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Oct 26, 2021 - 11:21:14 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)


28009 posts since 8/3/2003

Since there are several different threads about Sonny and his life and death, we've decided to make a memorial page to him and include all the threads that have been/will be posted about him.

Please check the URLS of different threads noted on this page for further information on him.

RIP: Sonny Osborne: banjohangout.org/topic/378617
Favorite Sonny Memories: banjohangout.org/topic/378642
First Rich & Taylor Sonny Osborne: banjohangout.org/topic/378628
Sonny Osborne private services: banjohangout.org/topic/378654
RIP: Sonny Osborne: banjohangout.org/topic/378621Sonny Osborne .... dies?: banjohangout.org/topic/378616
Bluegrass Today publishes passing of Sonny Osborne: banjohangout.org/topic/37862

Sad News about Warpdrive:  https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/385904  Note:  scroll down and see pictures and pictures of Sonny Osborne.  

Sonny Osborne Pieces:  https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/379332





I think that's all that have been posted. Please feel free to post your thoughts about Sonny here on this thread.

Edited by - Texasbanjo on 09/26/2022 08:19:43

Oct 28, 2021 - 1:45:21 PM
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2838 posts since 11/15/2003

The Following stories and quotes are of my personal interactions with Sonny Osborne during my time on the road with various bluegrass bands and at festivals spanning years from the fall of 1995 to the spring of 2005.

I first met sonny in the fall of 1995 (at least our first conversational interaction) at the Grassy Mo bluegrass festival. I had been working as The bob lewis family banjo picker for about 5 months, and found out that my boss bob lewis usually booked the Osborne bros every year...simply because they were a good draw.

Of course i was a fan of sonny, he in my humble opinion stands head and shoulder along side of Earl and in many ways, better than Earl, simply put because he could play all of Earl and his stuff to, which covers a hell of a lot of banjo.

I didn't seek out to become friends with sonny, it just kind of happened, and just so you know, becoming friends with and staying friends with sonny is two totally different propositions, and just so you know how this story ends, we have never spoke since the spring of 2005.

I want to think, well i do think by banjo picking is what maybe attracted sonny to me, but it probably didn't hurt that the first time i walked up to there band concession, i bought the entire Bear Family Osborne Brothers CD Album.
Sonny knew who i was, and had been listing to me on stage, and asked me to sit down. I was honored. He was very jovial, and i was amazed at how high and whispery his voice was, bobby said little, and i would learn later why bobby said little and shyd away from working the tape table.

The band in the years i had MUCH interaction with sonny, consisted of the following,
Terry Elderidge
Terry Smith,
Gene Wooten
David Crow
Shad Cobb
Dana Cupp would come later first as help driving and working sound, then he moved to rhythm guitar and finally banjo when sonny retired.
(side note,...Dana cupp knows more sonny osborne banjo than any body on earth alive to date !) and is one hell of a good banjo picker!

I would see sonny as much as a dozen times a year for a couple of years. We had a very good family entertainment band, complete with twin fiddles, pretty girls that could sing and clog, and musicianship that was second to nobody, so we got booked at many many festivals where we would be there for 2 and three days, mainly to hold the crowd till the big names like The Osborne's or Jim and Jesse, or the lewis family, a host of big name mainliners, i was very blessed looking back on it all.
It was through watching sonny at all the festivals, getting to see him up close and personal, back stage warming up, and later on the bus, that my taste in banjos started to change.
I had been playing a custom built mahogany banjo by Jim Yarboro. I was bad to trade....very often, sometimes as much as 4 times in a year, and i got the itch to want a good Maple banjo.
Sometime in 1997, and by now sonny and i were on " hey how you been? speaking terms" and i had never once ask sonny about licks, or tone, or banjos even, i was just content to see him at festivals and say hi, exchange pleasantrys.
I must say i did a good job of reading the room so to speak, because somebody always wanted a piece of sonny, and he got little privacy. In case y'all don't know it, that is the very reason the big time entertainers go back to the bus so much, and sonny really didn't get a lot of privacy when he was out of the bus, so i tried to not make a pest of myself, and i do know he appreciated that, because later on he told me so.
We were at the Cross Country Trail Ride in Emminance Mo, or at least i was. Since i lived a hour and a half away in thayer mo, i was well know around the region, and i did a lot of fill in with other regional bands , and this year i was working with three different bands at the same festival, besides the fact that this festival was Huge, and it always had a big line up, all the heavy hitters were there.

