Osborne Brothers

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For the 2010s Maryland-based country music group, see Brothers Osborne.
Osborne Brothers
Origin Hyden, Kentucky
Genres Bluegrass
Years active 1953–2005
Labels MGM, Decca, MCA, CMH, RCA, Pinecastle Records
Past members Bobby Osborne
Sonny Osborne

The Osborne Brothers, Sonny Osborne (b. October 29, 1937) and Bobby Osborne (b. December 7, 1931), were an influential and popular bluegrass act during the 1960s and 1970s. They are probably best known for their No. 33 1967 country hit song, "Rocky Top", written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and named after a fictional Tennessee location.[1]

Biography[edit]

Although the Osbornes were born in Roark, Kentucky, on Jack's Creek, they moved to Hyden, Ky., after their house burned down. Then, they grew up near Dayton, Ohio and had their first experiences as entertainers in southwestern Ohio.[2] In 1952, Bobby was drafted into the military, and Sonny went to work with the "Father of Bluegrass Music" Bill Monroe. Upon Bobby's return from service in 1953, the Osbornes teamed up with Jimmy Martin, performing at radio stations WROL in Knoxville, Tennessee and WJR in Detroit, Michigan.[3][4] At their only session together, on November 16, 1954 the Osbornes and Martin recorded six songs for RCA Victor.[5] In late 1955, the Osbornes left Martin and moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, where they performed on WWVA Jamboree until Christmas, together with Charlie Bailey.[6] They returned to Dayton in early 1956 playing the local clubs with guitarist Enos Johnson. When Johnson left, the Osbornes added guitarist Red Allen and fiddler Art Stamper to form a new group.

The Osborne Brothers and Red Allen (under the pseudonym Stanley Alpine) recorded for Gateway Records in February or March 1956 cutting eight instrumentals. In the spring of 1956, Tommy Sutton, a local disc jockey, helped the Osborne Brothers get a recording contract with MGM Records.[7] The new group, with the Osbornes on banjo and mandolin, Allen on guitar, Ernie Newton on bass, Tommy Jackson and Art Stamper on fiddles, made their MGM recording debut on July 1, 1956.[8] Their first released 45 RPM single for MGM containing "Ruby Are You Mad" became a huge success and led to the Osbornes being signed on as regular members of the WWVA Jamboree in October 1956.[6][9] The "Jamboree version" of the group comprised Ricky Russell on dobro, Johnny Dacus on fiddle and Ray Anderson on bass. "Ruby Are You Mad" marks the first time twin banjos were used on a bluegrass recording.[9] On October 17, 1957, at their third session for MGM, the Osbornes, always experimenting with their sound, added a dobro and drums, also for the first time on a bluegrass recording. In April 1958, Red Allen, who was the last musician to receive billing next to the Osborne Brothers, left the group.[10]

Upon their breakout into the bluegrass scene, the Osborne Brothers quickly became noted for their virtuosic instrumentation and tight, melodic vocal harmonies. Their first country chart appearance in 1958 was "Once More", as a trio with Red Allen. The song featured a then-novel inverted stacked harmony: Bobby singing the lead line highest, then Sonny singing baritone, and finally the third singer (in this case Red Allen) singing the tenor as the lowest part. This placed Bobby's distinctive voice as the lead, and made the third voice a somewhat interchangeable part. As a result, the brothers could hire a series of guitarist/singers without changing their overall sound. This "high lead" vocal trio became their signature sound, used to great effect in the country market, with songs like "Blame Me", "Sweethearts Again", and a remake of the Carter Family's "Fair and Tender Ladies".

