The Osborne Brothers: A Familial Bluegrass

The Osborne Brothers: A Familial Bluegrass

Siblings, often times, possess an innate ability to guess at what one another are up to. That obviously translates well into a musical setting. And because of that there are a great many familial groups that have graced records over time – and no, the Partridge Family doesn’t count, the Cowsills do.

Either way, bluegrass and country music, since it’s based on tradition and what not, is as a good a ground for family get-togethers as any other genre. And seeing as the Carter Family is and will remain a towering remainder of where the music is coming from, it’s appropriate that the Osborne Brothers sought to continue on with that legacy – with a few slight innovations.

Growing up outside of the Dayton area, which during the forties and fifties was most likely as close to Mayberry as  the physical world could have allowed for, the Osborne Brothers took an interest in music at the dawn of the ‘50s, just prior to Bobby, the elder of the two, being drafted. Sonny, who performed with Bill Monroe for a time, stuck around waiting for his brother to return. And when he did, the duo enlisted a guitarist and began gigging around the south and the midwest.

Early line-ups shifted pretty frequently even as the group was granted a few good opportunities to record. As the group’s career continued, the brothers endeavored to change up the formula a bit while still retaining its trademark vocals. There was a bit of flirtation with percussion and even electric instruments. But “Rocky Top” is still what the band is going to be best remembered for.

Regardless of that fact, in 1967, the Osborne Brothers issued Up This Hill and Down on the Decca label. The disc didn’t purport any tremendous change in bluegrass even as it came so late in the decade while other ensembles sought to incorporate a rock and roll theme the music. The Osbornes, by contrast, work here in standards -  there are no electric instruments or percussion. But what the boys lacked in diversity on this particular recording, they made up for in skill.

As a result of the ever shifting line-up, the brothers devised a manner of singing that pushed Sonny, who was in possession of a relatively high voice, out front. The inverted harmonies worked two fold. It granted the Osborne Brothers a unique sound – “Lonesome Day” is a pretty good example of that. But it also allowed for the band to rotate folks in and out of the group without altering its overall aesthetic.

Up This Hill and Down didn’t give the Osborne Brothers a hit that would reach the heights of “Rocky Top,” but considering that that track counts as one of the best known cuts in bluegrass, that’s not too surprising.

The brothers would continue recording for a few decades and went so far as to found a yearly bluegrass festival in Kentucky baring the family name. It attracts countless folks each year and sports some of the biggest acts in the genre – it’s a family affair.