I had decided to make the switch from a mahogany banjo to a curly maple banjo, but i didn't want a new gibson.
I had been on stage and just got off, and sonny was standing over in a corner off to the side, all by himself, which struck me odd, cause sonny never was by himself, somebody was always trying to bend his ear, or get him to sigh something.
i made eye contact with him, and he motioned me over, i pointed to my banjo to indicate i needed to stow it first, so i went backstage and quickly came back out, and surprisingly he was still by himself , and we exchanged greetings and a few minutes passed and so i said" hey, can i ask you something, he said sure. i said," i am in the market for a good maple banjo, and i don't want a new gibson, and i said i don't know where i can find a good new maple banjo, i said there hard to find, and he said Yeah they are, " what happened to that 500 you had last year down in Mississippi, i had forgot that he had seen me playing that banjo at either Larual or wiggings mississippi, i can't remember which, it was also the first time he asked me to play his banjo, he just came walking up out of the dark whilst i was sitting up against the hood of a car waiting to jam practice with the band, and he had been listing to me(although i think lee jackson(carl jacksons daddy) bothering him to listen to me had something to do with it, him and my dad were friends and i had actually been to there house to jam, me my dad and lee.
anyway, i told sonny i had long since sold the 500 and was now hankering for a good maple banjo.
Sonny said in that high whispery voice of his, " you know, I've got one of my rich and taylor Osborne models on the bus, that i hear something really special in, he said but i can't stand the neck on the damn thing, did you like the neck on my banjo when you played it....I said yeah, he said, why don't i send that banjo to frank neat and i will have him make a copy of my neck on my granada and lets see how that turns out what you say? I told him that would be fine, and we exchanged phone numbers, and i never even went on the bus to see the banjo, i just took his word for it, and that was it , and i didn't hear anything more from him till a few weeks later, when he just up and called me at home, out of the clear blue. We talked a few minutes, weather and such, and i asked him something about playing a maple banjo and how the tonal differences were up the neck, and that is when he says to me," do you have access to a tape recorder, you got one don't you? and i said yeah why? he says, sit down and make me a tape of you playing all by yourself, just you and the banjo and send it to me. My wife worked at a radio station, so i went up there during a off duty hour at night and used the DJ commercial recording booth and sat down and probably gave a good hour of stuff i played and common licks i used and so on and so forth, and i sent it too him. A couple of weeks later i got a letter in the mail, an evaluation of my playing, Ken Hydinger has the LETTERS, and i will have him post them soon, there is nothing I'm ashamed of, but they go to the very heart of how sonny was, and really never changed, at least in my dealings with him, lets just say i feel privileged in the information he imparted to me, and the valuable lessons i learned, much of it outside of the letters, and all of this before he quit the road....Iet me say this about sonny, before i go any further...


I can remember the day sonny called me and told me my banjo was ready, but i remember the day i went to go get it, it was the day of the announcing of O.J. Simpson verdict.
I had to go by the bank and finalize the loan i took out for the banjo, then me and my father left Jonesboro Ark and headed for Casey Jones museum and restaurant in Jackson Tennessee, this would be the meeting spot for a few of our meetings, it was about 2 hrs from Nashville, and two hrs from jonesboro, although i lived 2 hrs up the road across the state line in Thayer mo, my dad and our business was in Jonesboro, that is where i was raised.

Sonny had been sick and lost a good 20 pounds since last i seen him, he was wearing bib overalls and driving a pickup truck with a camper shell on it.
He got out of the truck and we shook hands and he went to the back of the truck and let down the tail gate and slid a banjo case up to him and i watched him open it....it was shiny and i could see that like his neck the finish was off the back side of the neck...he put his picks on and took the banjo out of the case, and brought it across his lap and his fingers commenced to dance on the fingerboard, honestly, i don't remember what he was playing....i was having an outer body experience in the middle of a parking lot, watching sonny osborne play a banjo he had made up just for me.... he kept remarking how good the thought it sounded and turned out, he said the neck felt just like his granada, this was one of the few times i was awestruck by him, it didn't happen a lot, and there are a couple of more times to come i can tell you about but this was truly the MOST SPECIAL MOMENT in my short friendship with sonny.
There are some pics, and i think Ken may have those too, but i took pics of his big hands on banjo, and me paying him the cash, and one of us together....that was it it, that is all he would allow. We went inside and spent the next hour and a half or so, just eating some good country cooking, fired cornbread and such and just talking about life, don't think another word was spoke about music. I don't know how many Rich and tailors that sonny had made up like his granada, but i know i was one of the first, and he told me his reasoning for this was he liked the way the kluesh sr rings sounded, if fact he had told me at the festival where we made the deal that there would only be so many because Richard Kluesh Sr had passed( a motorcycle accident i think?) but it was a big factor in why sonny liked this run of his name sake rich and tailors, and when they were waining in numbers, his brain storm for the chief had come to mind, he told me this with in the first few months after taking procession of the pre chief(that is what i call the rich and taylor conversions.
Why did i sell that banjo you may wonder....i'll get to that later.
I'm gonna pause here, to let others that may have stories like this that want to post, but I've got a really cool story, that i told to aaron Mcdarius back when he was getting his money together to buy rocky top, and this is how there came a close call and sonny was in talks about trading Rocky top this was back in 1998, and it rates up there with my buying the banjo, actually, its probably cooler because of who is involved and what sonny was going to trade for....

Oct 29, 2021 - 1:45:44 AM
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6661 posts since 10/13/2007

Thanks for posting. Great Stuff. I will get the letters on here in a day or so. Can anyone tell me how to post a PDF?

Oct 29, 2021 - 4:19:10 AM
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2838 posts since 11/15/2003

Rocky Top...The Banjo.

I told his story to Aaron Mcdaris, my long time friend when he called me one morning back in 2009, getting his moneys together for the purchase of Rocky Top.
Aaron was selling one of his banjo's...the best sounding new gibson on the planet, a gibson Flint Hill Special, and was asking 5,000.00 for it and had a standing offer from Dwight Mccall for 4, 500, didn't matter, either way i didn't have the money at the time, and i told him so, and then i chucked and said," you know, sonny almost traded rocky top off back in 1998, down at Cross Country Trail Ride, aaron says oh yeah, and i said " Yeah.....HERE'S THE STORY...

