Ask Sonny Anything… why did you play a 6 string banjo?

Sonny is again unable to respond to questions this week, so we are re-running another of his most popular columns. Let’s hope he is back at it next week.

Is it true you lifted up your banjo on stage into a ceiling fan in Kahoka, MO and tore off the headstock? Which banjo was that?
– Rhonda in Missouri (yes, that Rhonda)

I don’t think that was in Missouri. Larry Stephenson was there and reminds me it was actually in Canton, Texas when I took the banjo off to play the Guitjo, and the peghead hit the ceiling fan. It didn’t break it but it did leave a permanent scar. I had a 38 pistol in my pocket and I was so angry that I wanted to destroy that fan. I couldn’t get it out of my pocket because the hammer got stuck in the cloth of the pocket. David Crow, who played fiddle with us, realizing what was about to take place, came over to me and reminded me that 2,000 people were watching. All I could think of was that fan could have destroyed a half million dollar banjo… my Granada… But I recovered my senses in time. Chubby Wise was sitting on the front row beside Charles Perry. Charley told me that Chubby leaned over to him and said, “They’s gonna be trouble hyer!”


Sonny, Is it true that you didn’t like for people to dance anywhere onstage or offstage while the Osborne Brothers were playing? If so, why?
– Greg J

Yep, that’s true. When we played I wanted the complete attention of the audience. I didn’t want some drunk clown to run up in front of the crowd and steal their attention. Right? Wrong? It really didn’t matter. That was our time to do our part to pay the promoter for hiring us…. first to draw people, then to be sober, and to look and act like professional people at work… much the same as if you would work in an office. That stage was our office… that was part of our job… respect what you were hired to do. We did that as best we could and expected our audience to do the same. RIGHT…..WRONG……


Sonny, I remember just a little about the day at Berryville when someone cut the power cord on your band’s bass amplifier. Would you tell us all what you did about it that day?
– Mark S.

I remember it well. 5,000 people were there. We had disrupted the bluegrass community by plugging our acoustic instruments into amps and using electric bass…. Not out of defiance, but necessity, simply because of the venues we were playing. Mostly country package shows, competing with loud country bands and sound men who didn’t know how to mic bluegrass music. So, when we went on I realized that MY cord to the banjo was cut…not broken, but cut. I told Joe Green, who was with us on that trip, to go to a cabinet in the motor home and bring me another cord. I had 10 extra cords for this occasion… he was gone two minutes, I plugged in and we continued. I also remember that day because when we were finished with our show, we received a standing ovation… one of only two for the day… the other one was for Ralph Stanley.


Sonny, please tell us about your thinking behind adding a 6th (low) string to one of your banjos and the experience of playing it.
– Charlie S.

I did that because I grew tired of not being able to play the actual melody of a song. If you play in G, the new string was an octave below the third string G. (Funny, I have spellcheck and it said octave was actually spelled with an I. I told it what it could go do… Then I realized I had tried to spell it with an A instead of O….SO…..) You could also tune it to C and have the exact tune… as in Listening to The Rain. It was an interesting concept…hard to play, but rewarding.


Have you ever had to rough up a promoter?
– Alex W.

Nope. Never been in a fight in my life. But… I thought Bobby Crum was gonna shoot me though! We didn’t draw a big crowd for him, and we insulted his MC. She lied to him… told him we made fun of Melvin Goins… the real thing that upset her the most was none of our guys flirted with her, nor did they respond to her drunken passes. Truth… I believe in it… 100%


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.