Don Reno

Don Reno bigraphy, stories - Musician

Don Reno : biography

February 21, 1927 – October 16, 1984

Don Wesley Reno (February 21, 1927Trischka, Tony, "Don Reno", Banjo Song Book, Oak Publications, 1977 – October 16, 1984) was an American bluegrass and country musician best known as a banjo player in partnership with Red Smiley, and later with guitarist Bill Harrell.


Born in Buffalo, South Carolina, Don Reno grew up on a farm in Haywood County, North Carolina. He began playing the banjo at the age of five. His father gave him a guitar four years later; and in 1939 12-year-old Reno joined the Morris Brothers in performing at a local radio station. He left one year later to join Arthur Smith,Trischka, Tony, "Sonny Osborne", Banjo Song Book, Oak Publications, 1977 with whom he would years later record "Feudin’ Banjos". In 1943 he received an offer from Bill Monroe to become a member of the Bluegrass Boys, but chose instead to enlist in the United States Army. Trained as a horse soldier at Fort Riley, Kansas, he was sent to the Pacific Theater to fight on foot.Trischka, Tony, "Sonny Osborne", Banjo Song Book, Oak Publications, 1977 He eventually served in Merrill’s Marauders and was wounded in action.

Influenced by old-time banjo player Snuffy Jenkins and others, Reno developed his own three finger "single-string" style that allowed him to play scales and complicated fiddle tunes note-for-note. The Reno style encompasses much more than just single-string picking; double-stops, double-time picking, triple-pull offs—all of these, and other techniques make Reno’s playing recognizable. According to his son, Don Wayne Reno, "My dad told me more than once that the reason he started his own style of banjo picking was this: When he came out of the service, many people said ‘You sound just like Earl Scruggs.’ He said that really bothered him considering he never played a banjo while he was in the service, and when he returned to the U.S., he continued to play in the style he had always played before."

In 1948, Reno became a member of the Blue Grass Boys. Two years later, with Red Smiley, he formed Reno and Smiley and the Tennessee Cutups, a partnership that lasted fourteen years. Among their hits were "I’m Using My Bible For A Road Map", "I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could" and "Don’t Let Your Sweet Love Die". Included in this lineup was his son, Ronnie Reno, who played mandolin. Videos from those days are shown regularly on Ronnie’s show on RFD-TV. In 1964, after the retirement of Red Smiley, Reno and guitarist Bill Harrell formed Reno & Harrell. Red Smiley joined Reno and Harrell in 1969, remaining with them until his death in 1972. From 1964 until 1971 Reno also performed with Benny Martin. In the 1970s he played with The Good Ol’ Boys, composed of Frank Wakefield on mandolin, David Nelson on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle, and Pat Campbell on bass. Reno began performing with his sons Don Wayne and Dale in later years.

Don Reno died in 1984 at the age of 57. He is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia. In 1992 he was posthumously inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.