Double Trivia

This Contest is Closed

Roy Streever got one part of this double trivia question right. He gets to choose which piece of the certificate he wants to claim!!! Congrats to you, Roy.

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Sad news since the last trivia column. Jesse McReynolds, one of the first generation of bluegrass artists, just passed away June 23 at the age of 93, and still a working member of the Grand Ole Opry. And Bobby Osborne passed away Tuesday June 27, aged 91, also a working member of the Opry. These two bluegrass giants started performing professionally in the late 1940s.


What is Jesse McReynolds particularly known for, as far as his contribution to bluegrass music?

A. He had the highest tenor voice of them all!

B. He was taught to play and sing by none other than Ira Louvin.

C. Jesse was the only member of the original generation who was in the Army (drafted to Korea).

D. Substituted as mandolin player with the Blue Grass Boys if Bill Monroe was sick.

E. Developed a style of mandolin playing, using the standard flat pick, that sounded like 3-finger banjo rolls – called “cross picking”.

What is Bobby Osborne particularly known for, as far as his contribution to bluegrass music?

A: He had the highest tenor voice of them all!

B: He did hard service in the Korean War as a US Marine.

C: He was the first well-known bluegrass mandolinist to develop and play a style different from Bill Monroe.

D: He led the way developing a new trio singing style in bluegrass, placing the lead voice at the highest register, with the other two parts placed lower at baritone and “low tenor”.

E: Bobby was a member of 3 “seminal” bands; The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, the Stanley Brothers, and Jimmy Martin & the Osborne Brothers.

F: A, C and D

ANSWER is “E and F”

Additional Bowden Comments

You got Jesse right Roy! Well done! Partial credit for the Bobby question.

Jesse indeed developed a style of mandolin called “cross picking”, taken from listening to Earl Scruggs’ rolling banjo patterns with the right hand. The cross picking style was also adapted to bluegrass guitar in early days by George Shuffler with the Stanley Brothers. It became a standard part of the Brothers’ and Dr. Ralph’s band sounds.

Jesse didn’t sing tenor, he sang lead. His brother Jim had the high tenor voice (but not the highest of them all). Jesse was not taught by Ira Louvin, although Jesse met Charlie Louvin in Korea where they both served. Jesse served in the Army but certainly wasn’t the only one to do so in the music world. Although two men were known to have substituted on mandolin for Bill Monroe (after car accidents), Jesse was not one of them.

The Bobby Osborne question (and his given name was Bobby Van Osborne, not “Robert” which was his dad’s name) correct answers included A,B,C,D and E. He was all of those things! But he was best KNOWN for F, which means A, C and D. Kind of trick answer, but then again, any answer was correct at least in part, like Roy.

Bobby did sing “highest of them all”. His vocal range was just plain stunning. Oddly as a young teenager he loved playing guitar and singing like Ernest Tubb. When his voice changed it went UP! His late brother Sonny Osborne told a story about how high Bobby could sing when in the 1980s they made some records with Mac Wiseman, who had a pretty good tenor voice himself. While planning one of the songs, Mac very graciously asked what key Bobby would be comfortable singing it in. Bobby’s answer was “it don’t matter…”. It really didn’t! Basically Bobby, Bill Monroe and Ira Louvin “owned” the stratosphere of vocal notes, although Bill’s top vocal notes were usually yodeled rather than sung.

While not part of his bluegrss fame, Bobby did do hard service in the Korean War in some of the forlorn-hope winter fighting above the 38th parallel. In one platoon attack on an enemy position only he and one other Marine survived, and Bobby feels that being knocked out by a shrapnel induced head wound kept him still enough to avoid death. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his service during his year in Korea. Whatever bluegrass fame might have come from his Marine service was a song his sister wrote and had recorded “A Brother in Korea”.

Pioneer bluegrass mandolinists give Bobby big credit for showing “another” way to play mandolin, as opposed to playing like Bill Monroe. I’ve heard this other style called “linear”, more like fiddling. Less syncopated and ragged than Monroe, in long chains of notes that take long trips up and down the scales. This style was really exemplified by Doyle Lawson. Bobby was also a fine old time fiddler, so this may have been the source of his mandolin style ideas.

Bobby indeed helped his brother and Red Allen develop the new style of bluegrass trio singing, where the lead melody was the HIGHEST pitched part of the three. His brother sang the next part below, called baritone. Red Allen sang the tenor but sang it an octave lower, called “low tenor”, where it filled out the trio with a high leader and two lower supporting parts below. The typical bluegrass trio was been the lead melody line in the middle, with a tenor harmony pitched higher than the leader, and the baritone part below the leader. (A third type of harmony structure was worked up by the Stanley Brothers, where the leader was the lowest pitch, then a normal tenor above, then the baritone part RAISED an octave to be above the tenor singer.) The Osborne Brothers’ “high lead” trio style is an excellent choice when the lead vocalist is a female, with two lower pitched male harmonies in support. (Think Emmy Lou Harris).

Finally, while not widely known by the bluegrass fan world, Bobby indeed served in 3 “seminal” bluegrass bands — The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers first, then the Stanley Brothers and finally in a short lived partnership he and his brother had with Jimmy Martin which broke up when Jimmy wanted to remove “and the Osborne Brothers” from the band name.

RIP in Jesse McReynolds and Bobby Osborne.

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

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