The King of the Flat Pickers Don Reno secured his place in history as the world-renowned bluegrass banjo virtuoso of Reno and Smiley fame. Bluegrass experts and fans alike agree that Don's lightning-fast banjo riffs heavily influenced bluegrass music as we know it today. Don Reno's dexterity, timing, and wonderful musical talents set a standard for banjo pickin' that will last forever. Although known more for his banjo work, Reno was equally as talented on the guitar, hence the nickname "King of the Flat-Picking Guitarists." Reno died in 1984 at age 57, but today his three sons, Ronnie, Dale, and Don Wayne, continue the esteemed Reno musical tradition as successful bluegrass musicians.

Born February 21, 1927 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Don Reno grew up on a farm in Haywood County, North Carolina. His father, Zebulon Reno, gave him his first guitar at age 9, and by age 12 Reno was playing on local radio. At 14, he took a musical apprenticeship with the Morris Brothers at WSPA in Spartanburg, where he also worked with Arthur Smith and His Crackerjacks. The Morris Brothers introduced Reno to mountain music, a subgenre of bluegrass quickly gaining popularity in the Carolinas at the time. While under Smith, Reno learned everything from country to big band music. Reno would later renew his partnership with Smith in 1955 with the famous duet, Feuding Banjos.

Between 1944 and 1946 Reno entered the service, fighting on the front line in Burma with the unit known as Merrill's Marauders. When he returned to the States, he immediately resumed his musical career. Before the war, Reno caught the eye of Bill Monroe, and he asked Reno to become a regular with his band. Opting instead to serve his country, Reno turned down the offer. Upon his return home, Reno searched for Monroe and found him in Taylorsville, North Carolina without a banjo picker. One night as Monroe performed, Reno strapped on his banjo and walked right onto the stage. A surprised, but delighted Bill Monroe exclaimed "Where you been boy! I've been looking for you!"

While with Monroe, Reno had the opportunity to hone his guitar skills as well as his banjo style. On the banjo he popularized the three finger roll technique originated by Snuffy Jenkins in the 1930's. As a guitarist, he quickly made a name for himself, and at just over 20 years old Reno became the "King of the Flat-Picking Guitarists." Not only did Reno play with the best in the business, he became the best, pioneering a style that many artists emulate even today.

Reno spent the next decade playing as the banjo half of the famed duo, Reno and Smiley.


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The Later Years

In the early 1960's Don's son Ronnie became a regular with the Tennessee Cut Ups, as did Steve Chapman. In 1966, Don Reno joined forces with Bill Harrell, and the two sucessfully played together for the next decade. They were wildly popular on the rapidly growing Bluegrass Festival circuit, so they travelled frequently. However, even while travelling, the two managed to release plenty of material on the King, Jalyn, Starday, King Bluegrass, and CMH labels.

Fiddler-extraordinaire Buck Ryan joined Reno and Harrell in 1968, and accomplished bass player Ed Ferris joined them in 1973. In the early 1970's Smiley even came back to play, but his failing health limited him considerably.

When Smiley died in 1972, Reno continued to play with Harrell while making more recordings on CMH. In 1976 Reno moved to Lynchburg, Virginia to retire, but he continued to play with his three sons, Ronnie, Dale, and Don Wayne.

Don Reno passed away in 1984, leaving behind a legacy of bluegrass greatness. His sons, known together as the Reno Brothers, continue to play in the Reno tradition. The recent King Records' release, The Golden Guitar of Don Reno, features the Reno Brothers playing back-up to Don's magnificent flat-picking guitar. The Reno Brothers particularly cherish the project because the experience was like having their dad back in the studio with them for a jam session. Don Wayne had this to say about the session: "Dad had his own, original flat-pickin' style that is copied by musicians to this day. I know because I am one of 'em! It was a great experience to play along with the recordings that he made 26 years earlier. I felt almost like he was there. It was like old times playing bass behind my hero, my dad...the flat picker."