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The following information is being posted to help rectify the confusion as to historical sequences of events and other things discussed on Bgrass-L.
Having married into a very proud bluegrass family, I couldn't help but draw
my husband's attention to the recent comments regarding his father, Don Reno.
Since I subscribed to this list for my own reasons, he usually doesn't even
read it. And since my knowledge of bluegrass history is limited and I
regrettably never met Mr. Reno personally, Don Wayne felt it necessary to
The following are his comments on the subject:
Let me start by saying that I respect, admire and love Earl Scruggs and would
never try to lessen his great achievements. But there has been a lot of
disturbing discussions on the matter of Don Reno and Earl Scruggs, and before
I start, I must also say that my father had the utmost respect for Earl and
always spoke of how much he enjoyed him. As a matter of fact, they were good
friends that used to hang around together.
I feel like my father’s graciousness and humbleness are being tortured for
the sake of a lot of “opinions” that have not been thought through. I am glad
he isn’t alive to read the things that the Information Superhighway has to
bring out. I appreciate the people who have come on line to defend him. I
have read so many comments, that they all run together, but I am inspired to
defend the words of my dad...words that come from the man himself...both to
me personally and in his own autobiography. 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. Also, when he went into the
service, he already had the Mastertone that Earl still plays today. Dad had
bought it for $50.00 from the one and only Snuffy Jenkins. Dad said when he
was a kid, Snuffy Jenkins could play the smoothest roll on “Cumberland Gap”
that could be played. Hmmmm, wonder if that didn’t have something to do
with the direction Don Reno and Earl Scruggs would take. I also wonder where
the Bluegrass Boys were then. Maybe they were the Monroe Brothers then.
For those who may not know, he started playing banjo at 5 years old and
built his own instrument at that time. That would have been about 1932.
Arthur Smith hired Don Reno to play banjo when Reno was 14 years
old...playing a three finger style...”just a green kid” as one of you
commented. When he was 16 he played electric guitar on the LP “Oklahoma
Hills” with Woody Guthrie. So maybe he did have some credibility to be
offered a job by Monroe in 1943...whom by the way has told me personally on
more than one occasion that HE DID offer Reno a job. Ask him.
Also in 1943 something else happened that I will quote from dad’s own written
words:”Bill Monroe, Clyde Moody, Chubby Wise and Cousin Wilbur came to
Spartanburg, SC with a tent show along with Sam and Kirk McGee, Floyd
Ethridge and Uncle Dave Macon. Bill tried to hire me to play banjo for him.
I told him I was going to join the Army and jack my age up a year. If the
Army didn’t take me, I would come on to Nashville. The Army took me and sent
me to Fort Riley and the Horse Cavalry.” Dad always said that the reason he
wanted to enlist was that his brother Harley had been drafted, and he
couldn’t bear for him to go alone.
Now, I have heard this story all my life and I wonder why my father would lie
about this. He wouldn’t and didn’t. My question is where was Stringbean
during that show in Spartanburg in 1943? Maybe the books don’t tell
everything. Maybe there was something going on back then that you scholars
didn’t hear about or read somewhere. None of us were there personally when
all these changes were taking place, but I know my dad was, and no matter how
much discussion there is on the matter, I know in my heart what is true.
That Don Reno was an honest and honorable man and what he has told me and
written is true. Therefore, my main concern is what his grandchildren will
read and believe in the future.
I do not challenge the facts as they stand i.e. Earl did play banjo for
Monroe, etc. but I cannot stand for my father’s talent or character being
As for the question of my father’s tenure during the war, I challenge you to
find out the facts about Merrill’s Marauders and dad’s being shot. Not many
lived through it, thank God that Don Reno did or I wouldn’t be here today.
I don’t want to initiate another great debate on this subject, I only wish to
educate. My father left me here with only his name and a banjo in my hands
in a world of many great banjo players, all with something special of their
own. We shouldn’t be wasting time trying to discredit any of them. The
music is here, we should all be glad in that.