During the 1960s, the brothers caused some controversy among Bluegrass music purists for their incorporation of electronic and percussion instruments in their live acts and studio works. In 1960, the Osborne Brothers became the first bluegrass group to perform on a college campus, at Antioch College.[11] In 1963, they switched to Decca Records.[8] They recorded their tremendous hit "Rocky Top" in November 1967. Released on December 26, it sold 85,000 copies within two weeks.[12] On August 8, 1964, the Osborne Brothers were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry.[13] In 1973, the Osborne Brothers performed at the White House as the first bluegrass group ever.[12]

The Osborne Brothers have the distinction of having recorded two songs that would go on to be officially voted as "state songs." The first, "Rocky Top," was named a Tennessee state song in 1982. The other, "Kentucky," was named a state song for the brothers' home state of Kentucky.

In 1994, The Osborne Brothers were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honor. The induction is considered bluegrass music's highest honor.

Their hits[edit]

Their song "Ruby Are You Mad" came in 1956 after signing with MGM Records (1956) and began a string of hits through 1986. Among them were "Once More" (1958), "Up This Hill & Down" (1965), "Making Plans" (1965), "Rocky Top" (1967), "Tennessee Hound Dog" (1969), and "Midnight Flyer" (1972). The Osborne Brothers' final chart appearance came in late 1986 with a new version of "Rocky Top".

Current status[edit]

Sonny retired in 2005, but Bobby continues to perform with his band Rocky Top X-press, which includes two of his three sons. They performed May 31, 2013 at the rededication marking new ownership of The Gatlinburg Inn, where Boudleaux and Felice Bryant wrote "Rocky Top," and the couple's sons, Dane and Del Bryant, were on hand

Notable Band Members[edit]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Year Album US Country Label
1968 Yesterday, Today & the Osborne Brothers 34 Decca
1969 Up to Date and Down to Earth 27
1970 Ru-beeeee 44
1971 The Osborne Brothers 31
Country Roads 45
1972 Bobby and Sonny 44
1973 Bluegrass Express 44 MCA
1974 Fastest Grass Alive 40
1975 Pickin' Grass and Singin' Country 30
1982 Bluegrass Spectacular 64 RCA

Singles[edit]

Year Single US Country
1958 "Once More" 13
1966 "Up This Hill and Down" 41
"The Kind of Woman I Got" 33
1967 "Roll Muddy River" 66
"Rocky Top" 33
1968 "Cut the Cornbread, Mama" 60
"Son of a Sawmill Man" 58
1969 "Tennessee Hound Dog" 28
1970 "Ruby, Are You Mad" 58
"My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine and Dandelion Wine)" 69
1971 "Georgia Pineywoods" 37
"Muddy Bottom" 62
1973 "Midnight Flyer" 74
"Lizzie Lou" 66
"Blue Heartache" 64
1976 "Don't Let Smoky Mountain Smoke Get in Your Eyes" 86
1979 "Shackles and Chains" (with Mac Wiseman) 95
1980 "I Can Hear Kentucky Calling Me" 75

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Topographic Map Viewer - TopoQuest
  2. ^ Tribe 2006, p. 237.
  3. ^ Tribe 2006, p. 238.
  4. ^ Osborne 1964, p. 2.
  5. ^ Booklet, Bear Family Records BCD 15705
  6. ^ a b Rosenberg 2005, p. 155.
  7. ^ Goldsmith 2004, p. 67.
  8. ^ a b Booklet, Bear Family Records BCD 15598
  9. ^ a b Goldsmith 2004, p. 68.
  10. ^ Goldsmith 2004, p. 69.
  11. ^ Wolff, Duane 2000, p. 243.
  12. ^ a b Ledgin 2004, p. 30.
  13. ^ Grand Ole Opry: Members

References[edit]

  • Goldsmith, Thomas (2004) The Bluegrass Reader, University of Illinois Press
  • Ledgin, Stephanie P. (2004) Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass, Greenwood Publishing
  • Osborne, Sonny (1964) Bluegrass Banjo, Mel Bay Publications
  • Rosenberg, Neil V. (2005) Bluegrass: A History, University of Illinois Press
  • Tribe, Ivan M. (2006) Country: A Regional Exploration, Greenwood Publishing Group
  • Wolff, Kurt - Duane, Orla (2000) Country Music: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides

External links[edit]