Vale Bobby Osborne 1932 – 2023

by | 28 Jun, 2023

Bobby Osborne

Bobby Osborne, one half of the legendary Osborne Brothers has died at age 91.

Bobby’s death was confirmed this week by The Grand Ole Opry. Hewas a member since 1964. He died at a hospital in Gallatin, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.

To say he was a legend falls short of the impact he had on all of us. An innovative musical pioneer, Bobby set and held the gold standard for bluegrass vocals – Paul Schiminger, IBMA.

Bobby Osborne

Bobby Osborne

Originally from Leslie County in Kentucky, Bobby Osborne and his younger brother Sonny Osborne formed Osborne Brothers in 1953, after Bobby Osborne returned homjeafter his Korean War service. The duo remained active for the next 50 years, until Sonny Osborne retired in 2005.

The Osborne brothers built a legacy that led to a White House performance and CMA Award win. At the height of popularity, they bridged a space between country and bluegrass music, receiving radio play and adopting amplified instruments on concert bills, a rarity among string bands at the time according to the Tennesseean.

While Osborne and his brother will be remembered by many for the song “Rocky Top, that barely scratches the surface of the many songs they recorded and performed – Paul Schiminger, IBMA.

Bobby Osborne Biography:

Written by Glen Duncan

Bobby started out in music wanting to sing like Ernest Tubb. Bobby played the guitar, and learned everything that he could by listening to Ernest on the Grand Ole Opry. One night, while waiting for Tubbs’ appearance on the Opry, Bobby hear a sound come over his parents’ radio that was to change his life. He couldn’t believe all of that incredible music, that barrage of notes coming over the airwaves could be made by one man. When the song was over The Solumn Old Judge said, “friends that was Earl Scruggs with his fancy banjo with Bill Monroe and his BlueGrass Boys.” Bobby knew that some way, some how, he had to see this Scruggs guy and see how did that.

Bill Monroe announced on the radio, that he and his band would be in Dayton, Ohio the next day. As Bobby and his parents and brother and sister lived in Dayton, Bobby asked his Dad if he would take him to see Bill Monroe the next day. His Dad said he would, and that he like to see them himself. Bobby’s Dad told him, “well one thing I know for sure, Bill’s the one that plays the fiddle”. The next day, Bobby saw Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise, Howard Watts and Earl Scruggs. Bobby found out in person, that one man could indeed make all of that music when he saw Scruggs play. Seeing these five men perform together, was ubforgettable to Bobby, (he can still tell you what each one of them was wearing that fateful day in Dayton).

It was the sound of the five-string banjo, played by Earl Scruggs, that got Bobby interested in what has come to be known as BlueGrass Music. Like so many things in Bobby’s life, it’s amazing how many things came full circle, and how quickly. It’s worth pointing out, that Bobby set out to be a country singer, and his biggest vocal influence was Ernest Tubb. That’s one reason why his singingstyle was so unique. He wasn’t trying to be a tenor singer like Bill Monroe or Ira Louvin, he was singing like he wanted to. He just happened to have been blessed with a one of a kind vocal range. Bobby was alway a guitar player, until he teamed up with Jimmy Martin. That’s when Bobby became a mandolin player. And what a mandolin player.

He was the first person to craft a style not based on Monroe style mandolin playing. Bobby’s mandolin style reflected his love of the fiddle, and electric guitar playing of Hank Garland and Grady Martin. So what we see with Bobby Osborne, is a singer and instrumentalist who always saw himself as part of the County Music business. There was no separation between the styles, Bluegrass hadn’t yet become a genre onto itself, it was all just part of Country Music.

Bobby met Larry Richardson, one of the early Scruggs devotees on the banjo, and the two of them started a partnership in 1949. They ended up in Bluefield, W.Vas members of The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Bobby made his first recordings with them. Fifty years later, in 2009, they were placed in the IBMA HallOf Fame as members of The Fiddlers.

A song Bobby wrote and recorded when he was 17 years old, became a Bluegrass classic, and was recorded by Flatt & Scruggs on their now iconic, Mercuruy recordings in 1949. So in 1949, Bobby has already written and recorded a song, With A Pain In My Heart, that Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs also record in 1949. This is a theme throughout Bobby’s career: Bobby hears Earl Scruggs with Bill Monroe on the opry. Just a few short years later, Earl records Bobby’s first song. And as the circle becomes even more complete, think about it this way: Bobby listens to Tubb and Monore on the Opry. Bobby starts his professional career in 1949. In less that fifteen years, (1964), Bobby is a member of The Grand Ole Opry. That’s covering a lot of ground in a short period of time. Also included in that fifteen year period is Bobby’s becoming a decorated combat veteran for his service in The Korean War with The Marine Corps.

