Bluegrass fans of a more recent vintage may not remember The Reno Brothers, who were regular performers on the circuit in the 1980s and ’90s. They were extremely popular for their hilarious stage show, their strong harmony singing, and for keeping alive a sound that was on the wane in music circles.
Ronnie, Dale, and Don Wayne Reno are the sons of legendary first generation banjo player and singer, Don Reno. His pioneering work with Red Smiley, and later with Bill Harrell, helped establish a standard in bluegrass that is still held up today for quality songwriting and professionalism, not to mention Don’s remarkable and unique banjo style, which is still imitated today.
All three Reno boys were professionals in the business before they formed their group, and had toured and played with their father, but they didn’t work regularly as a unit until after Don passed in 1984. Ronnie had been working with Merle Haggard, and had released a couple of singles to the country market, but keeping their father’s music alive became the new passion after he died. There were a number of successful Reno Brothers albums on Webco, Pinecastle, and Copper Creek Records, and the boys were a staple at festivals all over the US.
Ronnie played guitar, with Dale on mandolin and Don Wayne on banjo, whose recreations of his dad’s five-string playing was something of a sensation on stage. But as Ronnie got more involved in television production in the early years of the 21st century, the band slipped away. Dale and Don Wayne went on to form a bluegrass AC/DC tribute band called Hayseed Dixie, which developed a very loyal following, especially in Europe, while Ronnie formed his own group, Reno Tradition.
And so it remained for the past 16 years. Though there was no animosity among the brothers, they hadn’t performed together in public since 2001, until this year’s RenoFest in Hartsville, SC.
On Saturday, March 25, Reno Tradition and the new Reno & Harrell, which Dale and Don Wayne have formed with Bill Harrell’s son, Mitch, were both scheduled to play on the festival. During Ronnie’s set with his group, the other two brothers came out and the three of them did several songs for a wildly appreciative crowd. Where better for a Reno Brothers reunion than at a festival created to honor the music of their father!
Fortunately, Carol McDuffie with Lovin’ Bluegrass was there to capture it all on video. Here are a couple of songs from YouTube, and you can see the rest of them online.
The members of Reno Tradition include John Maberry on mandolin/guitar, Steve Day on fiddle, Mike Scott on banjo, and Heath Van Winkle on bass.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 16 years to see the Reno Brothers onstage together again!