Reno Family recordings from 1983 coming soon

Ronnie Reno’s Man-Do-Lin Productions and 615 Hideaway Records have teamed up to release a set of classic recordings by Don Reno and his talented sons that have never been heard before. These were recorded in 1983 after Don had begun touring with sons Ronnie, Dale, and Don Wayne as The Reno Family, not long before his passing in 1984.

Serious bluegrass fans and American music historians need no introduction to any of this talented family of professional musicians. Don Reno was a banjo hero from the time he emerged as a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1948, though he had been performing for several years already with artists like The Morris Brothers and Arthur Smith before joining the Army in 1943.

After leaving Monroe, Reno formed one of bluegrass music’s most popular duos with Red Smiley, and the two men worked together for the next 14 years. Many of the songs they wrote and recorded have become standards in bluegrass, like I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap, Long Gone, Country Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll, Wall Around Your Heart, and many more, not to mention Don’s many banjo instrumentals like Follow The Leader, Dixie Breakdown, Banjo Special, and others.

After he and Red split, Don formed a new act with Bill Harrell, which continued for more than a decade. Smiley even returned to record and tour with the band for a time until his passing in 1972.

From the early days, Ronnie Reno had played mandolin with Don and Red in their band, the Tennessee Cutups, before setting out on his own as a solo artist and sideman. He spent time on guitar with The Osborne Brothers and sang harmony with Merle Haggard. He was the writer of Boogie Grass Band, which was a hit for Conway Twitty in 1978.

Meanwhile his younger brothers, Dale and Don Wayne, were also become expert bluegrass pickers and singers. In addition to performing around Nashville and working with their dad, the two formed a very popular group known as Hayseed Dixie, which began by doing bluegrass covers of AC/DC material. They became wildly popular in Europe, and the two brothers toured regularly with the band for several years.

All three brothers worked for a time as The Reno Brothers, with several successful album under that name. Don Wayne became known as the prime practitioner of his father’s banjo style, and kept it alive during a time when not many people cared to learn to play that way.

It was during the time that all three brothers were touring with Don that these 40 years old recordings were made, and Ronnie shared a good bit of detail about how they came to be.

“I had left Merle Haggard in 1981 and wanted to do some touring with Dad and the brothers. The timing was right for all of us, so Dad and I started to put all parts together to tour as The Reno Family band in 1982. Dale and Don Wayne were playing so great at that time, and we really sounded good as a family band. Dad and I always had a great blend together vocally, and it just made sense to pursue this at that time. We were going to do two tours a year to the west coast, just as the family, and that would be early winter and early spring.

The weather had turned cold on the east coast and the festivals were over for the year. The first tour was in early 1983 and while we were doing dates in California, we knew record producer Tom Stern was a big fan of Dad’s banjo picking. He was recording some cuts for a project he was doing called The Usual Suspects on Kaleidoscope Records. We got in touch with Tom and recorded one song for his project, Lonesome Hearted Blues. It went so well that we approached Tom about doing more recordings when we came back in the fall. That started two full projects with us recording for two years. One was Family and Friends, released in 1988, and the other was The Reno Family.

 What makes this album so special is that Tom Stern and I were going to do a tribute to Dad in 1990 with the recordings we had done in late 1983 and early 1984. The Final Chapter on Step One records had been released earlier as a tribute to him in 1986, after Dad’s untimely death. We talked a lot about the new tribute in 1990 and even discussed all the possibilities with the concept. Sorry to say we both got busy, and it never materialized. Thank goodness I had a copy of the master recordings, and we are so glad to let everyone hear them now.

 This recording experience with my Dad and brothers was very historic for our family, bluegrass, and roots music. I had recorded a lot with Dad starting with Don Reno and Red Smiley, then later with Dad and Bill Harrell. We had also recorded a project with Ray Pennington for Step One Records, later to be called The Final Chapter. Dale and Don Wayne were on that project with Dad and me before we recorded The Reno Family. I remember that Dad was so inspired with recording together as the family that he really showed us why he was known as such a great musician. We all could see the next chapter with our music but I’m sorry to say that ‘The Reno Family’ was the last one he recorded. Dad got sick when we got home in 1984 and never came out of the hospital. Very emotional to talk about it.”

615 Hideaway and Man-Do-Lin Productions have released a number of singles from this project, which they are calling 40 Years Late.. and Right On Time. The two latest include a Don Reno banjo classic, Whispering, and another from the Reno & Smiley days, Unwanted Love, both recorded in California with Tom Stern.

They are both tremendous examples of the talents of this remarkable family.

First up is Whispering, where Don Wayne played bass, Byron Berline was on fiddle, Ronnie on guitar, and Dale on mandolin. David Shapiro added a lead guitar.

The same crew recorded Unwanted Love, with Don Wayne adding a twin banjo part. 

40 Years Late… and Right On Time will be released in full later this year. These two songs are available now from popular download and streaming services online, along with two prior singles.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.