On May 28, 1927, John Palmer, bass player most noted for his time with Don Reno and Red Smiley, was born in Union, South Carolina.
He was a World War II veteran.
He worked with Don Reno in the early 1940s; they played and sang together and won prizes at fiddlers’ conventions. They also played dances together.
This arrangement lasted until March 1948 when Reno started playing with Bill Monroe.
Palmer joined Reno & Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups on Easter day in 1955. The line-up of Reno (banjo), Smiley (guitar), Mack Magaha (fiddle) and Palmer (bass) is considered to be “the” classic combination.
He remained with the band until Reno and Smiley parted.
Palmer is featured on all the band’s recordings during the period (1955 to 1963). They produced a Gospel set, Hymns and Sacred Gospel Songs (King, released in 1960) and a Civil War album, New and Original Folk Songs written in Commemoration of the Centennial of the American Civil War, (King, 1961).
One of his signature recordings with Reno & Smiley was Lady of Spain, which was a banjo/bass number.
One aspect of the band’s stage performances was the humorous skits that they did. Palmer played the part of Mutt Highpockets, to Reno and Smiley’s Chicken and Pansy Hot Rod, respectively, and Jeff Doolytater (Magaha) as they dressed in ridiculous hillbilly outfits for their 10 to 15 minute routines. Country audiences couldn’t get enough of it.
Palmer stayed with Red Smiley after the latter split from Don Reno. The Bluegrass Cut-Ups, as they were called, took over the television program that Reno & Smiley did together for many years.
After Smiley passed away Palmer played and recorded as a member of the Shenandoah Cut-Ups.
He played bass during sessions for Mac Wiseman, Hylo Brown, Jim Eanes, Bill Clifton, Curly Seckler, Gloria Belle and Herschel Sizemore.
By day, Palmer operated an auto paint shop in Troutville, Virginia. It was said that he never wore a face mask to filter out the paint fumes; he contracted cancer in the early 1990s.
Palmer passed away on December 26, 1993.