Bringin in the Georgia Mail
Audio Tour: Don Reno
Don Reno was an immensely influential banjo player and one of the founding figures in bluegrass music. Born in Spartanburg in 1926, Reno began playing banjo at age five and was performing professionally by the time he was twelve, often on WSPA Radio on East Main Street. As a teenager, Earl Scruggs sometimes traveled from his home near Shelby to WSPA to watch Reno play the banjo.
In 1943, Reno was invited by Bill Monroe to become a member of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, but Reno declined and enlisted in the Army. By the time Reno returned from the service, Earl Scruggs had joined Monroe’s band and had solidified what is now known as the bluegrass sound with a revolutionary three-fingered picking style that was quite similar to Reno’s.
When Scruggs left Monroe’s band, Reno joined and stayed for a year, but his most important contributions were made when he worked with Red Smiley as co-leader of Don Reno & Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-ups. Reno developed a distinctive style, jazzier than Scruggs, and he also excelled as a songwriter.
He wound up, perhaps, as the most prolific songwriter in bluegrass history, penning something like 500 songs including "I Know You’re Married," "I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could" and "Maybe You Will Change Your Mind." One of Reno’s best-known collaborations was with Arthur Smith, on the instrumental, "Feudin’ Banjos." That tune was later popularized in the film "Deliverance," under the name "Dueling Banjos."
—Peter Cooper, author, professor, award-winning journalist, and Grammy-nominated artist
—Steve Shanafelt, freelance journalist, editor and music writer
Reno developed his own three finger "single-string" style that allowed him to play scales and complicated fiddle tunes note-for-note.