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Osborne Brothers

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Osborne Brothers
OriginHyden, Kentucky, U.S.
Years active1953–2005
LabelsMGM, Decca, MCA, CMH, RCA, Pinecastle Records
Past members

The Osborne Brothers, Sonny (October 29, 1937 – October 24, 2021) and Bobby (December 7, 1931 – June 27, 2023), were an influential and popular bluegrass act during the 1960s and 1970s and until Sonny retired in 2005.[1] 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 Tennessee location.[2]



The Osbornes were born in Roark, Kentucky, on Jack's Creek, but they moved to Hyden, after their house burned down. They then moved near Dayton, Ohio, where they grew up and performed as entertainers in southwestern Ohio.[3] In 1952, during the Korean War, Bobby was drafted and served in the United States Marine Corps. Sonny went to work with the "Father of Bluegrass Music" Bill Monroe. Following Bobby's discharge, the Osbornes teamed up with Jimmy Martin, performing at radio stations WROL in Knoxville, Tennessee and WJR in Detroit, Michigan.[4][5] At their only session together, on November 16, 1954, the Osbornes and Martin recorded six songs for RCA Victor.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[7][10] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Upon their breaking into the bluegrass scene, the Osborne Brothers quickly became known for their virtuoso instrumentation and tight, melodic vocal harmonies. They first made the country chart in 1958 with "Once More", performing as a trio with Red Allen. The song featured a novel inverted stacked harmony. Bobby sang the lead line highest, with Sonny singing baritone, and the third singer (Red Allen) singing tenor as the lowest part. This made Bobby's distinctive voice the lead, and the third voice was somewhat interchangeable. As a result, they could hire others guitarist and singers without changing the overall sound. The "high lead" vocal trio became their signature, and they 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 Osbornes caused minor controversy among Bluegrass music purists by incorporating electronic and percussion instruments in their live acts and studio work. In 1960 they became the first bluegrass group to play on a college campus, performing at Antioch College.[12] In 1963 they signed with Decca Records.[9] On August 8, 1964, the Osborne Brothers were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry.[13]

The Osborne Brothers recorded their hit “Rocky Top” in November 1967. Released on December 25, 1967, it sold 85,000 copies in only two weeks,[14] and was named an official Tennessee state song in 1982.[15] In 1973 the Osborne Brothers became the first bluegrass group to perform at the White House.[14]

In 1994, The Osborne Brothers were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honor.



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".

Later years and deaths


Bobby continued 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. Bobby died in 2023.

Sonny retired in 2005 and died in 2021.

Notable band members





Year Album US Country Label
1962 Blue Grass Music MGM
Bluegrass Instrumentals
1963 Cuttin' Grass Osborne Brothers Style
1965 Voices In Bluegrass Decca
1966 Up This Hill And Down
1967 Modern Sounds Of Bluegrass Music
1968 Yesterday, Today & the Osborne Brothers 34
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 Midnight Flyer 44 MCA
1974 Fastest Grass Alive 40
1975 Pickin' Grass and Singin' Country 30
1976 Number One CMH Records
1977 From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom
1979 Bluegrass Concerto
The Essential Bluegrass Album (With Mac Wiseman)
1980 I Can Hear Kentucky Calling Me
1981 Bobby & His Mandolin
Hillbilly Fever
1982 Bluegrass Spectacular 64 RCA


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


  1. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Country Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 300. ISBN 0-85112-726-6.
  2. ^ "Rocky Top, NC - N35.56389° W83.71389°". Topoquest.com. Retrieved August 8, 2021.
  3. ^ Tribe 2006, p. 237.
  4. ^ Tribe 2006, p. 238.
  5. ^ Osborne 1964, p. 2.
  6. ^ Booklet, Bear Family Records BCD 15705
  7. ^ a b Rosenberg 2005, p. 155.
  8. ^ Goldsmith 2004, p. 67.
  9. ^ a b Booklet, Bear Family Records BCD 15598
  10. ^ a b Goldsmith 2004, p. 68.
  11. ^ Goldsmith 2004, p. 69.
  12. ^ Wolff, Duane 2000, p. 243.
  13. ^ "Grand Ole Opry: Members". Opry.com. Archived from the original on September 11, 2009. Retrieved August 8, 2021.
  14. ^ a b Ledgin (2004), p. 30
  15. ^ "State Songs". Tennessee State Government. Archived from the original on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2017-12-07.


  • 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