Bobby Osborne – Still Going Strong

Bluegrass music icon Bobby Osborne proves he’s not down for the count with his new CD, Original.

“I really thought I was never going to get to record anymore,” the 85-year-old legend told Bluegrass Today. “I tried three or four of these small labels, and there was none of them interested in me. I thought, maybe I’m over the hill and been around too long.”

Osborne’s producer and Compass Records co-founder Alison Brown knew that was definitely not the case.

“The first time I met Bobby Osborne I felt like I had met a kindred spirit because I’ve always loved bluegrass music, but I’ve always loved to push the envelope in bluegrass music,” Brown said. “I really feel like Bobby’s very much the same. Even in his mid-80s he still has that spirit of innovation and wanting to push the envelope musically.”

Evidence of that innovative spirit is found on Osborne’s latest project. It includes an eclectic take on They Call the Wind Maria, from the Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon and the “pop-grass” cover of the Bee Gees hit I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You. Osborne’s first ever music video also features the musical talents of Brown, Trey Hensley, Rob Ickes, Todd Phillips, Claire Lynch, Stuart Duncan and Sierra Hull.   

“It’s really inspiring to look back at somebody that’s thought of as a legend in bluegrass but at the same time you go back and see what the Osborne Brothers were doing when nobody else was really pushing the boundaries like that,” says Hull, who is also featured on Kentucky Morning and Country Boy.

“For me, as a young person, that’s really exciting and inspiring to see how brave they were as musicians and how Bobby was so inventive as a musician in so many ways,” Hull adds. “I love that.”

 “I really enjoyed it,” Osborne says of his time in the studio with Hull. “She’s a great player. She’s a good singer too.”

Osborne also did a remake of Country Music Hall of Famer Eddy Arnold’s classic, Make the World Go Away.

“That’s been one of my favorite songs ever since the first time I ever heard it,” Osborne said. “There was something about that song that stayed with me all the years. I was thinking about asking Alison if I could do that, but I was just letting her pick all the songs out. Out of the clear blue sky, I got an email from her and she said, ‘What would you think about doing Make the World Go Away?’ Boy that just tickled me to death because I had been wanting to record that song when me and Sonny was making records. I said I would love to do that one.”

Vince Gill and Molly Tuttle are featured on that song along with the lush twin fiddles of Buddy Spicher and Matt Combs.

“Bobby Osborne had a profound impact on me because of the age I am,” Gill said. “When I first started knocking around at the festivals The Osborne Brothers were unbelievable to me. And me being a high singer, I was always drawn to other high singers. I learned as much from singing Once More and Making Plans from Bobby Osborne and all those songs as I ever did anybody else.”

Osborne’s talented tenor and his Rocky Top X-Press band recorded two cuts for the CD, Just In Case and the Osborne Brothers song, Pathway of Teardrops.

“My brother and me recorded that way back years ago,” he said. “It had stayed in the catalogue until probably about a year that you could still buy it. It was a beautiful song. It’s been a good ballad all down through the years.”

Master instrumentalist Sam Bush, who brought in his talents on mandolin alongside Osborne for Don’t Be CrueI (also featuring Jim Hurst and Phillips) and Eight More Miles (Michael Cleveland also featured), respects Osborne’s huge significant contributions to bluegrass.

“Bobby was the first bluegrass mandolin player that I heard that when he would play a fiddle tune he didn’t just play it the way Bill Monroe had played it on the mandolin,” Bush said. “He was making more happening melodically on the instrument than I had heard before. It was the first progressive mandolinist to take it further within the confines of what bluegrass mandolin players were doing. Bobby was the first one to elevate it up into a new art form.”

Del McCoury, Rob and Ronnie McCoury along with Josh Williams are featured on Goodbye Wheeling. Country great Mel Tillis originally recorded the song but had also pitched it to Bobby many years ago.

“I was down at the Opry one night where [WSM Grand Ole Opry announcer] Eddie Stubbs reads those commercials from, and Mel Tillis was standing right there,” Osborne recalls. “We were both on the same show. Mel turned around and said I wrote a song that I think you could do real good. It’s called Goodbye Wheeling. He sang a little bit of it to me right there at that microphone. It sounded like something I could do.”

Years later, Brown agreed that the song would be a good fit as the two looked for songs for the CD. The McCoury’s were happy to add their talents to the project.

“God knew what he was doing when he put Bobby here,” says Rob McCoury. “He put him here to sing and play the mandolin. I don’t think there’s anyone any better or who has done more than he has for the music.”

“We’ve heard this music our entire lives,” adds Ronnie McCoury. “He [dad] played a lot of the Osborne Brothers music and worked out the trios that they were so famous for, their harmony parts—so his music’s in our DNA.”

While Osborne has provided a significant chapter to bluegrass history that the other generations admire, he won’t rest on his past accomplishments. He’s grateful for the chance he had to go into the studio again and demonstrate that he’s still got it.

“My brother and me cut some good records over the years, but since I’ve been recording on my own, this is the best one that I’ve ever done.  It’s a first class CD. I’ve never made one any better than that one there.”

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About the Author

Bill Conger

Bill Conger has been a music journalist for 23 years for a variety of TV, radio, print, and websites including TNN, CMT, CMT.com, GACTV.com, Country Music Today, Bluegrass Unlimited, and www.songwriteruniverse.com. He is currently writing a biography on the life of Bobby Osborne.

  • Arkansas Red-Ozark Troubadour

    Bobby is one fine feller. Got to pick with him at our bluegrass festival here we used to have.