“Hee-Haw” Banjo Legend and “Jolene” Player Buck Trent Has Died

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When you played on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” were a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Porter Wagoner’s Wagon Masters, and racked up more awards and recognition than any mantle could handle, you could definitely say you did your part to keep the flame of country music burning for multiple generations.

This was the charmed and accomplished life that banjo maestro Buck Trent enjoyed. But perhaps he was best-known and most-recognized for his many appearances on Hee-Haw with close friend and collaborator Roy Clark. Trent’s signature catch phrase “Uh-huh, oh yeah!” with outstretched thumbs made him a fan favorite and hard to forget.

Born is Spartanburg, South Carolina on February 17th, 1938, Charles Wilburn “Buck” Trent showed promise at a very early age as a talented musician. He started playing the “Hawaiian guitar” at the age of 7. By the age of 11, he was performing on local radio stations such as WSPA and WORD. Along with banjo and steel guitar, Trent was also talented with the dobro, mandolin, as well as regular guitar and bass.

But the banjo is what Buck Trent would forge his legacy with, including being credited as the inventor of the electric banjo. Early in his career, Trent traveled to Texas and California to find work as a musician, performing on Town Hall Party and Hometown Jamboree on the West Coast, and starting his own band in San Angelo. He moved to Nashville in 1959 to play in the band of Bill Carlisle who made regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, and this is when Buck’s career really took off.

Bill Monroe saw Buck Trent’s talent, and took him off of Bill Carlisle’s hands. Then Porter Wagoner picked Bill Monroe’s pocket, and placed him in the Wagon Masters. It was during his time with Wagoner that Trent innovated the electric banjo with steel guitar master Shot Jackson.

Buck Trent became a mainstay behind Porter Wagoner for many years, and this is how he was able to work himself onto the recordings of Dolly Parton who also started in the Wagoner camp. He left Wagoner right around the same time Dolly did near the beginning of 1974, and started working with fellow banjo man Roy Clark. The two won the CMA’s Instrumentalist Group of the Year in 1975 and 1976, and also became part of the first country roadshow to tour the Soviet Union.

When Roy Clark became the host of Hee-Haw beside another Buck, Buck Trent joined the cast as well, performing on the show for the better part of 20 years. This gave Buck more of a public profile, and he took advantage of it by releasing scores of solo albums, eventually recording fifteen in total, while also performing on the albums of many others throughout the era.

When the Hee-Haw universe dissolved, Buck Trent headed to Branson, Missouri where he became a mainstay and a foundation for the city’s talent. He didn’t disappear from television entirely though. He was a favorite guest and auxiliary player on The Marty Stuart Show from 2008 to 2015, and also played on Stuart’s excellent 2012 album Nashville: Tear The Woodpile Down where he is named as a featured performer on the title track.

Though it was Buck Trent’s hillbilly put-on that made him so endearing to audiences, it was his world-beating musicianship that earned him the respect of his musical peers in country music and well beyond. Though Roy Clark is best known as the Hee-Haw banjo player, Buck Trent was right beside him bolstering those blazing banjo runs, while his work was featured on some of the most iconic recordings in country music history.

Buck Trent died on October 9, 2023 at the age of 85, leaving a legacy behind that can be counted well beyond five strings.

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