One of the greatest banjo stylists in country-music history died yesterday (Oct. 9) at age 85.
Buck Trent is familiar to millions thanks to his regular appearances on such national TV programs as The Porter Wagoner Show, Hee Haw and The Marty Stuart Show. The master showman was revered by generations of country instrumentalists and was the inventor of the electric banjo. He was also noted as a humorist, songwriter and singer.
Trent died in Branson, Missouri on Monday morning. His ebullient personality and infectious on-stage energy were matched by unparalleled musicianship. The latter was displayed on dozens of records. He made 15 solo albums and was also heard on albums by Wagoner, Nancy Sinatra, Mac Wiseman, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Norma Jean, Johnnie & Jack, Roy Clark and many others.
Those are his distinctively rhythmic acoustic-guitar licks opening Dolly Parton’s iconic “Jolene.” He also played on the singer’s original version of “I Will Always Love You” and on Parton’s albums Coat of Many Colors (1973), My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973) and Rainbow (1987), among others.
Born Charles Wilburn Trent in Spartanburg, South Carolina, he began playing Hawaiian guitar when he was seven years old. He also played Dobro, mandolin, electric bass, guitar and most notably, five-string banjo. He started performing on radio at age 10. When he was 17, he was featured on the TV show of Cousin Wilbur (Westbrooks) in Asheville, North Carolina.
He moved to California, where he performed on Town Hall Party, Hometown Jamboree and other west coast country shows. He then fronted his own bands in San Angelo, Texas and Atlanta (on WJFB-TV).
Trent moved to Nashville and joined the road show of Opry star Bill Carlisle in 1959. After serving a brief stint with Bill Monroe, he joined Porter Wagoner’s troupe in 1962. This is where he developed his electric-banjo innovation alongside steel-guitar maestro Shot Jackson.
The Porter Wagoner Show was the top nationally syndicated country music show of the 1960s. Wagoner’s state-of-he-art troupe also included comic Speck Rhodes, dancing fiddler Mack Magaha and spectacular “girl singer” Parton. Trent played on all of the hit duets recorded by Wagoner and Parton, as well as on her solo LPs. He urged her to record “Mule Skinner Blues,” which became her first top 10 hit (1970).
Trent remained with the Wagoner troupe through 1973. He spent the next seven years with Roy Clark. They were part of the first country music road show to tour the Soviet Union (1976). He and fellow instrumental great Clark created several dazzling duet performances. They were named the CMA’s Instrumental Group of the Year in 1975 and 1976.
When Clark joined the Hee Haw cast, so did Trent. He remained with the show for 19 years. This higher profile led to a number of solo albums showcasing his instrumental gifts. Trent recorded for the Smash, RCA, Boone, Dot and ABC labels, as well as for his own imprint. Among his best-known collections were Bionic Banjo (1976), Oh Yeah! (1977) and Buck Trent (1986).
In the 1990s, Buck Trent became a headliner in Branson, Missouri. Between 2008 and 2015, he was featured on Stuart’s show. He recorded with the future Country Music Hall of Famer on the 2012 CD Tear the Woodpile Down.
Buck Trent embarked on the 2018 “Kornfield Friends” Hee Haw reunion tour alongside former show regulars Lulu Roman, Misty Rowe and Jana Jae. Trent’s final album, Spartanburg Blues, was released in 2018.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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