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Buck Trent, Country Music Instrumentalist, Dies at 85

today10/10/2023

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Banjo player and guitarist Buck Trent, a two-time CMA instrumental group of the year winner and a prominent member of the cast of the variety show Hee Haw, died on Monday (Oct. 9) at age 85.

Trent was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Feb. 17, 1938, and moved to Nashville in 1959. In 1962, he joined Porter Wagoner’s Wagonmasters, performing with the group for approximately a decade.

Trent’s star rose through his work as a member of the cast of the variety show Hee Haw from 1974 to 1982. Those performances were regularly punctuated by Trent shouting what became his signature phrase, “Oh yeah!” In 2018, Trent was part of a “Kornfield Friends” reunion tour which also featured his fellow Hee Haw alums Jana Jae, Lulu Roman and Misty Rowe.

During his career, Trent also made appearances on The Marty Stuart Show and The Porter Wagoner Show, among others.

In 1975, Trent and fellow country music entertainer and banjoist Roy Clark earned a Billboard Top Country Albums hit with their collaborative project A Pair of Fives (Banjos, That Is), peaking at No. 9. Three other Trent titles impacted the tally: 1968’s Give Me Five (No. 40), 1976’s Bionic Banjo (No. 43) 1978’s Banjo Bandits with Clark (No. 45).

In 1975 and 1976, Trent and Clark won consecutive CMA Awards for instrumental group of the year. Also in 1976, Trent joined Clark and The Oak Ridge Boys for a concert tour behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. Two years later, Trent and Clark released the project Banjo Bandits, which would earn a Grammy nomination for best country instrumental performance.

In addition to his own recordings, Trent contributed guitar and/or banjo on enduring recordings by Roy Acuff, Wagoner, Clark, Stuart and Dolly Parton, including Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene.” His contributions to music also proved innovative, as the creator of the electric banjo.

In the 1980s, after traveling to Branson, Trent began performing and would become a longtime performer in the town. In 2004, Trent also appeared as a Branson performer in the movie Gordy. Later, in 2012, Trent played on two songs for Marty Stuart’s album Nashville Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down.

Trent was previously named as one of this year’s American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame honorees; the celebration is slated for Oct. 12-14 in Oklahoma City.

Trent’s wife, Jean Trent, said in a statement, “It is with great sorrow and a broken heart to say my husband, my love, Buck Trent, went to be with Jesus this morning. I lost my best friend, and the world lost a Master Musician and Country Music Legend. Oh Yeah!”

Jim Halsey, longtime manager for Country Music Hall of Fame group The Oak Ridge Boys and the late Clark, described Trent as “one of my very favorite people in the world.” He added in a statement, “I worked with him for years as a partner with the Roy Clark Show. Buck Trent is one of the greatest banjo players ever. We will all miss him. Thank you, Buck Trent, for being in all our lives.”

Roman added in a statement, “Buck was like a brother to me after all of these years. We’ve shared tons of laughs and some tears along the way, but we never left each other’s side. We had a bond like no other. I’ll miss the man, but cherish the memories from our 50+ year friendship. My heart breaks for his precious wife, Jean, his family, friends, and fans. There will never be another like Buck Trent. Oh Yea!” 

The Oak Ridge Boys member Joe Bonsall added, “We lost a dear long-time friend today in Buck Trent. Buck toured the Soviet Union with us and Roy Clark in 1976 and we have been close ever since. Buck was one of the greatest banjo players of all time and a very funny man. We will miss Buck!”

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