Sonny Osborne, bluegrass banjoist behind ‘Rocky Top,’ dies at 84

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One of the musicians behind the song “Rocky Top” has passed away. Sonny Osborne died Sunday at the age of 84.

“They premiered their act here in Knoxville on WROL radio in about 1953/54,” said music writer and historian Wayne Bledsoe.

Bledsoe shared what set the brothers apart. “They had very distinctive three-part harmonies and a lot of bluegrass acts were influenced by that,” he said.

Fellow bluegrass historian and writer John Curtis Goad agreed that their music was revolutionary. “They were one of the first bands to use drums and electric instruments,” said Curtis Goad. “Today you’ve got bands like Mumford and Sons and all kids of stuff who use bluegrass instrumentation plugged up.”

Curtis Goad also said “The Osborne Brothers” never meant for “Rocky Top” to be a hit. “Rocky Top was actually on the b side, believe it or not, “Rocky Top” was never meant to be a number one hit.”

Both historians say the brothers were proud and appreciate the fandom surrounding the song that would become an anthem.

“Their version is the one everybody knows and, I mean, he was really proud of it,” said Bledsoe of Sonny.

“I’m sure every time that that song was played, ever, they just got the biggest kick out of it,” said Curtis Goad. “I hope all the fans, the rocky top fans, still do.”

The song ‘Rocky Top’ was first played by the Pride of the Southland Band on October 21st, 1972 during the halftime show against Alabama.

As for the other half of ‘The Osborne Brothers,’ Bobby Osborne is still performing.

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