“In a musical style where versatility seemed to be the norm, Don Reno, from Spartanburg, South Carolina, possessed a range of talents that almost staggers the imagination. He was a good songwriter, an excellent tenor harmony singer, a comedian, and a master of several instruments, including the mandolin, guitar, and banjo. His guitar work has often been overlooked in the flood of praise that surrounds his seminal banjo contributions, but he was one of the first men in bluegrass to play the guitar as a lead instrument in a flatpicking fashion. The stellar Doc Watson credits Reno as an influence on his own style. As a banjoist, Reno was surpassed by no one, not even Earl Scruggs, adept at both the three-finger and plectrum styles that were indebted to guitar and pedal steel playing.”
–Bill Malone, Country Music USA
Reno’s banjo mastery went beyond fingerpicking techniques. He was also a killer single-string soloist, incorporating blues and jazz voicings that went way beyond strict Book of Monroe fundamentalism. For example, here he is with longtime buddy, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith (pictured left on Tele), on “Feudin’ Banjos.”
Arthur Smith & Don Reno – Feudin’ Banjos (1955)
This was the specific recording that inspired the version in Deliverance, which Smith later established in court. Dig Reno’s sweet banjo runs from :25-:42, :58-1:07, and 1:16-1:32. Brilliant.
“I think by watching Joe Maphis and Merle Travis and those kinds of guitar players on Town Hall Party, he picked out a couple things. But we were never serious about doing it in the band. Then I acquired a record, (Don) Reno and (Red) Smiley‘s, ‘Country Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ I liked the way (Reno) played guitar on that, so I kind of learned it and brought to Clarence’s attention, and in no time he played it. He just knew exactly where to go with it.”
—Roland White to Scott Nygaard, Acoustic Guitar, June 1998, p. 56
Don Reno, Red Smiley, and the Tennessee Cut-Ups – Country Boy Rock & Roll (1956)
Clarence White – Country Boy Rock & Roll (1962)
You mean to tell me that Clarence White was influenced by a multi-talented guitar/banjo player with pioneering roots in bluegrass who drew upon disparate musical forms??? Shocking. What makes the White/Reno connection doubly sweet is that the first recording on which Clarence ever appeared was the Eric Weissberg/Marshall Brickman vehicle, New Dimensions In Banjo & Bluegrass (1963). Of course, this was better known seven years later in its incarnation as the Deliverance soundtrack. Worlds collide yet again.