As i said, cross country trail ride in Eminence Mo, was one of the biggest festivals in our neck of the woods. It was about a hour and a half from my house in Thayer, and a hour and a half south of Salem Mo, where the legendary Dillards are from.

This year the line up had Bobby and Sonny, Jd Crow and the new south, Little Roy, Lost and found, Del McCoury, Jim and Jesse , the Reno Brothers, and Uncle Josh and Kenny Baker.
Various regional bands, this year i think i was helping Guy Stevenson, a former side man for Bill Monroe and i was working with Uncle Josh and kenny.
All of these bands were common place in my years out on the road, and i may have some bands in the wrong years, but for the purpose of this story, i got the key bands correct for sure, some of these bands i never spoke to, for instance, jim and jesse, just didn't ever approach them, i spoke to Raymond McClain a few times, but i Jim and jesse just did seem as affable as others like Del and Ronnie and Robbie and especially Little Roy, good one concerning him and jim and Jesse later...

The weather was beautiful, and the festival itself was inside a huge metal building/ arena, and they also had a small golf course on the grounds.

Not exactly sure what day the Osborne's arrived most likely a friday, they sometimes did a evening show on a friday, then 2 sets on sat, and gone.
Depending on if i got into any jams, i usually went home for the evenings since i was only a hour and a half away.
i guess it was probably sat afternoon, the sun was out, shirt sleeve temps, and for this festival, bobby and sonny didn't drive there bus, they arrived in a motor home, the bus was in the shop or down, who knows, but they were in awhite motorhome and i have no idea why i was going into the motor home the see sonny about, but alas i'm knocking on the motorhome door, i hear sonny hell ' it's open come on in..
I go through the door and sonny i right in front of me, stretched out on a small couch laying upright on his right side, quite comfortable looking in some causal wear.
There were two small chairs as you go through the door, and i could tell someone was sitting in the right chair talking to sonny, so i just quickly sat right down in the left chair, still un aware of who sonny was talking to in the right chair.
This was one of the times in my life where i read the room and just kept my mouth shut and listened....
I had heard the voice speaking to sonny before, real high nasally accent, so i said to myself, just look over at him stupid....It was JD Crowe....and him and sonny were talking about swapping banjos,....i didn't say a word, i just sat in amazement and they brought out the finner points about what each liked about the others banjo, and i'm sitting here thinking of all the banjo pickers in this world who would probably pay to sit in on this situation, that is being between 2 of the Three greatest living banjo pickers (earl was still alive) and listening to them hash out banjos.
JD had to leave and get ready for a set, so he stood up and excused himself, and exited the motorhome....when he was out the door, sonny acknowledged me and i says to him...."sonny where you thinking about trading banjos with Jd? and he said yeah, i was gonna trade my old three for his Old home place banjo, and he asks me...."What do you think"?
I said Sonny...jd's old home place banjo is only known in bluegrass circles, and yes, its a great sounding banjo, but is says.."YOU CUT ROCKY TOP ON THAT BANJO"!. is said " that banjo is known world wide, and on the same level as Foggy mt breakdown, or Duling Banjos and The Beverly Hillbillies, i said, that makes it one of the most recognized banjos on the planet, depending on how much the song rocky top is played, it could easily be THE MOST RECONIZED banjo in the world.
Sonny looked at me and said 'HUH" then in his next breath he yelled real loud toward the back of the motorhome...'Bobby"...Bobby yell back, "what do ya want"?
Sonny yells, " should i trade my banjo to Jd? and bobby yells back..."which one?"
Sonny.."my old three, the one i used on Rock Top?...Pause...Bobby..." why hell no, I'm the one that found that damn thing for you"! sonny looked at me and says, well he's right, he did find the banjo for me. That was the last i heard of that.
A few minutes later sonny handed me some money and ask me to go and get a bunch of Coffee and bring it back to the motorhome,...i had some sort of grumblings about doing the monkey butler work and he reminded me of just how many guys in my position would love to have had the chance to be in on what i had just witnessed...sonny never forgot who he was and the power he commanded, i went and got the coffee.
Sonny and i bet on sports games.....that was our big thing. The first bet i believe was on a football game, and i lost easily, I'm not that big of a football fan....ah, but baseball, that was my sport, and even though i am studied in it, i still over the years lost about 500.00 to sonny, and he would always say when i was paying off..."now if this is causing you any hardship i won't take it" it was alway a 100.00 bet, i told sonny..." i would welch on a bet to god before i would to you"
I remember what the bet was now and what i was going into the camper to see sonny for....i bet sonny 100.00 that Mark Macguire was going to break the single season home run record...he had 4 home runs when i made the bet, Sonny felt it was a foolish bet, but he said "i'll take your money" this was to be the only bet i won, and the last bet we made.
Later in the year i seen him again at a festival outside Popular Bluff, this was a festival where i had to break up a fight between Little Jimmy Dickens side men, and some bluegrass sidemen who didn't cotton to being talked down to by some Nashville musicians.
I seen sonny in the warm up area and he says..." i guess you are here to collect on the bet, but you know it aint over till the season is over....that Sammy Sosa could beat Big Mac....i had to remind him..."sonny the bet was mark Macqurie would beat the single season record, he did, not if sammy sosa beats mark , its all over with now but if you want to wait and see who wins the overall race i will do that. Sonny had already reached into his pocket and pulled out a 100 dollar bill, and said, "well i've won several of these from you, if it goes south, you will do the right thing, " I said, Of course i will....as history records, mark Mcquire did set a new single season home run recored, and i Kevin D Hendrix won 100.00 from Sonny Osborne for it!

