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Don Reno

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 respond.

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 challenged.

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.

Don Wayne Reno

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