Blue Yodel #26 – Ask Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

Guest Questioner and Prize

This month’s guest is a respected mover-and-shaker in bluegrass: the Yoda of Yellow Springs, the Doyen of Dayton, the Savonarola of Southern Ohio—Fred Bartenstein.

Fred was the editor of Muleskinner News from 1969 to 1974, and has been a broadcaster, musician, festival MC and talent director, composer, record producer, compiler of the first bluegrass market research, founder of a regional association, facilitator of the IBMA Leadership seminars, and—as he emphasizes on his website—a lifelong fan.

Except for Sonny and Bobby, Fred is perhaps the foremost authority on the Osborne Brothers’ career, so I went to him for a few questions.

The difficulty level of these questions is high, so the first person to answer 3 out of the 5 questions will win a standing ovation and a Murphy Method Harmony Singing Made Easy DVD.

Fred asks:

1)  Jimmy Brown, Jr. replaced Red Allen as the guitarist/low-part singer with the Osborne Brothers. What was his real name?

2) What’s the connection between the Osborne Brothers and the Country Gentlemen’s New Freedom Bell?

3) Name four groups Sonny and/or Bob played with before forming their own act.

4) What famous jazz artist included Sonny & Bob Osborne as session musicians?

5) What was Curly Ray Cline’s family connection to the Osborne Brothers?


Katy Quotes Carl

Katy Daley, DJ extraordinaire of the well-named Katy Daley Show on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country, posted a question on Facebook:

On the Jim & Jesse tune Border Ride, who played banjo? The album notes list two banjo players among the band:

Jim McReynolds-g; Jesse McReynolds-m/mandelobro; Don McHan-g; Jimmy Capps-g; Carl Jackson-bj; Bobby Thompson-bj/g; Jimmy Buchanan-f; Blaine Sprouse-f; Lloyd Green-db; Jerry Whitehurst-piano; Keith McReynolds-bs

I contacted Katy about it and she said she talked with Carl Jackson to get the definitive answer. With his permission, Katy quotes Carl:

“Yes, I can confirm that’s me playing on that song.  That lick you like so much at the end of the first banjo break is a triplet. It’s half of the triplets I played on Dixie Hoedown.

It was a total honor to be a part of that record. I was blessed to have fallen in with them at age 14. They came down to Mississippi and played several schoolhouses when I was about 12. My dad made me go to a show. I didn’t want to go because I wanted to stay home and watch the Ole Miss football game. But once I got there I was enthralled with it. We went to the backstage area. There was no getting back there, you just walked back to where they were. My dad told Jim, ‘If you ever need a banjo player, keep us in mind.  He called when I was 14. My Mom and Dad believed in them and trusted them and let me go on the road with them. I remember the first time was for two weeks. My sister cried like a baby when I left. I was sure homesick but what a great experience it was.”


You Can Make This Stuff Up

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

I got my new iPhone the other day and the first question I asked Siri was “What is bluegrass anyway?” to which she replied, “ I can’t understand bluegrass anyway.”

—Shep Huntsley, Bald Lick, NC

Dear Shep,

This is a bug that I’ve been trying to get Apple to fix. When you ask Siri, “What is Bluegrass anyway,” it should play Earl’s version of Foggy Mountain Breakdown and then dial 511, the international emergency banjo number.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

I’m writing an alternate history book of bluegrass where Bill Monroe is born in Southern Ohio instead of Kentucky and starts a band called Bill Monroe & the Buckeye Boys, which earns him the nickname Father of Buckeye Music. Is this plausible?

—Blaine in Beavercreek, OH

Dear Blaine,

Not only is this plausible, there are some conspiracy theorists who think this is what actually happened. According to them, in 1945 the Kentucky legislature paid Bill Monroe $450 (worth $10 trillion in today’s money) to change the name of his band to the Bluegrass Boys and the rest is history. Google “second sideman theory” and you’ll get the full scoop.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Bachelor Number One,

I’ve been playing banjo since the late 60s, but for some reason all I can play are theme songs to sitcoms, soap operas, and game shows. What’s wrong with me?

—Three-Hour Tour in TN

Dear Three-Hour Tour,

This is an unfortunate, but common affliction among banjo players caused by 1) not having a job, and 2) noodling in front of the tv all day. If we had caught it early, say during the Dating Game’s first run, then we could have done something, but after 50 years, it’s nearly impossible to reverse. My advice is to make videos of yourself playing these theme songs, put them on YouTube, and make a million dollars.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

What is the secret password to get in to all bluegrass festivals for free?

—Joe Qwerty in Quincy, MA

Dear Joe Q,

The only password that can get past the fail-safe standards of most bluegrass festivals is “I’m with the band,” followed by pointing back at a band bus that you’ve pulled in front of.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Be sure to take a guess at Fred Bartenstein’s Osborne Brothers questions above and let us know of any questions you may have (real or imagined). See you next time and remember:

Keep your Smarty Pants On!

