Ask Sonny Anything… why did Bill Monroe scratch up his mandolin so bad?

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 my dad is Boyce Edwards. I am the youngest of his daughters. I remember him playing fiddle with you and Bobby. My question is do you know of any songs that you guys recorded with him playing the fiddle? I love all your guy’s music. And people don’t believe me when I say I know you all…lol. But I’m trying to get any albums that he’s playing on while he was playing in different bands. And I remember him saying with you and Sonny the most. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Judy H.

Judy….Nice name. My wife has the same one. Welcome to our weakly get together. A good time is had by all…mostly! We do try.

To get to your question. Boyce Edwards played the fiddle with us when his work would permit. On some weekends he would go with us when we played the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, WVA. Sometimes, his Brother Billy would also go and play bass. At those times, we would appear to have a full band. {;-0> Which was a joke within itself…We just barely could afford us…what was it Roger Miller said..’We were so broke we could barely pay attention!’

When we recorded it was always during the week and in Nashville. We would be gone for most of a week so that would eliminate Boyce doing any recording with us. I remember those two so well.

Did you know that your uncle Bill was terrified of tunnels? He would hide his face if you went through one. And, did Boyce ever tell you about the time on the stage of The Worlds Original Jamboree which is how they would do their publicity for the WWVA Jamboree. Sounds pretty good.

My mind just wandered…but I’m back now…Bobby, Red, and I are singing Precious Memories, a Gospel song, and we heard this cracking noise. It came from our right, in the neighborhood of where your Dad (Boyce) would be standing. He had dropped his fiddle bow and was on the way, bending over, to pick it up. If you can visualize this, he was in the process of picking the fiddle bow up from the floor and was looking up at us and at the same time his hand was feeling all over a 12 inch area of the stage of The Worlds Original……! You get the idea I reckon. One of the funniest things to ever happen. If you knew Boyce, he was one of the nicest people you would ever meet…but, if you asked him anything you had better be ready for a direct answer. We thought the world of Boyce and Bill Edwards.



Sonny, much attention and admiration, and rightly so has been given to Bobby’s wonderful voice. However, you had a very good voice too. Sometimes I think fans overlook that and mostly focus on you as a banjo player; which is understandable because you are one of the greats.

My question: what was the highest and hardest notes you had to sing to give Bobby the harmony he needed? I have heard you hit many F and F# notes. Did you ever have to sing higher? G, G#? Anything you can tell us about you as a singer would be appreciated.

Neil – Cleveland, NC

Neil…Wow, you came right on in there didn’t you. The highest notes I was required to hit would be on the ending of Sweet Thing…The third note, second line of the bridge of Take This Hammer…(Note: I sang the high, tenor on the first two lines of the bridge) and quite possibly an A flat or A note on Never Grow Old. Maybe a note on Give This Message To Your Heart.

Man, you bring up a good subject here because, you made me think about it some, That’s something we never talked about. Where best we could play it, is where we sang it, so I’m not sure there was a limit. It was just where we sang it and my job was to sing my harmony note, as was EL, Smitty, Daryl, Paul Brewster, Dale, Benny and Ronnie to sing their note. Of course, when we grew older it became more of an issue that when we were 40 years old.



Hi Sonny,

I’ve been going to Bean Blossom (June & September) for 29 consecutive years. I remember when Bill (Monroe) would make Dana Cupp do the MC work. It seemed Dana was always looking at his watch, but Bill didn’t care!! Did Dana ever share any stories when he did the MC work?

What memory of Bean Blossom or Bill sticks out in your mind?

I enjoy your column and hold the Osborne Brothers as one of the tops in bluegrass. I’m happy to say I’ve enjoyed several shows 🙂

Thanks for your time,

Randy P.

Randy… glad to hear from you. I appreciate your presence. Thank you for participating.

You asked about something that would have occurred while Dana was doing MC work. I don’t remember Dana saying anything that would have happened during his time doing that job, other than doing it free. Saving Birch an MC fee. However, there was a Terry Smith thing that happened that was quite funny, at least it was when it happened. I wasn’t there but I knew Bill, and the Monroe’s pretty well.