More later....

Oct 29, 2021 - 3:17:20 PM
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13549 posts since 1/15/2005

These are great stories Warp ..... and you are spot on about what some of these guys like to talks about. I try and talk to JD every year her is at the Banjothon in Knoxville ..... but never talk about banjos. We talk about classic cars (specifically muscle cars) (one of my passions over the years) and our grandchildren.  JD has a granddaughter and his eyes light up when he talks about her.  My recommendation is that if you ever get a chance to meet and talk to some of the "names" ask them about anything other than the obvious!

Oct 29, 2021 - 6:23:11 PM
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2838 posts since 11/15/2003

There were certain Festivals we were booked at, that i count on seeing Bobby and Sonny most every year, The cross county trail ride in eminence Mo, a couple of festivals down in Georgia, Canton Tx and sometimes grapevine tx, laurel or wiggings missisippi, various others, but every year, for me because it was so close and i could go home and sleep in my own bed, the cross country trail ride in eminence mo, not to mention the we( my boss bob lewis) booked them every year at grassy mo.

I don't want this to come across as ill will or disparaging to Sonny, as i said earlier, he is my all time favorite of the Legends, but being around him and having his favor comes and came at a price.
Sonny was a very very talented musician, and i mean HE COULD DO MAGICAL THINGS WITH THAT GRANADA.
I say this because i watched him let others play it, sometimes on stage and they were nothing more than banjo pickers playing sonny's granada, nothing special about there tone, and the audience didn't know the difference either, yet...
When sonny took the granada up in his hands, the purest of tone and musical prowess just busted out the flange and head, magical, that is all i can say, magical.

I feel sorry for the people that didn't get to hear him up close before he retired in 2005.
I know a few years back me and grich were talking on the phone and both of us commented about the watered down version of sonny on his threads.
Retirement was hard on sonny, it had to be, but i know one thing for sure, because we talked about it one morning when he called me at home, he did it his way, and i will touch on that later.
The sonny osborne that went to the nash camps and such, and did all the thread talking and the ask sonny anything,....that came about cause he couldn't pick anymore, and i knew him well enough to know that he was and had got soft compared to the Sonny that worked the road, and fought with sound men and gave abrupt answers to fans cause Sonny didn't suffer fools and foolish questions.

Sonny could be quite full of himself, but he was such a force with his banjo. He could do so many different things and all while controlling the stage and singing harmony, he was the first true Multitasker in banjo, seriously.
He'd kick off an song, and swing in to do the harmony part, and back out and turn his banjo toward the fiddle player so he could hear his roll as if to say.." I'm hear, this is where my tempo is at, if you aint here, you need to get here, he commanded the whole stage, everytime he took the stage.
Sonny concentrated on his tone every time he hit the stage, just watch his face on the germany show where he does the scruggs medley with the Stelling Sonflower, he is concentrating all the way from the start, trying to pull that tone and you can see it in his face....The banjo meant everything to sonny, and he wanted to be the best he could, and he wanted EVERYBODY to know he had the best sounding Banjo in the world in that Granada. There was no other opinion but sonny's, you were either on board or overboard.
More Later...

Oct 29, 2021 - 8:43:40 PM
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6661 posts since 10/13/2007

I love this line of yours "The banjo meant everything to sonny, and he wanted to be the best he could,". He was living banjo all the way. he did that ask Sonny Anything thing when he couldn't write and his wife had to do it for him ...right up to a week before his death. He was banjo all the way thru and thru wasn't he. Good line Warp.

Oct 30, 2021 - 11:00:50 AM
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2838 posts since 11/15/2003

The Chief Banjo!
I think i got my R&T/Neat conversion in 1997. Sonny had already told me when we were in our initial talks about a maple banjo that he heard something special in my/the R&T he had on his bus....the neat neck made it turn out as good as he had hoped, and from the responses i got and the friends who i let play it, i couldn't do any better anywhere, so i was struck funny when after about a year or so after i had been playing the banjo....AND help him sell a couple more conversions, he started telling me that there was a BETTER banjo coming...better how? This is where things starting sliding down hill between me and sonny, and that is if Sonny said it was so...it was so, no matter what.

I've never been one to throw out rational reasoning , and i think there is a place in this world for data crunching, but hero worship tends to make you throw the former out the window, and i knew that too.

The Chief Banjo came to light because the supply of R&T osborne models were only so many, but they were a damn good pot, made better by a Frank Neat neck.

I can't remember what year the Chief came out....and i want to think that sonny debuted it in canton tx, cause i was there.... I'm just not good on the place but i do remember he let dale vanderpool play it on stage during the melvin goins show. Dale was good friends with sonny, and a good banjo picker in his own right. Dale had come tap me on the shoulder and ask me to come over to Melvins bus cause he wanted to show me something. I had no idea the new banjo that had been the sonny brain storm was now coming to light.
Dale said...im going to play it next set on stage, meanwhile i took it out of the case and gave it a good going over....to me....it was just ok, not anywhere near my banjo, so like a hot horseshoe, i didn't hold it long.