When Bobby and brother Sonny, as The Osborne Brothers, come to Nashville as members of The Opry, they are booked by Tubbs’ long-time booking agents, Haze Jones and Smiley Wilson. Years later when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs dissolve their partnership, Bobby and Sonny start a booking agency with Lester Flatt. The same Lester Flatt who sang and recorded, With A Pain In My Heart, the same Lester Flatt who stood on the stage of Memorial Hall in Dayton,Ohio and sang, Mother’s Not Dead, and Mansions For Me, with Bill Monroe while Earl, Howard and Chubby roamed through the crowd selling song books. The same Bill Monroe that Bobby would later record with in 1985 for Bill’s, Stars Of The BlueGrass Hall Of Fame, an album that was just re-released October 2nd of 2010. Bobby shared the fabled Dressing Room #2, with Bill Monroe from the time that they opened the Opry House in 1974, until Bill”s last performance, March 15,1996 on The Friday Night Opry. (Bill and Tom Ewing sang the duet True Life Blues, on the 8pm show, the last song Bill Monroe ever sang).

As this writer can attest, it was a magical time to be at The Grand Ole Opry. Roy Acuff was in Dressing Room # 1 with The Smokey Mtn Boys, who included Oswald, Howdy Forrester, Charlie Collins and Larry McNeeley; Monroe and the BlueGrass Boys, Jim & Jesse and their band, and Bobby & Sonny and their band were in Dressing Room # 2, Granpa Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens were next door in Dressing Room #3; around the corner were: Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Porter Waggoner, and Ernest Tubb, (there he is again). I’ve always referred to this as: A Country Music Hall of Famer in every Dressing Room. The scene backstage was electric with energy. People were always playing together between shows, and the best music usually happened in the impromptu picking sessions that happened in Acuff’s and Monroe’s dressing rooms. Man From Rosine, on this cd, caprtures the spirit of what Dressing Room #2 was like in the 80’s & 90’s. Always a new tune, always tons of great stories, and a sense of comrdarie and shared experiences we’ll probably never see again. Truly a golden era.

Bobby Osborne’s story is that of the Country Music business from the last half of the 20th century right up to the new millenia. Bobby’s indeeed, seen it all. The song on this cd, I’ve Seen It All, written by Bobby’s long time band member, Daryl Mosely, really sums up a career and life well lived. Bobby started singing in radio stations and in less than 15 years made it to The Grand Ole Opry, where he’s been a member since 1964. Bobby’s recorded 78?s, L.P’s, E.P’s, 45?s, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD’s, and now digital recordings. He started out wanting to forge a career in music and build his own sound and identity, and alomg the way has been inducted into The Bluegrass Hall Of Fame not once, but twice; as a member with Sonny, as The Osborne Brothers, and also as a member of The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. He’s also a member of The Kentucky Music Hall Of Fame. He and Sonny were nominated for CMA Vocal Group Of The Year times, and were voted CMA Vocal Group Of The Year in 1974.

Bobby’s started recording in radio stations as a teenager, and ended up recording some of the most classic recordings ever made in Bradley’s Barn, and The Quanset Hut. Bobby’s also owned his own recording studio, and owns a studio on his farm now. Bobby started out loving Ernest Tubb, and ended up on the same label, (Decca Records which became MCA), with Tubb and Monroe.

The recordings Bobby and Sonny made with legendary producer, and Country Music Hall Of Famer, Owen Bradley; are some of the finest records ever made in Nashville. The finest songs, written by the best writers; the best musicians, Nashville’s fabled A-Team including Pig Robbins, Grady Martin, and Hal Rugg; the finest engineers; all combined to make records that will live forever. Among those songs was a song that was officially released, December 1967, that has since gone on to be one of the most famous songs ever recorded in the history of Country and Bluegrass Music: Rocky Top. Rocky Top has acquired legendary status. Penned by Country Music Hall Of Fame, and Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame members Boudlueux & Felice Bryant, Bobby’s version has become an official state song of the State Of Tennessee. It’s played all over the world, and I’m sure it’s playing somewhere right now. We’ve recorded it again for this 60th Anniversary recording. Rocky Top has become the new “Wabash Cannonball”, on The Opry.

People felt like they’d been to The Opry if they saw Roy Acuff sing The Wabash Cannonball. People now feel like they’ve been to The Opry if the get to see Bobby Osborne sing Rocky Top.