May 28, 1927 – December 26, 1993 Remembering John Palmer

Remembering John Palmer (May 28, 1927 – December 26, 1993), played bass with Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups. He worked with Don Reno in the early 1940s; they played and sang together and won prizes at fiddlers’ conventions. They also played dances together. Palmer joined Reno & Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups on Easter day in 1955. The line-up of Reno (banjo), Smiley (guitar), Mack Magaha (fiddle) and Palmer (bass) is considered to be “the” classic combination. He remained with the band until Reno and Smiley parted.
Palmer is featured on all the band’s recordings during the period (1955 to 1963). One of his signature recordings with Reno & Smiley was Lady of Spain, which was a banjo/bass number.
One aspect of the band’s stage performances was the humorous skits that they did. Palmer played the part of Mutt Highpockets, to Reno and Smiley’s Chicken and Pansy Hot Rod, respectively, and Jeff Doolytater (Magaha) as they dressed in ridiculous hillbilly outfits for their 10 to 15 minute routines. Country audiences couldn’t get enough of it.
Palmer stayed with Red Smiley after the latter split from Don Reno. The Bluegrass Cut-Ups, as they were called, took over the television program that Reno & Smiley did together for many years.
After Smiley passed away Palmer played and recorded as a member of the Shenandoah Cut-Ups.
He played bass during sessions for Mac Wiseman, Hylo Brown, Jim Eanes, Bill Clifton, Curly Seckler, Gloria Belle and Herschel Sizemore.
By day, Palmer operated an auto paint shop in Troutville, Virginia. It was said that he never wore a face mask to filter out the paint fumes; he contracted cancer in the early 1990s. Palmer passed away on December 26, 1993.

About the author

I enjoy researching Bluegrass, Bluegrass Gospel, and Country birthdays, anniversaries and interesting trivia dates. I am a piano/organ performance major who has taught privately and served as church accompanist since 1968 in North Carolina and Central Kentucky. Although classically trained, I appreciate all genres of music. My mother, who was also a church musician and taught public school music grades K-12, knew that Bluegrass music was the purest American music. She always introduced her students to this fine genre and began my musical studies with her at age 2. Bach to Berachah Valley, Mozart to Jimmy Martin, Sibelius to Stanley Brothers, the list goes on, I hope you find some moments of enjoyment and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
I am thankful for the many resources we have at our fingertips including Google. FaceBook and BluegrassBios by Wayne Rice. It was he who inspired me to tackle the task of trying to pass on knowledge about Bluegrass music. Thanks Wayne~!
Lou Ellen Wilkie

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