Sonny walked all around out in the festival grounds to different spots, he would stop at a spot and listen then go off in another direction and stop and listen, he was really trying to gauge the banjo through the sound system. I tried to ask him a couple of times how he thought it was...but he didn't want to be bothered, and waved me off, so i let him be, i can't remember even talking to him much the rest of the festival.
Needless to say...i had a standing order for a Chief.....I didn't get mine until 1999, it was delivered to me at Starvey Creek Mo festival, and i was just sitting out in the audience watching some band and Dana Cupp came up and sat a red Calton case down at my feet, i can't remember what number mine was...either 23 or 27, i honestly don't remember , and in case your wondering what was the final Nail in my Coffin with Sonny.....your familiar with the Hangout Tread...i ordered the osborne Chief.....
My Thread would read...." I gave back my Osborne Chief". Don't get me wrong, i've played some really good sounding Osborne Chiefs, but mine was not one of them, it was just ok, and i could not get on board with just because Sonny said the Osborne Chief was better...it was....saying it don't make it so. This didn't happen right away, i kept the banjo somewhere between 1 and 2 years i think....there is a youtube video of when i was FAT with Katie kerkhover and rock wood junction at a illinois festival sometime around 2000 and i am playing my Chief.
I had problems with my chief...but in my defense and probably sonnys....i was heavily medicated on a lot of anger meds and anti anxiety drugs...i was a handful and sometimes that made for explosions and although i was a huge sonny Osborne fan and even to some degree a student....i would rare up at him as bad as he would me, he was bigger but not stronger, and i would let him know that, not that he couldn't see it for himself.
There were some real good moments and a really good life and banjo theory lesson that i learned from sonny, and sadly these came in the year or so after i took the R&t into tow and before the Osborne Chief....
I will touch on these after while.

Oct 30, 2021 - 1:55:37 PM
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2838 posts since 11/15/2003

Falling In and Out of Favor....
To say Sonny had a gift in his hands and ears is an UNDERSTATMENT!
Sonny Osborne pulled better tone than Earl Scruggs PEROID!

Sonny was who i knew the banjo from as a child...Earl was at the end of his prowess in the late 60's and the final few albums that Flatt and Scruggs recorded was all i had of earl around my house...but dad played The Osborne Brothers in the
car....Ruby...Tennessee Hound Dog....roll muddy river, up this hill and down,
Se Empre god those were the days, Sonny was the banjo player for my childhood, so it was hard for me to get on board with how good Earl Scruggs was, having never heard his young stuff.....and when i finally did get to hear Young Earl, i was very much impressed, but it was Sonny that got me to really go back and listen to those very foundational recordings that YOUNG EARL did....not Martha White Earl, and especially not Earl Scruggs Review Earl.

This has been repeated by sonny and some of his more recent students, but I'm talking about learning from, and fighting with a Sonny Osborne that has not been seen and heard from since he retired.
I'm sorry that his health finally took him, but i can't honestly say that i wish things would have gone differently, I was spared watching his health slip....i can't even look at the last video that is going around, that sonny is not the sonny i knew and the sonny i watch amaze me by pulling the best tone i've every heard come out of a banjo...BARR NONE.

Sonny did not want to be Earl Scruggs....he could play all of earls material, and sound so close to Earl, with this exception....Sonny got more, way more sustain out of his Granada than Earl did.....Way More.
Sonny told me that he got off the Earl train sometime in the mid 50's, and that is a good thing. I believe sonny knew full well the talent he had, and one of the things that made sonny so hard to endure sometimes was his confidence, i think sometimes he believed he could raise the dead with that banjo, who knows, he might have, and just thought know one would believe it...lol.

My family, me and my dad had Airborne Express Routes, what y'all know now as DHS.
We were in 5 different states at the hight of our business, we had 250 vehicles and 200 or so employees. One of our terminals was in Jackson Tenn....2 hr from Nashville.
One time out of the clear blue, sonny calls me up at home in Thayer and ask when the next time i was going to be in Jackson, i told him i could be there when ever he wanted, and i think i was needing a fret dressing on the R&T, so he met me over there for lunch and took the R&T and took it up to Frank Neat.
Before he left, he asks me how i was coming on my research on listening to some of the early earl stuff....i told him, i thought i was doing ok, and he says...lets go out in the parking lot. I knew he was apprehensive about being out in public and i was driving a cargo van with a bench seat, so i said..we can get in the back of that, and we did.
I showed him some stuff i was working on, and i played some basic No mother or dad, and Cabin in caroline, and he said fine, it wasn't bad and had a few pointers for me, so i handed him the banjo,....He kicked off on i wonder how the old folks are at home...just like he recorded it on his album with Mac wiseman i think? It was then i realized that Sonny could make any banjo sound like sonny....its the hands not the banjo, but sonny doesn't like it when you use rational like that, especially later on when he was marketing a different banjo....anyway, i tell him that i really liked earls break from If i should wander back tonight, and that i nearly fainted when i heard earl do that up the neck break, and that i thought it was almost as hard as Dear Old Dixie....he looks at me and says...whats so hard about dear old dixie....BAM....kicked that damn thing off at the young earl speed recording, note for note and played the first verse.....he could play EARL...he didn't want no part of it, HE WAS SONNY OSBORNE and had his own licks and persona, as hard as he was to take sometimes, he was in my opinion...the king of tone, at least on his granada in that era....really, sonny never lost his speed or dexterity , and that is why I'm glad he quite when he did....

