By Michael Hofer
© 2001

Other Early Contributors

A few other banjoists are worth mentioning here that helped to shape the future of banjo players in America. We begin with Don Reno.

Don Reno SoundClip
Feudin Banjos

Don Reno
Don Reno Earl Scruggs Don Reno,
Earl Scruggs

Don Reno was born February 21 1927 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. By age nine he was playing guitar and by age 12 he was playing on the radio regularly. At 14 he began a musical apprenticeship with he worked with Arthur Smith and the Cracker Jacks along with the Morris Brothers at WSPA. The Morris Brothers introduced him to Mountain Music, a cousin to Bluegrass. Don learned many genres of music. He learned to play the fivestring banjo in the style Snuffy Jenkins had been playing.
Bill Monroe asked him to join his band in 44, but he opted to enlist in the war instead. After he finished a 2 year hitch, in 47 after Earl Scruggs left Monroe, Don with his banjo walked out on stage to a delighted Bill Monroe who said "Where ya been I been looking for you boy". When Flatt And Scruggs invited Bill Monroe to make an appearance on their radio show on WCYB, in an effort on their part to help him promote his showdates, and cool his animosity towards them, Don himself tried to foster more goodwill and offered to swap Earl his 33/34 Gibson Granada for Earls RB3, and the trade was made.
Don played with Monroe about 2 years.
He honed his banjo skills and also his guitar playing. He was an excellant flat picker, and was dubbed "King of the Flat Pickin Guitarists". He was better known for his banjo playing as the banjo half of a group called Reno and Smiley. In 1955 Reno recorded a song called "Fueding Banjos", this song became "Dueling Banjos" in the Deliverance Movie in the early 70s.
Dons guitar playing influenced his banjo work too. He began experimenting with things Earl didn't, in the three fingered style. As mentioned on Earl's page, the three fingered style Scruggs developed worked around the system of roll patterns, Don stepped out of that a bit, as in the song "Feuding Banjos" where he used ascending melodic scales, not one melody note and 3 fill ins but several melody notes one after the other. He introduced a way of playing on a single string that helped to build a new way of playing the banjo, this based upon his work on the guitar. He and Eddie Adock (another of Monroes banjoists) were masters at this, and their work was a forerunner of the melodic style that would follow. This groundwork would be built upon by banjoists coming up, and much like Hammett and Brooks, most of the credit would go to another man for popularizing it.
After Smiley died in 72 Don continued to work with his sons. He has recorded on King, Jayln, Starday, King Bluegrass and CMH labels. Don himself passed away in 1984, but his sons recently released a new recording with him playing the guitar on King Records.

The Stanley Brothers Ralph and Carter began their band in 1946 following the success of Bill Monroe and many consider this band second only to Monroe in the pioneering and promotion of this new sound Bluegrass and the subgenre related to it Mountain Music. One thing is for sure, Ralph Stanleys longevity in this field spanning more than 50 years, speaks of the popularity of this banjoist and his music.
Ralph Stanley SoundClip
Rocky Top
Dr.Ralph Stanley
Ralph Stanley was born February 25, 1927 in the Clinch Mountains of Dickenson County Virginia. Along with brother Carter, their band worked on radio station WYCB in Bristol Virginia where they became an instant sucess and worked steadily for 12 years.
Like many bluegrass bands slowed up considerably by Rock n Roll in the 50s, they were saved by the new resurged interest in Folk and Bluegrass music beginning in the early 60s. Working alot again, another blow came to the band when in 1966 brother Carter passed away from cancer. Ralph continued with the band.
The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys have entertained for more than half a century. They have influenced the careers of former band members, Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks, Keith Whitley, and Charlie Sizemore, just to name a few.
Ralph plays on a rather unique banjo, called a Stanleytone made by Fred Neat out of Kentucky.

Its design is unique as its an archtop as opposed to the flathead banjos used by most banjoists today. Its also expensive as it is gold plated. The rumors about Eddie Peabody selling banjos is also associated with Ralph Stanley. According to this researchers information though, the only other banjo Ralph played on aside from these Stanleytones were Gibsons RB5, and 250 and Stelling, and all were archtop. Ralph credits learning banjo from his mother Lucy, however listening to his music, its clear he like many others was greatly influenced by Earl Scruggs.
Ralph currently records under the Freeland Record Label, but has also recorded under the Rebel Label. Ralph's band has recorded over 150 albums. His accalades include,The National Endowment for the Humanities Traditional American Music Award, presented in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan; Honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University; five Grammy nominations in the last five years; International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Honor inductee; and performing for two Presidential inaugurations (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton).