To listen, click on player at left

To listen, click on player at left

Oct. 17: The Osborne Brothers’ upside-down harmony first made waves on the country charts with this song, recorded 52 years ago today in Nashville. Its success pushed them into the mainstream, where they straddled the worlds of bluegrass and country music for the next decade and a half.

The Kentucky-born Osbornes were instrumental and vocal virtuosos — Bobby with his mandolin and super-high tenor, Sonny with his banjo and solid baritone — and had apprenticed separately or together with the likes of Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin and the Stanley Brothers. On their third session for MGM Records, innovation was in the air. Drums made their first appearance on bluegrass recordings. And the Osbornes’ high-lead trio was born.

Frank Overstreet wrote the bio that accompanied the Osbornes’ selection for the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America’s hall of honor in 1986. He tells how the high-lead trio was born, while Bobby and Sonny were part of the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree in the mid-’50s. Also in the cast was singer and guitar man Red Allen, with whom they formed a band.

One night while driving from Wheeling to Dayton [Ohio], they attempted to sing the song “Once More.” When they got the song into a key high enough for Bobby to sing the verses, however, it proved too high for anyone to sing lead when he would go to the tenor part. Through a process of elimination, they realized that Red and Sonny could sing vocal parts under Bob’s lead, and the high lead trio, Osborne Brothers style, was born. The vocal parts were Bob, high lead. Sonny, baritone and Red, low tenor. Check the Osborne’s recordings, and you will find many great examples of how the high lead trio has served them well through the years. Sonny has often related how he associated the high lead with the steel guitar.

Sonny and Bobby Osborne in their later years. (Image from Opry.com)

Sonny and Bobby Osborne in their later years. (Image from Opry.com)

The record reached the Top 15 on Billboard‘s country chart. Seven years later, The Osborne Brothers moved their base to Nashville and fulfilled their dream to join the Grand Ole Opry. They signed with Decca Records and produced music that has influenced bluegrass pickers ever since.

Ernie Newton, 1909-1976

The Osbornes’ bass player during those MGM years was Ernie Newton, a former member of the Les Paul Trio and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians and a stage and session bassman in the early days of Nashville’s recording industry. He played on this record, made 19 years to the day before his death at age 66.
Newton can be heard on some of Nashville’s biggest records, including “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” (Red Foley), “I Overlooked An Orchid” (Carl Smith), “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” (Hank Snow) and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (Hank Williams).

I couldn’t find a good online biography of Newton. If anyone knows where I can, please reply here with a link.

From left: Ernie Newton, Grady Martin, Owen Bradley, Jimmy Selph and The Jordanaires are among those accompanying Red Foley (at microphone) and WSM announcer David Cobb on an episode of the Swift's Jewel Shortening Show in 1950. (Image from www.billyrobinson.net)

From left: Ernie Newton, Grady Martin, Owen Bradley, Jimmy Selph and The Jordanaires are among those accompanying Red Foley (at microphone) and WSM announcer David Cobb on an episode of the Swift's Jewel Shortening Show in 1950. (Image from http://www.billyrobinson.net)

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