We were talking on the phone one day, and sonny ask me..."what do you want to do with your banjo playing...I said.." be on the stage of the opry one day...just as a side man...good enough to play the opry....sonny said...man your already there, he said...there are a lot of banjo pickers that get to play there that are as good as you, but its not always about talent....its as much about opportunity , and me and bobby have had some good breaks...we talked a bit more and then he ask me "who do you like to listen too play the banjo...i says...well..you, probably Jim Mills, Charlie Cushman, Kenny ingram, and he said stop, stop, you know who you should like to listen too, who should be your favorite banjo picker.....i said no who...Earl? he said no....this is the most pragmatic answer in my banjo picking life....

It took me up until years after he retired from the road and after i went through a couple of bouts with cancer to wrap my head around that....but I've been my favorite banjo picker for a good number of years now!

This goes to the very heart of the sonny i knew before he retired and before his threads and ask sonny anything, and before i fell out of favor for giving back the Chief.....
in conversation i ask sonny about how long he was going to stay with preforming knowing how hard it is....somthing you don't know....Sonny's hands hurt....years of driving holding a bad bus steering wheel.....BLUEGRASS IS NOT GLAMOURS AND TRAVELING DOWN THE ROAD EVEN IN A BUS WILL STILL TAKE ITS TOLL ON YOU OVER THE YEARS!
anyway...we talked about how Earl played way past his ability, and quit pulling good tone...really a couple of albums before him and lester split...but never after him and lester.
Sonny told me...."I DONT WANT TO BE LED TO THE MICROPHONE THE WAY BILL, AND LESTER, AND ROY ACUFF DID...he said roy Acuff was so blind he could not see people on the front row......
I don't know the sonny of the nashcamps and banjothons and such.....but i do know that he retired while he could still pick and pull tone, he never wanted to be less than the best....he believed that there was a correctness to playing the banjo, especially in earls style or his.....i agree 100%

I said earlier that i only kept my Chief about a year or two...i seem to remember i was playing it the last show i worked with Uncle Josh and kenny Baker, and that was august of 2002, i do remember it was a gold banjo, but that one could have been a gold mahogany banjo i got from Jim Yarboro...doent matter.

Sonny is the one that got me to believe that a gold banjo sounds different than a nickel one....gold is warmer he said.....guys i chased the sound, i chased it harder than anyone has ever chased it....i chased it so hard that i even became friends with Snuffy Smith, and went to his house to have him put a new gold tone ring in my banjo....snuff would do it, he said it would not make one ioida difference.

Here's a sonny story...Snuffy Smith....Snuf was known for more than bridges, he was just as famous for his banjo collection and THE VAULT...it was something to see, besides the fact that he had a bunch of custom 45's on top of the vault, he had a killer collection inside, and of course there was his famous 75 old ben and his granada Yellow boy(i think that is what he called it) which was in contention in popularity with sonnys granada.
I had met snuffy in nashville at the spbgma show....99 i think, it was before i got my chief.
Snuffy invited me to his house when ever i could make it, so i took a vacation and went there....with the intention of putting a gold tone ring in my R&T conversion, why....you know why. whist i was there , i had a offer to buy a 37 granada with an orphaned tone ring....meaning the tone ring was out of an original flat head pre war....it was beautiful...but 7000,00 was a lot of money back then....so i was content to just visit a couple of hrs with snuff, play his banjos and visit....got a new bridge put on that sounded great....a bit better....anyway....he was telling me that Earl wanted to buy his banjo....and that rumor had been flying around for a while...
To my ears...the difference in snuff granada and sonnys was snuff's was more responsive to my touch....sonnys played hard to me.....but in sonny hands his granada trumped everything....
We were at a festival in mo and i seen sonny and told him about visiting snuffy and all that took place....he asks me what i thought about snuffs granada, and i told him
IT'S RUMORED THAT EARL WANTS IT... sonny ask...so...what did you think about it his and mine.....i told him...sonny...honestly its a coin toss,... i really can't do either of them justice.....he wasn't happy with that answer...,.sonny wanted his granada to alway be the one everybody wanted....and i think as long as it was in his hands...who would not want a banjo to sound like that?

Sonny had picked out new Granada for Dale Vanderpool...just walked in and strummed across the strings and said....thats a good one, and dale played it...as a matter of fact....wes vanderpool has been trying to track it down...we lost track of it after dale passed....It was a truly wonderful sounding granada....and i told sonny one night after listening to dale play some of sonnys material in a jam....sonny that new granada you got for dale....man the other night i would have swore that was your banjo it sounded so good....o snap...he was furious....i had blasphemed against the instrument of the Gods.....

I constantly was having problems with my chief....i did everything to try and get it as good sounding as my r&t conversion....i had paid 2000 more dollars for it....i wanted it to sound 2000.00 more better....guys....it don't work that way.

