Buck Trent passes 

5-string banjo picker, down-home humorist, and entertainer extraordinaire Buck Trent passed away in Branson, Missouri, on October 9, 2023 (aged 85).  

Charles Wilburn ‘Buck’ Trent was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on February 17, 1938. He was a precocious talent even by the age of 7, when he started playing Hawaiian guitar, and by the age of 10, he was performing on Radio Stations WORD and WSPA in Spartansburg. Then when he was 17, he featured on Cousin Wilbur Westbrooks’ TV show in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Subsequently, he moved to California, where he performed on Town Hall Party, Hometown Jamboree, and other west coast country music shows. He then fronted his own bands in San Angelo, Texas; and Atlanta (on WJFB-TV).

Settling in Nashville in 1959 he joined the Bill Carlisle Show and made the first of many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. In November 1961 Trent recorded a few sides with Carlisle, three of which were released on singles.   

He filled in a few dates with Bill Monroe, probably when Tony Ellis wasn’t available in the early 1960s. 

In October of the following year Trent cut four songs with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, all being issued on singles.   

He is cited as having recorded with Mac Wiseman, Johnnie & Jack, Roy Acuff, and Nancy Sinatra, as well as making many records with top county music acts Norma Jean, Porter Wagoner, and Dolly Parton. 

Trent became a member of Porter Wagoner’s Wagon Masters and was a mainstay in the band from 1962 to 1973. He appeared in 192 episodes of the Porter Wagoner Show (from 1966–1973). 

While with Wagoner he developed his ‘bionic’ banjo alongside steel-guitar maestro Shot Jackson. They devised an electric banjo with palm pedals on the head of the banjo that could bend the strings like a pedal steel guitar. Utilizing some Scruggs/Keith tuners in the headstock as well, he created a sound that was unlike any other heard before. 

Buck Trent – The Battle Of New Orleans

Buck Trent – various other short clips (career highlights)

Just as adept playing the dobro, steel guitar, mandolin, and electric bass, he played electric lead guitar on many of Dolly Parton’s timeless hits, including the original version of I Will Always Love You and Jolene.

In 1974, he joined the cast of the TV music / comedy show, Hee Haw, where he became known for his banjo playing and his signature phrase, “Oh yeah!” That phrase, accompanied by a thumbs-up gesture, punctuated Trent’s Talkin’ Blues sketch, and he later revealed that he would say it when he didn’t have anything else to say to fill the end of a line. He had the slogan stitched into the inside of his jacket. 

Buck Trent – Talkin’ Blues 

In the period up to 1993 Trent appeared in 110 episodes of the Hee Haw show. 

During the seven years that he spent with Hee Haw, co-star Roy Clark, Trent appeared on The Roy Clark Show and they traveled many miles together, including participating, along with The Oak Ridge Boys, in the first country music show to tour the Soviet Union in 1976.  

The Wrestling Matches – Buck Trent, 1976 

Roy Clark and Buck Trent – Shuckin’ the Corn

live at the Tennessee State Prison, 1977

Buck Trent and Roy Clark – Dueling Banjos

As part of an early 1980s tour with the Porter Wagoner Show, Trent visited Branson, Missouri, and performed at the Baldknobber’s Jamboree Theatre. This led to him becoming the first national act to open a live music show in the showbiz city and a staple of the country music scene there, presenting his Buck Trent Country Music Show, which aired on RFD-TV.

His morning breakfast club show continued well into the late 2010s. 

In 2004 Trent appeared as a Branson performer in the movie Gordy.

Buck Trent talks about moving to Nashville and plays Sugar Foot Rag… 

Between 2008 and 2015 Trent was featured on The Marty Stuart Show, and in 2012 he was featured on two songs on Stuart’s album, Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down

Marty Stuart Show – guest, Buck Trent (2009) 

In 2018 he was part of a ‘Kornfield Friends’ reunion tour which also featured his fellow Hee Haw alumni Jana Jae, Lulu Roman, and Misty Rowe.

Over his long history as an entertainer, Trent received many awards and nominations. With Roy Clark he has twice been named the Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year (in 1975 and 1976), and he has twice been the #1 Instrumentalist of the Year for the Music City Awards. Included in his nominations are the 1976 #1 Instrumentalist of the Year for Record World, 1972 through 1981 #1 Instrumentalist for the Music City News Awards, and in 1979-1981 Instrumental Group of the Year (with Wendy Holcomb in the bluegrass category) for the Music City News Awards. He was inducted into the Spartanburg Music Trail Hall of Fame. 

