Faced with a layover last month at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, TJ Osborne changed his plans on a whim.
The 31-year-old Nashville, Tenn., resident postponed his flight a day, and drove to his small hometown of Deale in Anne Arundel County to surprise his father. They spent the night jamming with a local bluegrass group at the waterfront bar Happy Harbor.
"Me and my dad sat in, and it just reminded me really quick of what it was like growing up there. There was a lot of music, surprisingly. A lot of people that played guitars or mandolins or sang," Osborne said on the phone from his Nashville home last week. "There's a pretty strong music culture there."
Years later, Brothers Osborne — the duo of TJ (vocals) and his 33-year-old brother, John (guitar) — have reimagined the country and bluegrass they were first introduced to in Deale with catchy results, including the country-radio hits “Rum” and “Stay a Little Longer." On Friday, they return to Maryland once again, this time to headline radio station WPOC's Jingle Y'all concert at Rams Head Live.
Growing up in Anne Arundel County, TJ Osborne said, he and his brother rarely visited Baltimore, except for Orioles games and “a couple of baseball events at the Convention Center.” They, along with three other siblings, happily lived a small-town experience.
“Everybody knew everybody,” Osborne said. “We grew up right on the bay. Growing up with that kind of culture, we were always running around when we were kids. I enjoy living in a city now, but I think that really had a huge impact on my brother and [me].”
Playing outside included music. The brothers learned to sing and play guitar during all-night jam sessions that their parents held at their home with friends from the neighborhood. As teenagers, TJ and John formed a band with their father called Deuce & a Quarter.
“We played all of the restaurants and tiki-bar type of places around there in Deale,” TJ Osborne said. On weekends, you could likely catch the family jamming together at haunts like Skipper's Pier Restaurant and Dock Bar and Happy Harbor.
Eventually, though, Osborne said, he and John realized they needed to leave the comforts of the bars along Deale's Rockhold Creek to turn their music into a viable career.
In 2000, John moved to Nashville, and TJ followed two years later. For the next decade, Brothers Osborne honed their songwriting skills while frequenting countless open-mic nights at bars. In 2012, they earned a record deal with EMI Nashville, which released their debut single, “Let's Go There,” the following year.
Subsequent singles and a 2014 self-titled EP followed, along with success on the radio and Billboard's country charts. Still, fans waited for word on a debut album. Taking their time, however, allowed the duo to develop their sound naturally and at their own pace, TJ Osborne said.
“It gave us a good, clearer vision of where we wanted to take our music, and also to keep it honest to who we are,” he said. “We could put out songs right now and have hits with them, but we want a career that's a lifelong career and not the easy flash-in-the-pans.”
On Jan. 15, Brothers Osborne will release “Pawn Shop,” their 11-track debut album they co-produced with Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Carrie Underwood). The recording sessions were difficult at times, Osborne said, with Joyce trying to stretch the brothers' creativity.
“A lot of times, the people who end up being the best to work with are sometimes the hardest,” Osborne said.
There is no point in collaboration if you only surround yourself with yes-men, though, he said.
“There's several things that will be on this record that John and I at first thought weren't necessarily the best ideas, and we just went along with it because we respect Jay and he's successful,” Osborne said. “It wasn't always right, but once in awhile, it took us down a path that was new.”
With the album finished, it's time again for the duo to hit the road hard. That's more than fine with Osborne. The adrenaline rush from a performance is why he and his brother left Deale in the first place.
“Certainly what we do is fun and we have a good time, but it's a lot of work, a lot of dedication and sacrificing,” Osborne said. “To be able to finally see the fruits of our labor come around, it's exactly the reason we why we do it. More than money and the fame, it's being able to go to a club, pack it out and have a whole bunch of people singing your music.
“There's nothing that gives you that kind of buzz.”