I started wondering what the chief would sound like with a skin head on....i couldn't find any used Rodger's heads so i called Frank Neat and he said...bring it up here and i will put a goat skin head on it....so...I called Aaron Mcdaris told him i was heading for franks and he had not met frank yet...i picked aaron up on the way through Nashville and we went to Frank Neat's....
Frank told me that the head was going to be temperamental and they are...but not as temperamental as sonny was....he was furious.....he said that these banjos meaning the chiefs were not meant to have that kind of set up....i guess he was having some PTSD from years of when the banjo pickers had to pick skin heads, but i was now on his S**t list....
I continued to have trouble with and never did take to my chief...and so Sonny sold it for me....at a greatly reduced price....but we were done....and i guess that was late in 2002....
I came to Cincinnati in Jan of 2004....in the fall of 2004 Vernon and us were playing a festival down in Morehead Ky....Sonny was there but not picking banjo...he was cordial to me, and told me that the could not use his left arm...and was just singing and Dana had taken over banjo duties.....in the spring of 2005 i was sick and didn't know what my prognosis was yet....i called sonny to try and make things said that need to be said....he was nice, and hoped my treatments went well....that was the last i spoke to sonny osborne.

I am now, and i have been....A VERY BLESSED MAN...i was able to have had the mentoring of the Greatest banjo picker that i know of....yes even more than Earl...
Earl is considered the most best because he came first....If you really know what to listen for....AND I DO.. i may not always reflect it in my playing...but i do know what good tone and banjo playing is....in the scruggs genre....Sonny kept his skill set and never lost it....he demanded the best because he was the best....he really cared about good banjo playing and taking it serious.
I hope he is getting to see Earl, and Lester, and Don Reno, and he probably even trying to make friend with Frog Martin....


Nov 1, 2021 - 9:32:14 AM



40 posts since 10/19/2006

I saw the Osborne Brothers around 1970 in Springdale, Arkansas. Wow, they were impressive - doing that bob and weave thing around a single microphone and Sonny playing all that intricate and energetic backup. And they worked up a sweat! Stringbean was on the bill too.

After the show they mingled with those of us who hung around. I was with my college banjo buddy Bill Anderson. (Some of you BHO instrument collectors might remember Bill.)

Anyway, the Osbornes had released an album with steel guitar and other non-traditional instruments. My friend said to Sonny, "We were afraid you might come out with steel guitar." And Sonny replied, "You boys don't know what the hell you're talking about!"  And of course he was correct.

I haven't listened to all of Sonny's stuff, but for me the big ones have always been Up This Hill And Down and The Kind of Woman I Wanted. He was really innovative with those rockabilly (I guess) licks and his banjo sounded absolutely electric, and I don't mean plugged in.

He also did some great teaching with his VHS tutorial which I guess is still available on more modern media. After listening to that bit posted here I think I need to go back and try to learn a bit more from it. 

I loved the fact that he chose to put Earl's backup from "I'll Never Love Another" on it. Such beautiful stuff.

Nick Kennedy

Nov 2, 2021 - 2:22:18 PM
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141 posts since 10/24/2005

I've thought a lot about the times I got to spend with Sonny over the last week. Some were fun and filled with laughs, some were educational, and some were intense. I thought I'd share a couple here. All of these I was there in person and not hearsay.

At one festival in KY (name left out to save the not so innocent) My dad Kenny, Uncle Dale and I spent about three hours on the brothers bus passing THE Granada talking Earl and playing licks. It was amazing just witnessing all the knowledge being passed around and sharing in some of the laughs. Later that evening, Dale was playing banjo with Melvin. Sonny handed me his video camera and asked me to record Dale's set. Saying with a chuckle he wanted me to catch all the mistakes. I did and towards the end of the set, Melvin did a recitation that was just him and a guitar. This was prior to 911, but I can't remember which it was. Anyway, Dale went backstage during this part of the show, so I walked back there and the Chief was there and saw me and said "record this" and started ribbing Dale about his truss rod cover. Lots of laughing going on, which was a little loud but was all between Dale, Sonny, Dad, and John Mcneely (Melvin's guitar player). Melvin ends his show, the Osborne's play their set and came off stage. Sonny handed me the Granada and asked me to put it and the video camera on the bus, which I did as quickly as I could because, what 16 year old wants to be responsible for that. I got back to Sonny who was talking with my Dad when the festival promotor came up, very aggressively to Sonny and told him he knew he was laughing at Melvin from backstage and put his finger in Sonny's chest and said your bus is too slow getting in and out of here and you're too difficult to work with. Sonny put his hand in his coat pocket, which I knew he carried a pistol in, and said hold it right there. My dad stepped in front of me, which I also knew wasn't good. My dad was about 6'3" and 215 at the time, so I knew someone was getting shot or getting punched. The promotor handed Sonny an envelope with what I assume was his money and told him to get out of the park. Sonny said something not repeatable here and walked to the bus without saying a word. We followed and within about 5 minutes (or however long it takes an eagle to build up air) the fridge was cruising out of the park. We saw Sonny the next week in Ga, (Big Mon had just passed) and Sonny said thanks for filming the whole thing backstage.

