A worthy addition to your library of historic bluegrass
J. Ross | Roseburg, OR USA | 11/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Playing Time - 33:12
Who They Are: Don Reno came from Spartanburg, South Carolina. An innovator and early master of three-finger style bluegrass banjo, he had learned to play (like Earl Scruggs did) from Snuffy Jenkins. Reno began his pro music career at age 12, playing banjo with the Morris Brothers. By the mid-1940s, he was playing banjo with Arthur Smith and the Carolina Cracker Jacks when Bill Monroe invited him to join his band. Reno declined in order to serve in the Army, and Monroe hired Earl Scruggs instead. In 1948, after his discharge from the Army, Reno replaced Scruggs in Monroe's band. By 1949, he had his own band, "The Tennessee Cutups," a group he would head up the rest of his life.
A very popular and influential band throughout the 50s and 60s, they were never as commercially successful as Flatt and Scruggs or Bill Monroe. Reno & Smiley worked numerous radio and television shows across the south, including the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, VA and the "Top of the Morning" TV show in Roanoke, Va. in the mid-1950s. They also made guest appearances on the old Arthur Godfrey TV Show. Reno & Smiley incorporated elaborate comedy routines and skits into their act. As comedians, they were known as "Chicken and Pansy Hot-Rod and the Banty-Roosters."
IBMA Hall of Honor 1992 inductees Don Reno and Red Smiley provide close harmony singing and personalized guitar and banjo styles as their primary stylistic elements. Recording for the King Record label, their popularity spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic states until the early 1960s. Don and Red dissolved their act in 1964, and formed separate groups.
What They Do: Despite the group disbanding, they reunited in 1970 as Don Reno and Red Smiley with Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-ups.
Little Known Facts: Their last album recorded together was in May, 1971, "Letter Edged in Black" (Wango Records). Smiley died on January 2, 1972. Bill Harrell replaced Red for about a dozen years, and Don kept the Tennessee Cut-ups together until his own death on October 16, 1984.Reno and Smiley's personal manager for many years was Carlton Haney, organizer of the first bluegrass festival in the United States (1965 in Fincastle, VA).
Don Reno was the banjo player on the original recording of "Dueling Banjos". The tune was written by Arthur Smith and recorded under the original name "Feudin' Banjos," using a tenor banjo played by Arthur and a 5-string played by Don. The tune was later re-named "Duelin' Banjos" by The Dillards and recorded by Eric Weissburg for the hit movie "Deliverance."
The Songs: The album opens with Dave Evans' "Highway 52." Buck Ryan is on fiddle, Jerry McCoury played bass, and the mandolin player is unknown. Smiley's lead vocals blend nicely with Reno's tenor harmonies. Seven of the 13 songs were written by the duo, and Buck contributed "Buck Ryan Rag." During his lifetime, Don Reno is credited with a total of 457 songs (although most were never recorded.) "Emotions" might be his best known piece on this recording, but there are six others here.
Red's warm baritone highlights "Somewhere, Someday Again," and Bill Harrell joins Don and Red in another original tune, "A Dime Looks Like A Wagon Wheel." "Buck Ryan Rag" and "Riverdale Flash" give the instrumentals a chance to shine with fiddle and banjo taking strong leads. "Muleskinner Blues" features Don Reno on the high lead vocal, guitar and banjo with Bill and Red part of the guitar trio. Their voices blend on Bill Monroe's "Shine Hallelujah Shine" with Red singing the low bass vocal in the gospel quartet and Bill singing the lead. The group's bright promise was not to be fulfilled; Red Smiley died just three months after the record was released.
The Musicians: The new band included Bill Harrell on guitar, Buck Ryan on fiddle and Jerry McCoury on bass. The songs from their October 1971 album on Rome Records are reproduced in this new CD.
Of Special Note: The 36-page well-illustrated CD booklet with copious liner notes by Eddie Stubbs is worth the price alone.
Any Recommendations: A tad bit short at 33 minutes, and I'd like to see reissues today start to include two historic albums from yesteryear. Sound quality is not really up to today's standards.
The Bottomline: This reengineered CD is a worthy addition to the library of those wanting to discover or enjoy a pioneering first-generation bluegrass band.
Reviewed By: Joe Ross (staff writer, Bluegrass Now)