So Terry and Archie Martin were supposed to bring the mules pulling a wagon by the stage while Bill sang The Mule Skinner Blues. Very thoughtful added thingy. They did their chore on the first show but surely he wouldn’t do the Mule thing on the second go ’round. But he did. So they were out by the park entrance and heard Bill do The Mule. They hurried and got the wagon hooked up, but by the time they got to the stage with the wagon, Bill was singing “There’s an Old, Old House,” so here comes young Terry Smith and Archie Martin herding the Mules and wagon by the stage. The story goes that he didn’t say a word about the wagon or Mules, that was completely out of character for Bill…truth be known I would bet a few greenbacks that someone got chastised for doing their job, or the lack of….!

I’m fortunate to have known Bill, and several parts of his family, although I was a 14 year old child who certainly didn’t belong there, musically or mentally. But I was. I will never know why the good Lord put me in that position, but he did.



Sonny, Back when you worked for Bill Monroe, you were playing in Kingsport, TN. You said you went out back and Mr. Monroe was scratching his mandolin all over. What did he use to do this with and why was he doing that?

Mark K.

Hey Mark…Thanks for joining us. Sit right over there by the fire and tell me your story…(ask me anything) by golly!

There are conflicting stories about this incident. I remember Jimmy Martin, and perhaps Charlie Cline, and going to eat between shows. We were playing at a theater in Grundy, Virginia. When we got back we heard this scraping noise as we got closer to the back stage area. Bill was scraping the front of the mandolin with a small knife. Neither of us had the nerve to ask him what he was doing, but that’s the story of what I saw.

Some have said they saw him using a bottle cap, piece of glass, etc. Everything short of a shotgun with bird shot in it. I can only tell you what I saw. If Frog or Charlie were here they would tell you the same…or maybe they wouldn’t. That would depend.

Sometime later, in my house in Dayton, Ohio, I heard Bill tell my Dad, who had nerve enough to ask; “Why did you scrape the finish off your mandolin and take the Gibson name out of the peg head.” Bill said, and I quote: “I did it to keep people from asking to let them see, hold, and/or play it. Now what they see is an ugly THE Mandolin. People don’t want to see it no more.” End of quote and story. I know this is true because I was standing right beside them, in our dining room, on our farm, on Olt Road, off Dayton Farmersville Road, which is off Germantown Pike…a few miles West of Dayton. That happened!

Fast forward to 1980s. I bought my Granada banjo from Tom McKinney for a staggering $5,000. It was quickly being called he best of the best, and people wanted to see, hold, and play it, but other than tear my inlay or the peg head up with a pocket knife, I just insulted several people and said no. Politely I might add. Folks don’t ask a mechanic to see his tools, or a carpenter his golden hammer. I looked at it as my work tool. Now, end of story.



Sonny, I know Carlton Haney was quite a personality!

Could you tell some favorite stories about yours and Bobby’s interactions with him?

Sammy D

Sammy. Have you got several days? First though, thank you for participating in our free for all. Without all you guys and girls, this wouldn’t happen. I appreciate that. I love doing it…you probably know that. Thanks to Terry and John.

Carlton Haney… Interesting man. My friend. Weird ideas. Some good, some not so good. He was using his brain in the God given sense it was given. Aren’t we, as musicians, given the same thing? In our world it’s called talent. Some ideas (called licks) work and some do not.

If not for Carlton Haney, the time period from about 1960 to the late ’80s would have been many more hungry days for us without the bluegrass festivals, ‘twould have been a different era than it was. So, like Earl, Rudy, Benny, Monroe, and more who used their “talent” to create something, so did Carlton. He booked The Brothers at Luray Virginia, Maybe 1962-63…and between shows we went to a restaurant and Carlton sat there and told us of his idea of booking every bluegrass band and have it happen at Berryville, or Culpeper…We laughed at his plan, told him that they would kill one another.

In those days there was jealousy galore between bands…the haves and the have nots. The haves were few and far between. BUT THEN…Friday, September 3-4-5, 1965, Fincastle, Virginia…The first Bluegrass Festival happened and Carlton was the dude that made it happen. We didn’t play the first one, we were playing in Texas, although we were on the list of entertainers scheduled to appear.

So, we, as musicians who create music, the same happened with the festival. We create, others replicate. Carlton Haney created, and VOILA, within a few summers there was a festival everywhere. We have worked huge festivals in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Beautiful Canada and more. The Carlton Haney idea gave us all a lucrative business in which we could survive, and the more creative would thrive. Thank you Lord, please take care of Carlton. Amen.

Hey, Enough for now. If you want to hear more Carlton, let us know. I’ll talk.


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.