had appeared so I got a chair and collected admission… When they stopped coming I had amassed a total of $490… and I started hoping the guy wouldn’t show up because that was enough to get us back to Wheeling, and have some left over. He didn’t show, we kept it all, did a decent show, the folks were pleased, we loaded our equipment up, I locked the front door, turned out the lights, crawled back out and shut the unlocked window and we had a pretty good trip back to Wheeling.
Sonny, How did you guys come to tour with Haggard? What is one experience that stands out most while touring with him? I’m glad to see you’re doing well, I miss seeing you out on the road.
Thanks, Wes V.
We worked a show in Pennsylvania with Merle and I guess he liked what he heard. In 1971 we won The CMA VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR and our presenters were Roy Clark and MERLE HAGGARD…maybe that had something to do with it, I really don’t know that as fact, but I can’ think of any other reasons that he would request us to be his opening act…whatever, we did it for 4 (four) years (1971-1975) and it was a dream to see him every night. We, of course went on first and before Merle went on I would find a chair and place it behind the curtain close to Roy Nichols. I literally loved his Guitar playing, and to see Haggard bringing it every night. He could work a Mic as good as Marty Robins, and Marty was the best I ever saw. One thing that happened…we played The White House with Merle. Nixon, his family, members of Congress, and a whole room full of dignitaries were there and we were all nervous, to say the least…My goodness, two 10th grade dropouts from Thousand Sticks Kentucky being allowed to play in the White House. Well, after we struggled through our 20 minutes we watched Merle sing…On Fighting Side Of Me. He dropped his Guitar pick and I think he changed the last words to: WHEN YOU’RE RUNNING DOWN OUR COUNTRY MAN YOU’RE FIGHTING ON THE WALKING SIDE OF ME. The great ones get scared too. We talked with Nixon some…about 10 minutes, and I found out he had pretty good knowledge of common profanity!
Sonny, There has been much discussion about what is and isn’t bluegrass music. People claim that Sirius/XM’s Bluegrass Station plays music that is not bluegrass and currently on this site there is discussion about the IBMA nominating people/groups for awards that are not bluegrass. Many are afraid that if bluegrass is not properly defined, any music or anybody looking for a home will be thrown into it and bluegrass will end up being diluted/polluted like country music. With that said, would you care to give us your definition of bluegrass or how you determine if something is bluegrass? And keeping that in mind, would you care to give us your opinion of the state of bluegrass today? Thanks.
Man, I don’t know how to define bluegrass style music. To begin with it consists of the five main instruments… guitar, bass, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. Of course you can add to that… Dobro being one, another fiddle or two, lead guitar too is acceptable now… Tony Rice made that a possibility. I tend to agree that more and more pop singers are easing their way into country music and country singers are doing the same with bluegrass. My own preference would go back to the ’40s with Bill, Lester, Earl, Chubby, and Cedric. That’s what I call true bluegrass music… but, then look what we did in the ’60s-’80s strictly to make more money and draw more people. I honestly believe we did a lot to put bluegrass music into different venues, which I believe made it possible, and easier for others to make a better living playing a form of bluegrass music. So, I guess you can’t actually define what is or what isn’t any style music. It’s just whatever a certain individual wants to spend his money to hear. For me it’s ’46 – ’48 Bill Monroe and 1950 – 1954 Lester and Earl. Now that’s not to say I don’t like other groups and different styles music, that’s just what I would prefer my BLUEGRASS to sound like. I don’t personally like the state of bluegrass right now, but we have better players, better singers, all for the most part. So once again we come back to the fact that there really is not a true answer to your statements. Boils down to what YOU prefer.
Sonny, the first time I remember seeing the Osborne Brothers was in 1974 at the Camp Springs, NC bluegrass festival. Somehow it seems to me that y’all were riding in matching white Ford LTD station wagons. I remember buying a promo picture from you for $1, that you were selling out of the back of one of those station wagons. I still have the photo! Did I imagine the station wagons, or did y’all actually travel that way in the early ’70s?
Lynwood. That certainly was our means of travel. We had a deal with the Ford dealer in Gallatin where we could get two new station wagons every 20,000 miles. We did this for about 3 years. On my car we had an instrument trailer which hauled our equipment, which included a pretty good sound system. It was built by Bobby’s son Robby, who was a genius at such things. He could do anything. 1974 was our last time we used the Ford wagons. We went from that to a beautiful 1975 Cadillac limo. We put 175,000 miles on that car.
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