Another time, in Cherokee NC festival, I was just trying out for Karl Shiflett's band. At the time, Karl had drums and at this show had an extra guitar and fiddle. I was playing with the Wildwood Valley Boys and had driven from Turkey Tracks to Ft Gay WV to record and the to NC in about two days. I was dead tired and played horribly. The brothers played after we did and Sonny caught me coming off stage and said "What the hell was that? That was no where near what you can do. Kids like you really piss me off!" Later after the show, he talked to Karl who said they were thinking of hiring me, and asked what Sonny thought. According to Karl, he said something along the lines of why would you, Dale would be better, etc. What Sonny told me before we left was "these guys want to hire you, why I don't know." I agreed, I and said that's the worst I had ever played. Laughing, Sonny said "no, I've heard you played worse." He went on to say he knew I could do it but I needed to practice. And that I needed to play like me instead of trying to play like Jake Jenkins (Karl's former banjo player). He said good luck and we parted ways. To finish the story, Karl asked me to play the festival the next week in Summersville WV, and that would be my tryout. I went home and practiced for a week from the time I woke up until I went to sleep. I played a lot better, and got the job.

The last one happened in 99, Dale had been telling Sonny I was going around saying how good I could play Tennessee Hound dog. Dale thought it was hilarious but the truth was I had never attempted playing it. I knew we were playing in Virginia that weekend on the same day as the brothers, so I practiced with the record I had. Unfortunately, it was the original cut, which Sonny played different than he played after the Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom album. So I practiced all week and felt pretty good. When we got to the festival, we had our record table set up, and the Terry's came and set up next to us. I see Sonny coming across the festival ground and he sees me and starts laughing, and just yells Vanderpool! He gets to their table and says "Dale tells me you think you can play hound dog?!" I tell him no, Dale is messing with us. I'd love to come play one with you all though, how about I play shucking the corn or something. Sonny said "no, I don't have time for any of that, we have a show to do. Let me think about it and I'll let you know when you come off stage if we're going to do it." After our set I walk past him and he said something like good job, which was out of character but I felt pretty good as I didn't think I'd have to attempt hound dog. I go back to our bus and change into shorts and a tshirt since it was summer and went to our record table to watch their show. About 30 minutes in Sonny steps to the mic and says, "We'd like to have a friend of ours come up and play a song with us." My stomach sank. I sprinted to the bus to grab my banjo and get to the stage. I get tuned up and the sound man says, he's waiting on you. I walk out after they finish the song they were doing. Bobby turns and see me and just laughs and shakes his head. Like, boy what are you doing? They sing the first few notes and the wall of sound that came out was mind blowing. I made it to the banjo break and felt like I had played it pretty good, but the original cut. I nailed the ending, better than I had practiced. As I was walking off stage, Sonny says over the mic "Now you can go back and tell Uncle, you couldn't cut it!" Man, a punch in the gut. After the show Sonny ripped me again for looking so unprofessional on his show. Which was a big misunderstanding, which I explained. He said oh, well you didn't play the song the right way, which I reminded him of the original cut. He said "I only ever recorded that one way, and that wasn't it." Later, when we were packing up the record table and stuff, Sonny said "I forgot about the earlier cut, you played it just like that. Good job, learn how to dress though!"

The last time I spoke to him was back in May of this year, I had just received Krako and he wanted to hear it. I played it and he approved of the tone I was getting out of it. We talked a little more about family and old times, it was good catching up. Though he was having a little trouble talking, he was still Sonny. His passing has brought back a ton of memories, it's been like losing Dad and Dale all over again. When I was a kid, both dad and Dale had me calling him uncle Sonny, which he seemed to get a kick out of. The banjo world has lost a true innovator and an honest voice, like his opinion or not.

RIP Chief.

Wes V.


Nov 2, 2021 - 4:00:41 PM
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2838 posts since 11/15/2003

Great post, I was hoping there would be others like us that knew all sides of sonny, I know you feel like me in the fact he could really make you feel like crap at times...but we sucked it up cause they weren't another or better one like him...and good god how he could pull tone out of that granada....
One more thing wes....
Your uncle dale spoke to me about how well you were coming along several times....he said Kev my nephew is already better than me....
Did you ever find what became of his granada sonny picked out for him....that was a damn fine sounding banjo

Nov 2, 2021 - 5:27:31 PM
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141 posts since 10/24/2005

Yes sir, Sonny didn't pull punches. As you said, he knew who he was, and could use that to boost or smash am go. But I always felt you knew how he felt. 
Dale was a great uncle. A lot of people have said to me how lucky I was to have him teach me. The thing is he was a lot like Sonny and I wish he would've taught me. He showed me a forward roll, and that was the only lesson I got. Which was good, it made me work harder to get where I did. I've never been able to find that Granada. I know he sold it to Melvin's nephew and that was the last I heard of it.
Originally posted by warpdrive

Great post, I was hoping there would be others like us that knew all sides of sonny, I know you feel like me in the fact he could really make you feel like crap at times...but we sucked it up cause they weren't another or better one like him...and good god how he could pull tone out of that granada....
One more thing wes....
Your uncle dale spoke to me about how well you were coming along several times....he said Kev my nephew is already better than me....
Did you ever find what became of his granada sonny picked out for him....that was a damn fine sounding banjo

Nov 3, 2021 - 11:33:25 AM
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2979 posts since 4/5/2006

Thank you all for posting those great Sonny stories.

Oct 25, 2022 - 10:32:18 PM
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67136 posts since 10/5/2013
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