Don Reno was one of the most distinctive and influential banjo players in the history of bluegrass music. Born in the Upcountry of South Carolina in 1927, Reno spent most of his childhood on a farm in Clyde, in Haywood County. He built his first banjo with a friend, using white oak and dogwood for the pot and neck, a cat’s skin for the head, and screen door wires for strings. When the family moved back to South Carolina around 1938, Reno’s father traded a hog for a guitar, which he gave to Don.
In the early 1940s Reno played a series of radio gigs out of Spartanburg, South Carolina. With some friends from Greer, he formed the Tapp Brothers band, which would, through a series of name changes, eventually evolve into Don Reno and his Tennessee Cut Ups.
Reno served in the Army during World War II, later returning to South Carolina and the Tennessee Cut Ups. Throughout the ’40s and ’50s he played with a variety of musicians, including Bill Monroe, Arthur Smith, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs. In 1952 he made an album for King Records with Red Smiley, an Asheville native who would become Reno’s best-known partner.
Among Reno’s most famous recordings were “I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap,” and “Feuding Banjos,” recorded with Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, which would become known as “Dueling Banjos.”
Don Reno died in 1984 at the age of 57, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is buried in Lynchburg.