Music pioneer, banjo innovator Wade Mainer dies

Country music pioneer Wade Mainer, who is credited with inventing the two-finger banjo-picking style that paved the way for the bluegrass era, has died. He was 104.

DETROIT -- Wade Mainer, a country music pioneer who is credited with inventing the two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for the bluegrass era, has died. He was 104.

Mainer died at his home in Flint Township, according to the funeral home where his service was to be held.

He was a member of late brother J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers, one of the most popular sibling duos of the 1930s. He made recordings for all the major labels of the day and invented a two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for the bluegrass era.

"Wade Mainer is the last of the old guard from the '20s and '30s to pass on. Mainer's Mountaineers was a huge group during that time. They influenced the Monroe Brothers, The Delmore Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Reno and Smiley and countless other music groups from the South," artist Ricky Skaggs said in an email Wednesday.

John Ramble, senior historian of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., said Mainer's two-finger style helped make the banjo more prominent in old-time, or early country music. Using two fingers, as opposed to the downward strumming motion of the "claw hammer" style, allowed him to be more melodic.

Born near Asheville, N.C., Mainer got his musical start in North Carolina's mountains and later rediscovered it in an industrial Michigan city. Concerned that country music was dying, he left the stage and the South in the early 1950s and moved to Flint, Mich., to work for General Motors. He played only in church but eventually stopped altogether, putting the banjo under his bed for four years.

Mainer returned to music after another artist convinced the born-again Christian he could use his talents to honor God. He told The Associated Press in 1991 he got back on the circuit in 1970s after country-western star Tex Ritter bumped into one of Mainer's sons. "Ritter said, 'He's been dead for 15 years, ain't he?" Mainer said. "A lot of people thought I was dead."