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.
Back in the ’80s, there was a group of dancers who used to go to all the events where bluegrass music was played in the Dayton, Ohio area, for the sole purpose of dancing. It didn’t matter to them who was playing, and they had seemingly zero interest in the music really. All they seemed to care about was how much racket they could make with their taps on their shoes and putting on a show for themselves and their friends. Some of them even brought their plywood platforms to really get loud. And I will have to say they really enjoyed themselves. Problem was, for everyone who was there to enjoy the music all this loud dancing was a huge and mostly unwelcome distraction.
These dancers came to a bluegrass festival in Laura, Ohio held at Round Eyes Park where you and Bobby and the band were performing. There were a lot of people there to see you guys, so this really got the dancers excited for the opportunity to showcase their talent in front of a lot of people. One of the biggest elements of the distraction was their clickity clacking was not synchronized with the beat of the music. After you guys ended a song, you asked the performers if they were going to tap dance, to please do it in time with the music. Many of us were very happy you made that request to them, but one fellow took exception to it.
A lot of the dancers left the concrete pad in front of the stage area, but this guy dragged his plywood platform right up in front of you and defiantly stared at you while he tapped away during your next song. You seemed to get tickled at this guy and were kind of laughing at him and having fun with it.
While you were playing your banjo, you extended your middle finger up on your left hand and shot him the bird while you kept on playing up and down the neck. My question is, do you remember this particular incident, and was that the only occasion you had to play the banjo while shooting someone the bird?
Hey Brian. Thank you for participating. Man, I do appreciate it in the biggest way. I remember that incident vividly. I not only gave him the bird for the second half of our show…I told him when I got done he had an ass kicking coming from me…and I meant it 100%. So when we got through, I told Dale to take care of my banjo I had something to do.
Just about that time a young man came up to me and said I shouldn’t dirty my hands on such an idiot and that he would be more than glad to take care of the situation. He said he was keeping a lookout for this SOB and he said that if I would look closely, and he pointed to this idiot running away from the stage area…and without another word this young guy and two friends of theirs were off in that direction. I never knew the outcome but I’ll bet that guy danced his was into a royal ass kicking that night.
Sonny, could you share with us some “Aha” moments when you were learning the banjo or learning to play with a band? Something along the lines of the “lightbulb” turning on and you thinking “Aha, that’s how he gets that sound or lick!” Thank you for your music and the things you’ve given us through the years! God Bless!
Bryan, I certainly do remember a time when I knew my banjo playing life had, and would change forever. Bobby was a very aware sort of musician in that he picked up on things quickly. He was working in Bluefield, WV and on a trip home for Christmas he heard a 12 year old play the banjo for the first time. He asked to see the banjo and of course I gave it to him and he said, “You know the lick that you’re doing this way, well, how bout you do it this way…” and he proceeded to show me the all mighty backward roll. It was like a ton of bricks had hit me right in the FARD. Just like that, a snap of the fingers, it all made sense. It happened right then and there. Bobby had changed me from mediocrity and lifelong disaster to a good banjo player, only to open every door that was there to open. That’s when the long hours of practice was never enough. I absolutely could not get enough of this new thing.
Thank you Bobby. I’m forever grateful.
Sonny. How well do you remember Earl’s Drive-In in Chaffe, NY? Back when I spoke to you and Bobby many times and besides the music, my draw to bluegrass is that you could approach people like you, and you made us feel like we meant something to you. Felt like we were neighbors! Every time you came to Earls, my wife and I were there, as well as the other acts. Great scene, always great music. I am on Facebook and have the pleasure of an occasional heh from Jesse McReynolds, and Luke McNight! Just want you to know YOU mattered in the music and as a person. God Bless!
Hey Joe, Chaffe, New York. Big Earl’s Drive In. A fun place to play that’s for sure. Good crowds, knowledgeable, close intimate place to “work.” That is if you choose to call it work. One of the few places where the folks in attendance felt like we were playing in our house…the living room. GREAT atmosphere. One of the very few, I might add. But man, it was hard to get to that exceptionally, wonderful place to play, and our neighbors to play for! Especially if one was driving a bus with a 4 cylinder engine with an “H” transmission. You got to the bottom of one steep hill getting all the speed you could muster and immediately you went straight into another steeper hill and the old relic just barely made it to the top, in first gear…which was hard to hit with that transmission. Nowadays with that 60 series engine and an automatic transmission one could hear the bus whistling Dixie as it literally flew to to the top of them all. I meant to count them next time I went there, but, naturally I forgot. I bet there are others out there reading this that had the same problem. Jim and Jesse for sure.
I probably saw you and Bobby more than any other band through the years, and never witnessed anything less than excellence. I noticed you used RVs back then. Did they prove to be as good as buses, or was it more economical? Many thanks for all the years of truly great music!
Hey John R. I bet you didn’t know there was a street in Detroit…and expressway if I remember correctly, named The John R Expressway. Just thought I would throw that in. Off the subject, I know…but I do think that you know…and speaking of the word “throw.” I bet you didn’t know that a lot of basketball players and announcers say ..”Free Thoes.” I asked Kyle Macy about that once and he said he hadn’t noticed. Next game Kentucky played, Old Kyle stepped up to the “FREE THOE LINE!” Next time I saw Ralph and Marylyn Hacker I asked Ralph if he remembered that I had asked Kyle, and he did. We had a huge laugh. Then Ralph promptly went on the broadcast that night and sure enough…”OLD KYLE STEPPED UP TO THE FREE THOWE LINE!” (Old number 4 could shoot some free thowes for you. Over 90% wipe his hands on his sox and hit the bottom of the net)
So, John R., where were we? Yep, we did use RVs back in the day for several good reasons.
1. If you broke down, a gas engine mechanic was easier to find at 3:00 a.m.
2. All our guys could drive an RV with a gas engine and automatic transmission. NOT SO WITH A DEISEL ENGINE AND STICK TRANSMISSION, which is what most buses had back in the day.
3. Insurance was several times cheaper unless you lied and called your bus a motor home. Which would work.,.just don’t get caught.
4. Why did we buy a bus in 1982? Bobby had heart surgery and he needed something that was safer, and the ride was not as bumpy. We had to learn to drive and Benny Birchfield was a good teacher…the the best bus driver of all time, Raymond Edward Huffmaster came to work with us in 1983. He stayed until 1993. 10 Great years. If he reads this drivel he can tell you some stories. If you ever get the opportunity to talk with him…they be a damn good feller standing in front of you.
GOOD FELLER, FOR SURE! Drove us over a million miles.
AND FOR THE RECORD!
I’ll bet you didn’t know….Dale Potter played the fiddle on Benny Martin’s records on which he sang or played the guitar. Sounds just like Benny….Pig Robins played the piano on Ronnie Milsap and Charlie Rich records….Charlie Daniels, is that Charlie playing the fiddle? Nope. That was Buddy Spicher. Devil went down To Georgia?? Buddy Spicher….Was that me playing the banjo on The Osborne Brothers Foggy Mountain Breakdown? NOPE. It was Dana Cupp…and who was that playing the fiddle? First part of the break it was Glen Duncan…second half was Bobby Hicks. I played Bobby’s mandolin on one note of Dandy Lion…why? Bobby was in the rest room.
I also played the intro mandolin on You’re Just Another Dream I’ll Have To Live Without. Bluegrass Concerto, The mandolin played without a pick is not Bobby. It’s Buddy Spicher.
I just thought this would be interesting to bring up because all this was done for the greater good of the album, and to save time. Studio time is rather expensive. I hope a couple people out there will take this as constructive criticism…that’s all.
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.