Don Reno Finds Success as a Bluegrass Banjo Innovator and Bandleader
While Earl Scruggs is often credited as the originator of bluegrass banjo, he was actually an innovator within a broader tradition of three-finger banjo playing. Predating bluegrass, it was made famous by banjo players from the hills and mountains of the Carolinas, all of whom had their own personal takes on the style. In addition to Scruggs, these pioneers included Wade Mainer, Smith Hammett, Snuffy Jenkins, and Don Reno. In 1948, when Don Reno heard that Earl Scruggs had left Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, he took his banjo to a concert that the band was giving in North Carolina, and without invitation or warning, joined them on stage. Monroe welcomed him, and for the next year Don toured as a Blue Grass Boy. Though playing banjo for the Blue Grass Boys was in many ways a dream gig for a young musician, leaving that band cleared the way for Reno to form the band in which he would find the greatest success, his partnership with fellow Carolina mountain musician and veteran Red Smiley.
The “Down the Road on the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina” podcast highlights bluegrass and old-time music stories, performers, and traditions across the mountain and foothills counties of Western North Carolina. Hosted by Laura Boosinger and produced by Kim Clark of WNCW-FM, the podcast is a joint effort of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, the North Carolina Arts Council, and WNCW-FM.