Posted by Paul Bock on Wednesday, June 17, 2020
I recently read an archived thread that discussed Don Reno and the use of D-tuners. I didn't find a definitive answer to the question, "Did Don use D-tuners on his 1950's recording of 'Home Sweet Home' " on that thread, but since I already know the answer I thought I'd mention it here.
The question arises because Don recorded "Home Sweet Home" not long after Allen Shelton recorded it (using D-tuners) with Hack Johnson and the Tennesseans. In an exhaustive interview with Eddie Stubbs just a few years before Allen's death, Allen told Eddie that Hack wanted to sing the song rather than have it be just a straight instrumental, but felt that the key of F best fit their voices on it. Allen shuddered at the thought of trying to play it in F, so he got Hack to compromise and agree to C for the vocal portion and Allen then worked up his D version of the tune using the D-tuners and included the modulation to C and back to create a "window" for the vocalists. Don Reno's version came out a few weeks after Allen & Hack's version was already being played on the radio.
Years later, Don told Allen that he'd gotten a call from King Records telling him that "Hack Johnson has this new song out and it's selling like hotcakes, can't you do a version of it?" Don went on to say that Red Smiley wasn't available just then (he was back in NC, I believe) so Don went into the studio and basically cut the whole song almost single-handedly, dubbing in the banjo and singing both parts (and possibly other instruments parts as well). Allen asked Don how he managed the "pitch slurring" (since Allen knew that Don didn't have D-tuners on his banjo at that time) and Don told him that he used his fingers to raise and lower the pitch by pressing the strings above the nut (sort of a la Raymond Fairchild in a much later era). Allen said that he was a little astounded by that because he'd never tried to do it that way.
BTW, Allen laughingly said in the interview that "My version was better" and I do have to agree with him.
That level of innovation, that ability to "find a way that works and get it done", of all of those first-generation Bluegrass musicians has never failed to amaze me. They "invented" all the stuff that a lot of us are still trying to learn to play well!
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