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Bobby Osborne tries a little kindness

By John Lupton, March 2006

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For the last few years of Bill Monroe's life and career, Detroit native Dana Cupp ably held down the banjo slot in the Blue Grass Boys, and following Monroe's passing in 1996, came aboard with the Osbornes as rhythm guitarist. With Sonny's departure, Cupp simply steps over to the banjo side of the stage.

"Of course, (Dana's) been familiar with Sonny's playing down through the years, and he's been a great friend for many, many years (that) we've known him... and of course, he's followed Sonny's playing, and he's followed Earl Scruggs' playing...Dana is on the same order that Sonny plays. He can play either one. On the things that I do on stage like the Osborne Brothers, he plays like Sonny, and on the things I do as Bobby Osborne, like on this new CD, I told him to play it just a little bit different, just like he would like to. So, it worked out great that way."

For a new guitarist in Cupp's old spot, Osborne again didn't have far to look, bringing his son Bobby Jr. on board. Doing the classic Osborne-style Dobro is Tim Graves, who has since departed to resume running his own band, Cherokee, replaced in the current lineup by Matt DeSpain.

In the midst of a turnover in the fiddle slot, Osborne says Duncan contributed fiddle parts and a good share of the vocals.

Osborne is pleased and optimistic about his future, but is quick to recognize that his past is comforting not only to himself, but to his audiences as well.

"I'm still doing some of our recordings (onstage), especially the ones that people request, of course, you know, 'Kentucky' and 'Rocky Top'...and some of those ballads that we did, I still do them, and I'm slowly working into some of these newer ones."

"But until the CD came out, I'd been sticking strictly to the Osborne Brothers (material) that (Sonny) and I recorded together, and the ones that people request - if they request 'em, I'll still do 'em and always will because Sonny and I were together 51 I just have to hang with that, you know?"

As bluegrass evolves, more and more new bands come along that look to pioneers like Sonny and Bobby Osborne for inspiration.

Looking back to the early years, Osborne recognizes that, like Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanleys, Jim and Jesse and others, he and his brother were able to develop their own additions and innovations to the bluegrass sound.

"When my brother and me started recording, we didn't want to be exactly like anybody else. We ran into a song back in the '50s, 'Once More,'...and we always liked the steel guitar, I always thought the steel guitar was a beautiful instrument. So, I don't know, we was just riding along in the car one time, and all of a sudden I just started singing 'Once More'."

"We'd always featured just regular harmony, like the regular style of bluegrass - the tenor, the high tenor part on top, you know, but somehow or another I just started singing that song way up in the high range, and Sonny and Red Allen, who was with us at the time, they just came in and did the two lower parts under that, and we'd never heard anything like that before, we just lucked into it. So we got to listening to it and thinking about that steel guitar and the harmonies that the guys have with the pedal steel, and the same harmony is what they use on the steel guitar. It was beautiful, so we just kept working with that until we perfected that style of singing that made us different from anybody, you know."

As one of the hardest working bands in the business, the Osborne Brothers did upwards of 200 dates a year in their heyday, but that kind of breakneck pace isn't what Bobby has in mind.

"Oh, I've slowed down quite a bit. I'm gonna do possibly 40 dates this year, something like that...I don't think I would want to be away from home that much. I've got 76 acres here at home, way out in the country, and I enjoy doing all my cuttin' the fields and stuff like that with my tractor, and I don't believe that I would like to be gone that long."

He pauses and laughs as he marvels at the stamina of some of today's bluegrass headliners.

"Rhonda Vincent's got a schedule that I don't think I could keep anymore. She works an awful lot. I wouldn't turn anything down or anything like that, but I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing...Sonny and me were young back then, and we just wanted to go all the time, we didn't have as many responsibilities then as we do now, you know, and me especially. But I'm really happy with what I'm doing, and the band I have, I'm really proud of them."

Joining his brother in full retirement, though, is not yet in the cards.

"As long as I can sing to suit me, I'm gonna stay as long as I can, 'cause I enjoy it, you know. I really love to sing, and I enjoy playing still yet, and as long as I can sing and perform, I think I'll just stay with it."

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