▶ Watch Video: Brothers Osborne on their long journey, of music and identity

If we hadn’t hit the brakes, we’d have no idea
Paradise was hidin’ right here
Dippin’ our toes in the water
I don’t care if it gets any hotter 

Deale, Maryland is a blue-collar fishing town along the Chesapeake Bay – a paradise that’s also hometown to one of country music’s hottest duos, Brothers Osborne.

“It’s a little town, as people like to say, there’s more boats than people here,” said TJ Osborne. He and his older brother, John, used to catch crabs off the pier.

“Five to seven days a week we’d be in this water running around , swimming, playing,” added John.

Brothers Osborne (John and TJ) with CBS News’ Anthony Mason on Chesapeake Bay. 

CBS News

“CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason asked, “Where did you love of music come from?”

“When we first started wanting to learn how to play and sing, it was really so we could just join in with the family,” TJ replied.

Their parents put them in music classes early: “And surprisingly, had you heard us play a violin at that age you’d think, ‘Yeah, music was never gonna happen for these kids, they were terrible!'” John laughed.

They practiced in a shed out back of their house, which they showed Mason. “Does it look pretty much the same?” he asked.

“It looks way, way better,” John laughed. “There’s no beer cans laying around everywhere.”

When their dad, “Big John” Osborne, a plumber and part-time songwriter, formed a band called Deuce and a Quarter, the brothers joined – John on guitar and TJ on bass. Some of their earliest gigs were at the Happy Harbor Bar in Deale. That’s when Big John saw something in his boys: “I kinda noticed, ‘These are guys are pretty good.’ And I tried not to be The Dad – they’re my kids! – but I could see it.”

The brothers both went off to Nashville – John first, to make his name as a guitar player. TJ followed, starting out as a solo act. Sometimes he’d book his brother to play behind him: “People kept mentioning it, ‘T two of you guys together is something special.’ Which basically equated to, ‘You singing by yourself is not as interesting!'” TJ laughed.

“And an hour-and-a-half of guitar solos – surprisingly! – are also not very interesting,” John added.

In 2012, as Brothers Osborne, they landed a recording deal. John recalled: “We pulled into the driveway and I just started crying. Finally, all of the work that we have put in over the years and all of the setbacks and all the odd jobs and all the weird gigs I’ve played, finally, is starting to pay off.”

Behind hits like “It Ain’t My Fault,” their debut album, “Pawn Shop,” climbed to #3 on the country chart.

John said, “The trajectory, if you looked at it on a graph, there’s no big spikes. It’s just a slow and steady rise.”

But in 2019, as the brothers were making their latest album, “Skeletons,” John, who’d battled anxiety since childhood, hit a crisis point: “I remember calling our manager at the time, and I told him, ‘I can’t go in the studio. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I’m not happy. I’m depressed. My anxiety is through the roof. I can’t sleep. My ears are ringing.'”

Mason asked TJ, “Were you worried about him in the middle of all this?”

“Oh, big time,” he said. “I could just look at him and tell he did not wanna be there, and that’s when I was like, ‘Wow, like, we need to go home now.’ We ended up canceling some dates.”

John said, “And with a lot of therapy, a lot of self-help, a lot of love from my friends and family, I was able to kind of get to a better place so we can finish the album. But going into this record, I considered quitting music … which is something I never in my life thought I would want to do.”

TJ and John Osborne.

CBS News

The pandemic gave the brothers a moment to step back. That’s when TJ realized he finally had to be open about his sexuality: “And I remember sitting down and I was like, ‘I got, I have to come out. Like, I have to do this.”

This February, in a Time magazine article, TJ came out as gay, a fact he’d shared with his brother just before they signed their record deal.

When asked his response when TJ told him, John replied, “I just said, ‘I know.’ And then I just started crying a lot. Which I’m learning in this segment, that I do cry a lot!”

“Why were you crying?”

“I was just happy for him. I knew how much it meant to him to feel close enough and vulnerable enough to say that.”

“There are not a lot of openly gay artists in the country music scene,” Mason said. “Were you worried at all about how this would be taken?”

TJ said, “I guess I was. And I mean – and I was worried all the way up until the day I did it. But I think once I finally, like, made the decision I was going to, I felt very sure in that. But it’s just really the fear of the unknown. Do we lose fans? Also, what I didn’t know was how was positive it would be. I did not know that.”

“You got a lot of support,” said Mason.

“I’ve had an incredible amount of support. And there’s been some people saying some off-color things to me. But it was a lot less than I expected.”

Sister Natalie and their parents, John and his ex-wife Tricia, supported TJ fully when he made the announcement in February.

“It was quite emotional and a very special day in the Osborne household,” Natalie said.

Tricia said, “The main thing in life is character, no matter what you do and who you are. And TJ’s character is flawless.”

John Osborne Sr. said, “We were so happy. It was one of the best days of my life, I can tell ya’.”

It’s a turning point, not only for Brothers Osborne, but for Nashville.

Mason asked, “What’s your sense of where things are in country music right now?”

“I’ve never in my life been more proud to be a part of country music than I am today,” said John.

“Absolutely,” TJ added. “Country, for the longest time, was a pretty narrow lane of what it needed to sound like, what it needed to look like. And that’s slowly starting to change.”

John said, “This genre is beautiful and amazing, and the songwriting and the performing is incredible. And it’s only going to get better the more people we allow to do it.”

“Dead Man’s Curve” from the Brothers Osborne album, “Skeletons”:

Brothers Osborne are nominees in the Duo of the Year and Album of the Year categories for the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards, which will air on Sunday, April 18 (8:00 p.m. ET live/PT delayed) on CBS and Paramount+.

Story produced by Amol Mhatre. Editor: George Pozderec. 

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