When I wrote an article a few years back on legendary bluegrass singer/mandolinist/guitarist/bassist Ronnie Reno, I called him bluegrass’ “youngest old-timer,” but by the same token, he’s one of the music’s oldest whiz kids. Long before Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Chris Thile or Sierra Hull, there was Ronnie Reno. Plan your next trip to Bluegrass Underground
Ronnie, barely a teenager, was touring and recording with his Bluegrass Hall of Fame dad Don Reno and his late partner Red Smiley in one of the genre-defining first-generation bluegrass bands, Reno & Smiley, playing the Lloyd Loar F5 mandolin his dad had found for him. His father was one of the earliest bluegrass pioneers, having already mastered three-finger style banjo and played some dates with Bill Monroe before Earl Scruggs joined the Blue Grass Boys. Don may well have been the first bluegrass banjo player in the Blue Grass Boys, but in 1945 the draft called, and so the classic original bluegrass band lineup featured Monroe with Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard “Cedric Rainwater” Watts. Just like the Beatles vs. The Stones or Tupac vs. Biggie, the Scruggs-Reno controversy raged on for years. In fact, Noah Crase, one of the pioneering progressive banjo pickers, lost an eye, allegedly in a bar fight over who was better, Reno or Scruggs. Reno was the more progressive of the two, bringing in unusual pop songs as instrumentals (including covering Les Paul’s hit version of “The World is Waiting For the Sunrise”) and playing electric guitar-style single string back-up for slower country songs.
Being part of that band would have been enough to land Ronnie in the history books, but he went on to play bass with the Osborne Brothers and when a club-owner provided an electric instrument instead of the upright that he’d promised. Ronnie became one of the very first electric bassists in bluegrass, providing a key element of what became a big part of the progressive Osborne sound in the ’60s. No bluegrass band back then was closer to the country mainstream and Ronnie crossed over to write Conway Twitty’s 1978 hit, “Boogie Grass Band.” Years earlier, he had left the Osbornes and joined Merle Haggard as multi-instrumentalist/ harmony singer, opening his shows and appearing on some of Hag’s most classic albums of the early ’70s. His first session with the Country Music Hall of Famer resulted in one of his most enduring hits, “If We Make It Through December.” After his flirtation with country, Ronnie went back to the family business, playing with his dad and his step-brothers Dale and Don Wayne until his father’s death in 1984. Check out more on Ronnie here.
For the past 25 years, Ronnie has also been producing some of the best, purest bluegrass cable TV programming with his “Reno’s Old Time” series on several outlets, most recently RFD. He’ll celebrate that silver anniversary in 2018. They’re great TV, but I may be biased, since he shares a director with our PBS Bluegrass Underground series – local legend Jim Yockey. I could go on and on about Ronnie, but I already have in Bluegrass Unlimited, so here’s a link to that story.
But the reason I am writing this is because we are lucky enough to have this legend of bluegrass and country music underground on Nov. 4
, our third-to-last show there before our move to The Caverns
, the new permanent home of Bluegrass Underground
Ronnie and his all-star Reno Tradition will be there and, for those who love real country music, opening the 1 p.m.
show is Teea Goans
. You may have seen her on the Country’s Family Reunion
series, where her deep passion and commitment to authentic, soulful country music have been real highlights of the shows. Get your tixs here!
Along with being No. 3 as we countdown to the Big Move, Ronnie’s concert marks the final traditional bluegrass event at Bluegrass Underground before our move. We still have some tickets
left, and if you’ve been waiting to check us out, this may be your final chance, since the last two shows are getting perilously close to selling out.
No. 18, with have the Darrell Scott Band and Robbie Fulks, one of the best singer-songwriter combinations I have ever seen anywhere. Just a handful of tickets remains.
, it’s the great Suzy Bogguss, one of the purest voices ever in country music. She’s doing her Christmas show and I have to say, I have never seen any Nashville artist (sorry, Vince and Amy), put on a better holiday event. Again, it’s virtually sold out, so grab those last few tickets
now. And if you are lucky enough to get tickets, don’t forget to make some time to tour the cave while you’re there.
Until then, we’ll see you Underground
, but you really, really better hurry.
– Larry Nager