Ask Sonny Anything… You dead mon?

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 – Who would make a better banjo player? Coach Cal, Adolph Rupp, or Rick Pitino?

– Charles C.

Neither, In my opinion. Cal would be in too much of a hurry (one and done), Adolph Rupp would have been too busy winning championships, (7 Nationals). Tom T Hall wrote a song, Younger Women, Faster Horses, Older Whiskey. Rick Pitino, if one could get his head out of…. the Lexington night clubs. (Rumor) And, it was rumored that he taught profanity instead of defense. That was meant to be funny… a feeble attempt at humor, I must admit… and more than likely, failing miserably! Truthfully, neither of that crew would have the amount of determination or focus required. Playing the banjo ain’t no picnic. Someone who would have made it though is our old pal Sonny Smith, who coached basketball at Auburn. He loved our music and sang Rocky Top with us once on stage. (He coached Charles Barkley and Chuck Person)

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Hi Sonny, I was listening to an old Lester Flatt LP recently. It it sounds like Bobby signing on a few cuts. Am I right? Where you there too? How did an Osborne Brother(s) end up on a RCA album by Flatt?

Jeff S.
Seattle, WA

That was, indeed my Brother Bobby. Lester asked him to do this, and he was absolutely thrilled to do it. I always thought Bobby and Lester would sound really good together, and they did. Once, years ago, maybe 1959 or ’60, Eddie Matherly arranged for us to go on stage with Lester and Earl. It was at Watermelon Park in Berryville, Virginia. We did Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms with them. We had met them in Knoxville in 1953, but it was still a bit nerve racking being on stage with Earl and Lester. A couple of interesting things. We played the last date they worked together. (Meadville, PA) And, we were at the Opry the night Lester just “went home” after the first show. And, after the breakup they had one remaining date to play and Earl called me asking if we would fill in and of course, I said yes. (Brevard, North Carolina)

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Sonny, It has been told that Little Roy Lewis tried to kiss you on stage and you proceeded to put him in a barrel and roll him down a hill. True?

Harley G. Toronto, Can.

Yep. Somewhere in Southern Ohio. He charged out on the stage while we were on and tried to kiss me on the cheek. He had about a pound of lipstick on and I thought, Nope…you’re not going to smear that greasy stuff on me. So I saw this trash can and decided to put him in it. I told him what I was going to do and he went along with it. What he didn’t know was what was in the can. I put him in it and put the lid on it and turned it over on it’s side and gave it a roll or two. Roy’s muffled voice could be heard saying: “LET ME OUTA HYAH (here)…HEY REALLY, LET ME OUTA HYAH.” Polly told me later that his pretty suit was totally ruined. She said it had BEAH (beer), mustard, ketchup, coke, coffee, mayonnaise… a little of everything on it.

Roy did some funny shenanigans, but there are always negatives that go along with it, unfortunately. In Hugo, Oklahoma, I decided that I didn’t want to go out this time. Well, that didn’t go over any too well with the park owner and he rushed over and told me..no, “ordered” me to go back up there. I told him I didn’t want to do it for other reasons, and our decision. We played Hugo once after that.

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Sonny, did you and Bobby ever own part of a coal mine in Hyden? My father did some electrical work for a coal mine in the early ’70s. My memory may be wrong, but I thought the man running the coal mine was a cousin, and you and your brother were part owners. Is this true? Thank you, always loved your music!

Dan J.

No, Dan… I love Hyden and Kentucky, but never enough to own a coal mine. I’ve known too many men who were hurt in one capacity or another. I remember a time when it was dangerous to drive on those highways around that part of Kentucky for fear of getting hit by a coal truck trying to get to his destination or back to his loader. Passing on curves, driving on the wrong side of the road… and running wide open… getting as many loads as possible during their shift. Big time dangerous, in the mine, or out of it. Never wanted to own one though.

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Sonny, I could swear I read an article a few years ago by David Morris in this very publication that said you were dead, though I can no longer locate it. You‚Äôre not really dead are you? ūüėČ

Jon W.

Jon….I first read that I was Bobby’s “late brother, Sonny” I would guess 40 years ago and several more times too. I don’t have a clue how that got started. Probably several wish that, but the ones who really count never have those thoughts, I hope. You know… It’s really hard to understand how so many desperate people can put so little value in life. The whole world is in a weird state right now. I would bet Nashville has at least two or three shootings a day. UNREAL. I digress…sorry about that. I do that occasionally.

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Just a note of thanks to Bluegrass Today, and everyone responsible for allowing me to do this. I enjoy it beyond words. And I thank you who take the time to ask the questions. It’s fun! And it allows me to respond to anything you will ask. ASK ANYTHING means just that…ANYTHING!

Thank you’ns!

s

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.