Don Reno

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Don Reno
Birth nameDonald Wesley Reno
Born(1926-02-21)February 21, 1926
Buffalo, South Carolina, U.S.
OriginHaywood County, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 1984(1984-10-16) (aged 58)
GenresBluegrass Music, Gospel Music, Country Gospel
Instruments5-string banjo, acoustic guitar
Years active1939–1984
LabelsKing, Starday, Monument, Jalyn, CMH, Rural Rhythm
Associated actsThe Morris Brothers, Arthur Smith, Bill Monroe, Red Smiley, Reno and Smiley, Bill Harrell, Reno & Harrell, Frank Wakefield, Don Wayne Reno, The Strangers

Donald Wesley Reno (February 21, 1926[1] – 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.

Life and career[edit]

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 13-year-old Reno joined the Morris Brothers in performing at a local radio station.[2]

He left one year later to join Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith,[3][page needed] 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.[3][page needed] He eventually served in Merrill's Marauders and was wounded in action.[4]

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."[4][5]

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".[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

From 1964-71, he 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.[citation needed]


Don Reno died in 1984 aged 58 from undisclosed causes, he is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia. In 1992 he was posthumously inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.


  • Mr. 5-String (1965)
  • A Song for Everyone (1966)
  • Bluegrass Gospel Favorites (1967) — with Benny Martin; reissued on CD as Gospel Songs from Cabin Creek
  • Don Reno & His Tennessee Cut-Ups (1966)
  • Rural Rhythm Presents Don Reno & Bill Harrell with the Tennessee Cut-Ups (1967)
  • A Variety of New Sacred Gospel Songs (1968)
  • The Sensational Twin Banjos of Eddie Adcock and Don Reno (1968)
  • All the Way to Reno (1969) — with Bill Harrell
  • Fastest Five Strings Alive (1969)
  • I'm Using My Bible Like a Roadmap (1969) — with Bill Harrell
  • Bluegrass Favorites (1969) — with Bill Harrell
  • The Most Requested Songs of Don Reno, Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-Ups (1970)
  • Letter Edged in Black (1971) — with Red Smiley and Bill Harrell
  • Bluegrass Legends "Together" (1972) — with Charlie Moore
  • Profile (1972) — with Red Smiley, Bill Harrell, Ronnie Reno and Charlie Moore
  • Bluegrass on my Mind (1972) — with Bill Harrell
  • Tally-Ho (1973) — with Bill Harrell
  • Don Reno on Stage (1974)
  • Rivers and Roads (1974) — with Bill Harrell
  • Bi-Centennial Bluegrass (1975) — with Bill Harrell
  • Spice of Life (1975) — with Bill Harrell
  • Dear Old Dixie (1976) — with Bill Harrell
  • Home in the Mountains (1977) — with Bill Harrell
  • The Don Reno Story (1977) — with Bill Harrell
  • Magnificent Bluegrass Band (1978)
  • Feudin' Again (1979) — with Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith
  • The Bluegrass Cardinals Live & On Stage (1980) — with 7 tracks by guests Don Reno & the Tennessee Cut-Ups
  • 30th Anniversary Album (1980)
  • The Original Dueling Banjos (1983) — with Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith
  • Still Cutting Up (1983)
  • Banjo Bonanza (1983) — with Bobby Thompson & The Cripple Creek Quartet
  • Final Chapter (1986)
  • Family and Friends (1989)
  • The Golden Guitar of Don Reno (2000) — previously unreleased recordings made in November 1972 with Bill Harrell and Buck Ryan

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trischka, Tony, "Don Reno", Banjo Song Book, Oak Publications, 1977
  2. ^ Wernick, Peter (2004). "Interview with Don Reno". In Goldsmith, Thomas (ed.). The Bluegrass Reader. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. pp. 54–58. ISBN 0-252-02914-3.
  3. ^ a b Trischka, Tony, "Sonny Osborne", Banjo Song Book, Oak Publications, 1977
  4. ^ a b Don Wayne Reno. "Profile". Banjo Tablatures and Bluegrass Information. Phillip Mann. Retrieved January 27, 2010.
  5. ^ "Biography". King Records. 2000. Archived from the original on August 22, 2008. Retrieved December 9, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

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