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About the Author

Chris Stuart

Chris Stuart is a writer and songwriter living in San Diego. He was the 2008 recipient of the IBMA Print Media Person of the Year award, co-writer of the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year, and past winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting contest in bluegrass and gospel categories. You can follow him on Twitter @cvstuart, on Facebook, and at On Tuesdays you can find him having fish tacos at Roberto’s in Del Mar.

  • Doug Shenton

    Dear Mr. Bluegrass Smarty Pants,

    Is it permissible to play Bluegrass music if you live in New Jersey?

    –Doug in Wildwood, NJ

    • Dear Doug in the Wildwood,

      Not only is it permissible, but from reliable sources I’ve heard that season 5 of Jersey Shore will have cast members starting a bluegrass band called Snooki and the Situation. Episode 1 shows the band at last year’s 40th annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in Woodstown, NJ, where the not-so-solemn old judge Carl Goldstein taught them how to buckdance.

      -Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

  • Brent Sterling

    I tried the “I’m with the band” password.
    I happened to be in front of Chris Jones’ bus.
    We were all thrown out.


    • Dear Brent,

      Not that I doubt the veracity of your claim, but I happen to know that Chris Jones & the Highlighters drive to gigs in separate Bugatti Veyrons.

      -Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

      • Brent Sterling

        Careful! You know how touchy Chris Johns is about getting the band’s name wrong! It’s “Chip Jones and the High-hatters”.

        Ps: How can you drive pasta?

  • Gary Reid

    #1 – John Slagle, Jr.
    #2 – New Freedom Bell was written by the Osborne Brothers sister, Louise Osborne.
    #3 – Bob Osborne played with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, the Stanley Brothers, and had a partnership with Jimmy Martin… Sonny played banjo with Bill Monroe
    #5 – Bob Osborne married Patsy Cline (not the country singer) who was the daughter of Curly Ray’s cousin, Ezra Cline

    • Gary, looks like you beat Jack by 9 minutes and had 4 correct answers out of the 5. Congratulations! You’ll receive a Murphy Method Harmony DVD, a postcard from Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants, and a standing ovation.

      If you’ll send me your mailing address privately I can get these out to you.

      Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

      PS – We’re still missing the answer to what jazz artists used the Osborne Brothers as session musicians.

  • Jack Lawrence

    In reply to the Osborne Brothers questions

    1 Jimmy Brown,Jr’s real name was John Slagle, Jr

    2. Sonny and Bob’s sister, Louise, co-wrote “New Freedom Bell” with Ott Ginter

    3. Bobby played with The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and briefly with The Stanley Brothers. Sonny was a in The Blue Grass Boys and also recorded as Lou and Sonny Osborne and the Stony Mt. Boys. Both Osbornes played in a band with Jimmy Martin.

    4. Cannonball Adderly

    5. Curly Ray Cline was Bobby’s brother in law.

    Jack Lawrence, journeyman guitarist

    • Dick Bowden

      Regarding #5, I knew Bobby married a Cline, I seem to remember she was Ezra’s daughter? Does that mean Ezra was also Curly Ray and Charlie’s dad? I never really knew… I thought he as a “cousin”. But I’ll tell you one thing, Bob Osborne is the only man I’ver heard play “Pretty Little Indian” except for Curly Ray, who made it sound “right” and “old”.

      Name another old time member of the Fiddlers who ended up related by marriage to a famous first generation bluegrass picker! A famous picker on degree of separation from Bob Osborne too!

      • Hey Dick,

        That question is a 9.5 on the degree of difficulty scale. If no one else has the answer, let us know!

        Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

      • Jon Weisberger

        I believe that would be Paul Humphrey, who married a sister of Jimmy Martin’s and followed Bobby Osborne as guitarist/singer in the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers.

    • Just 9 minutes late, Jack! But you’ll still get a standing ovation and a Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants postcard if you send me your mailing address privately.

      Also, Cannonball Adderly is not who we had as the jazz artist, but maybe you know something that Fred Bartenstein and Mr. BGSP doesn’t! Did they play on a Cannonball Adderly cut?

      -Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

      • Fred Bartenstein has relayed the answer to the jazz question:

        Q: What famous jazz artist included Sonny & Bob Osborne as session musicians?

        A: Gary Burton (on the album “Tennessee Firebird” in 1966).

        -Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

  • Stewart Evans

    Re: the “second sideman theory”

    I have gotten hold of some grainy home movies and have been conducting an extensive frame-by-frame analysis. So far I haven’t found any conclusive proof of the Buckeye allegations. However, I have managed to learn the second break to “Rawhide”.