In 2014 he was named Branson Terry Music Award’s 2014 Entertainer of the Year.  

Prior to his passing Trent was named as one of this year’s American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame honorees; the celebration taking place in Oklahoma City during this weekend. 

A number of bluegrass artists recall him fondly at his passing.

Rhonda Vincent…

“What a fun guy that we will miss so much. Loved his enthusiasm and flash, which most likely overshadowed his incredible innovations. His talent was endless, and his signature guitar work on Dolly’s Jolene is probably his most famous work. We love you, Buck! Oh Yeah!”

Mary Rachel Nalley-Norris, The Kody Norris Show …. 

“This morning I woke up to some heartbreaking news. To hear about the passing of Buck Trent hit me hard. Buck was an all-around amazing musician and a genuine man. Buck recorded the banjo on 40 Miles From Poplar Bluff on my independent solo album, Headed Back To Bowling Green in 2018. He didn’’ take a dime and treated my project as equally as important as anything he had ever recorded. He will truly be missed and never replaced.”

His infectious energy, signature smile, and unparalleled musical talent endeared him to audiences far and wide.

R.I.P., Buck Trent 

A Discography 

Buck Trent

  • The Sound Of A Blue Grass Banjo (Smash MGS-27002/SRS-67002, ca. December 1961) as by Charles Trent
  • The Sound Of A Five-String Banjo (Smash MGS-27017/SRS-67017: ca. December 1962)
  • Bluegrass Banjos On Fire (Somerset P-19500/Stereo Fidelity SF-19500, 1963) as by Homer and The Barnstormers (reissued on Alshire S-5170 Flaming Banjos Pickin’ and Singin‘)
  • Give Me Five (Boone BLPS-1212, 1966) 
  • 5-String General (Boone BLPS-1213, November 1967)
  • Sounds Of Now And Beyond (RCA Victor LSP-4705, May 8, 1972)
  • A Pair Of Fives (Banjos, That Is) ABC-Dot DOSD-2015, January 25, 1975) with Roy Clark
  • Bionic Banjo (ABC-Dot DOSD-2058, July 22, 1976)
  • Oh Yeah! (Banjos, Boisterous Ballads, And Buck) (ABC-Dot DO-2077, June 15, 1977)
  • Banjo Bandits (ABC AB-1084, August 23, 1978) with Roy Clark
  • Buck Trent Live (ASR 8001, 1980)
  • Buck Trent Live From The Hee Haw Theatre (Raven RVN/Buck Trent BT-235, November 1983)
  • The Best Of Buck Trent (MCA Special Products MCAC-20597, 1980s (sampler, cassette)
  • Buck Trent (MCA-Dot MCA-39088, September 8, 1986)
  • My Kind Of Pickin‘ (BT CD 9401, 1994)
  • Old Gospel Favorites (BT 1101CD, 1997 (reissued in 2023 on ProtoStar)
  • My 3 Banjos (BT, 1999)
  • 16 Songs – The Buck Trent Show (Gusto GT7-2134-2, 2009)
  • Spartanburg Blues (Banjo Enterprises, Inc. 2018), with Dolly Parton; Connie Smith and Marty Stuart; Jeannie Seely; Vince Gill; Norma Jean; Rodney and Beverly Dillard; Rhonda Vincent; Reno Brothers and Ricky Van Shelton; and the Oak Ridge Boys. 
  • They Know About Love (Songs From Our Favorite Duo) (Proto Star, August 4, 2023) with Melody Hart

Lick Of The Week (ProtoStar – 2023 (songs from Lick of The Week series, ca.  2012) 

Norma Jean

  • Let’s Go All The Way (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-2961, October 1964)
  • Pretty Miss Norma Jean (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3449, November 1965)
  • Please Don’t Hurt Me (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3541, May 1966)
  • A Tribute To Kitty Wells (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3664, November 1966)
  • Norma Jean Sings Porter Wagoner (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3700, March 1967)
  • The Game Of Triangles (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3764, January 1967), with Liz Anderson and Bobby Bare.
  • Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3836, July 1967)
  • Heaven’s Just A Prayer Away (RCA Victor LPM/LSP-3910, December 1967)

