“My whole thing is, I just love the passion of singing and then physically playing these chords,” says Brothers Osborne frontman TJ Osborne. Photo by Ken Settle
It’s always cool to hear a story about somebody at that level that still just wants to play.
John: You know, someone asked the other day, while we were watching a Guthrie Trapp video, “When you get that good, does it get boring?” I’m like, “No, you get that good because it’s never boring.” You could look at Guthrie when he’s playing every note on the fretboard at infinite speed, and he loves it! That’s the reason he’s gotten that good, you know, because he loves every second of it. That’s how you get to be great. You have to love it. It’s an addiction.
How did it work out in the house when you guys were kids? Did you decide that John plays lead guitar and TJ plays rhythm and sings?
John: That was never really discussed. I just was obsessed with the guitar. My parents taught me how to play G, C, and D, and I had so much fun. My dad taught me how to play the pentatonic blues scale and I fell in love with guitar. That was the moment when I was like, “Oh my god, there’s so much freedom in this instrument.” I couldn’t possibly get enough of it after that. It felt like flying to me. I fell in love with it, and I didn’t really care to sing that much. TJ just one day opened his mouth and could naturally sing. He had a very natural ability, and that’s how it worked out.
TJ: For me, I played guitar because it was a means to accompany myself as I sung or wrote. I think John really learned guitar from, “I really want to play solos and I want to be really diverse in my guitar playing ability,” and it kinda works out for us now. There’s never a time when it’s like, “I wanna take that solo!” I prefer not to take solos. In fact, I really, really love playing rhythm guitar.
Our uncle, our dad, and our cousin would all hang around the dinner table and play songs and we wanted to join. But they were like, “Look, if you want to come in here and play, we’re not just gonna let some kids come here and bang around and make a mockery of this. If you wanna come in and play, you gotta learn how to play, and then you can join.”
John: But our parents both would write songs and come down to Nashville to pursue a career in songwriting. They were unsuccessful in that rite, but they paved the way for my brother and I to do it. So, they’re able to live vicariously through us, as they should be able to, because they’re the reason that we felt we had the confidence to come down here and try it.
John, your guitar playing shows a clear set of country influences: You know the moves, you get the sound, but then you also very obviously have a rock influence, and you guys write music that fits in both of those worlds. I’m just curious about how you see the difference between these influences.
John: It’s interesting that you ask that, because I’m kind of ADD when it comes to guitar. I just want to play everything and I find it all to be so much fun.
The very first thing I wanted to play when I was a kid and I finally picked up the electric guitar and I plugged it into an amp … I wanted to play grunge music. I was obsessed with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. Those are the bands I fell in love with. I think when I finally heard Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time, I saw how limitless the guitar was. I had no idea you could do that. Then, of course, Jimi Hendrix followed, and just blew my mind—everything changed. This instrument is a voice. It’s a way for me to sing because I was a shy kid. I didn’t really want to sing, but I wanted to play guitar.
The way that country fits in is, the first time I heard Brent Mason play a solo on some of the old Alan Jackson stuff, it blew my mind. There’s a really cool style of playing there. It’s so technical but it’s so clean and wild. Then I got into Danny Gatton for a while, then bluegrass. I was a huge fan of Bryan Sutton and Tony Rice. Then I realized it’s all kind of the same thing but with a different accent, as cheesy as that sounds. When you start learning all the styles, you hear them come together, and you realize that they all talk to each other. They just have a different accent. Whereas bluegrass would do a b5 pull-off, blues would bend it down, but it’s saying the same thing.
John and TJ Osborne get rowdy with a Gibson Les Paul and a Mario Martin T-Master, respectively, during a live performance in Las Vegas in April 2018. Photo by Katie Kauss
What influences your playing, TJ?
TJ: My whole thing is I just love the passion of singing and then physically playing these chords and I think it just all works as one piece. I love playing guitar and singing at the same time, and the way those two things work and play off each other.
For me, you have, like, Angus Young—obviously, he’s amazing—and then you have Malcolm back there who is just holding down chords. There are endless songs that would feel nothing like they do without him. I recently saw a show where Dave Cobb was playing with [Chris] Stapleton, and he was playing these great acoustic parts and just going for it. A lot of people, when they play acoustic, I feel like they don’t really play it like you want to hear it, and he was just getting after it and it really added a lot to the song. That kind of stuff is inspiring.
This live version of “Shoot Me Straight” from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is full of great guitar work right from the get-go, with its phaser-heavy opening riff. TJ sings along with the composed lead breaks at 1:58 and 2:39, and at 2:59 John takes off on his solo. Listen to the way he builds his solo with tastefully executed licks and a series of ascending bends at 3:13 to make his way to the top of the neck, pulling out some Hendrix-meets-country guitar moves.