Porter Wagoner

  • The Porter Wagoner Show (On The Road) RCA Victor LSP 3509, 03-1966) [live] Ponchatoula, LA Turkey In The Straw, Sally Goodin and Katy Hill.
  • Confessions Of A Broken Man (RCA Victor LSP-3593, August 1966) 
  • The Best Of Porter Wagoner, Volume 2 (RCA Victor LSP-4321, 1970)
  • Soul Of A Convict and Other Great Prison Songs (RCA Victor LSP-3683, January 1967)
  • More Grand Old Gospel (RCA Victor LSP-3855, August 1967), playing guitar as Charles Trent / with Blackwood Brothers 
  • Just Between You And Me (RCA Victor LSP 3926, January 1968) with Dolly Parton 
  • The Bottom Of The Bottle (RCA Victor LSP-3968, March 1968) 
  • In The Gospel Country (RCA Victor LSP-4034, November 1968) playing guitar as Charles Trent / with Blackwood Brothers
  • Just The Two Of Us (RCA Victor LSP-4039, September 1968) with Dolly Parton 
  • The Carroll County Accident (RCA Victor LSP 4116, January 1969) 
  • Me And My Boys (RCA Victor LSP-4181, July 1969)
  • Always, Always (RCA Victor LSP-4186 July 1969) – 
  • Porter Wayne And Dolly Rebecca (RCA Victor LSP-4305, March 1970) 
  • Once More (RCA Victor LSP-4388, August 1970) 
  • Skid Row Joe/Down In The Alley (RCA Victor LSP-4386 October 1970)
  • Two Of A Kind (RCA Victor LSP-4490, February 1971) 
  • The Right Combination/Burning The Midnight Oil (RCA Victor LSP-4628, January 1972) 
  • What Ain’t To Be, Just Might Happen (RCA Victor LSP-4661, February 1972) 
  • Ballads Of Love (RCA Victor LSP-4734, May 20, 1972) 
  • Together Always (RCA Victor LSP-4761, August 1972)  
  • Porter Wagoner Experience (RCA Victor LSP-4810, Octobe 20, 1972)
  • We Found It (RCA Victor LSP-4841, January 20, 1973) 
  • I’ll Keep On Loving You (RCA Victor APL1-0142, March 21, 1973)
  • Love And Music (RCA Victor APL1-0248, June 25, 1973) with Dolly Parton 
  • The Farmer (RCA Victor APL1-0346, October 22, 1973)
  • Sing Some Love Songs, Porter Wagoner (RCA Victor APL1-1056, May 13, 1975)
  • Porter Wagoner – The Cold Hard Facts Of Life (Bear Family Records BCD 16537 CH, 2008) (3 CD box set)
  • Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner – Just Between You And Me (Bear Family Records BCD 16889 FK, May 26, 2014) (6 CD box set)

Dolly Parton

  • A Real Live Dolly (RCA Victor LSP-4387, July 1970) Recorded live at Sevier County High School, Sevierville, Tennessee, with Porter Wagoner
  • Coat of Many Colors (RCA Victor LSP-4603, October 4, 1971)
  • My Tennessee Mountain Home (RCA Victor APL1-0033, 1973) 
  • Bubbling Over (RCA Victor APL1-0286, 1973)
  • Jolene (RCA Victor AFL1-0473, February 4, 1974)
  • The Bargain Store (RCA Victor APL1-0950, 1975)
  • Dolly (The Seeker / We Used To) (RCA Victor APL1-1221, 1976) 
  • Rainbow (Columbia CK 40968, 1987) Could I Have Your Autograph

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives

  • Nashville, Vol. l – Tear The Woodpile Down (Sugar Hill/Welk SUG-CD-4082, April 24, 2012) 

Professor Dan Boner

  • West of West Virginia (Daysight Music, March 29, 2020) The Last Thing on My Mind

Mary Rachel Nalley-Norris

  • Headed Back To Bowling Green (independent release, 2020) 40 Miles From Poplar Bluff

Various Artists

  • Country Comes To Carnegie Hall (ABC/Dot DO-2087/2, 1977) 
  • Alabama Jubilee, Under The Double Eagle, Banjo Buck, We Can’t Build A Fire In The Rain, and Malaguena, with Roy Clark (live concert, double, reissued in 2005 on Varese 066646)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.