Dillards, The (Contemporary Musicians)
Image Pop-UpThe Dillards.
The Dillards are credited with freeing bluegrass music from the more traditional approaches usually associated with musical acts Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Flatt and Scruggs. Instead, brothers Rodney and Doug Dillard and original bandmates bassist Mitch Jayne and mandolinist Dean Webb blended folk, country, and rock music elements to create a progressive musical style that heavily influenced such purveyors of the burgeoning country rock movement as the Byrds; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the Flying Burrito Brothers; Poco; Michael Nesmith; and the Eagles, as well as the progressive bluegrass group New Grass Revival. Featuring the virtuoso banjo-picking of Doug and the guitar and dobro prowess of Rodney, the Dillards, after arriving in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, quickly earned a recording contract with Elektra Records. They were also regularly featured as members of the fictitious musically inclined hillbilly family the Darlings on the top-rated television situation comedy The Andy Griffith Show.
As the 1960s progressed, the Dillards incorporated more diverse elements into their music, adding electric instruments on their second album, The Dillards Live! Almost! and the fiddle of Byron Berline on Pickin' & Fiddlin' with Byron Berline. Following the departure of Doug in the latter half of the 1960s to pursue more rock-oriented projects with former Byrd Gene Clark, the remaining band members recruited banjoist Herb Pederson for two acclaimed albums that are considered among the first and finest in the country-rock genre, Wheatstraw Suite and Copperfields.
Original band members Rodney and Doug Dillard were born in Salem, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains. Musically adept, the brothers were frequently featured as radio performers and support acts for the Dixie Ramblers, the Hawthorn Brothers, and the Lewis Brothers. The siblings also recorded singles for the K-Ark label as the Dillard Brothers in 1958. The duo recruited local radio announcer Mitch Jayne on bass and mandolin player Dean Webb in 1960, naming the new group the Dillards. The quartet developed a stage act that was equal parts unsophisticated humor and proficiently performed mountain music. The group frequently played off their Ozark heritage to tweak the sophistication of the folk revivalists of the early 1960s.
The Dillards set out for Los Angeles in 1962, working odd jobs along the way to raise money. The band's talent was recognized when they set up their instruments and began performing for free in the lobby of the Ash Grove folk club on the evening of a scheduled performance by the Greenbriar Boys. The band's performance helped land them a contract with Elektra Records, and they set about recording their first album, Back Porch Bluegrass, which was released in 1963. Produced by Jim Dickson, who had also produced the bluegrass and country act the Kentucky Colonels, Back Porch Bluegrass established the Dillards as accomplished songwriters with such original songs as "Dooley" and "Old Home Place," as well as loyal practitioners of several bluegrass standards. The debut album also features the instrumental "Duelin' Banjo," which became a hit when it was recorded by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel for the soundtrack to the John Boorman film adaptation of the James Dickey novel Deliverance. While the album gained notice for the Dillards with bluegrass and country audiences, it was their recurring appearances as the musically talented offspring of Denver Pyle's Darling family on The Andy Griffith Show that brought them national recognition. In these televised appearances, the group portrayed yokel hillbilly moonshiners with whom Sheriff Andy Taylor (portrayed by Griffith) often played music. During this phase of their career, producer Dickson also teamed the group with Glen Campbell and Tut Taylor from the Kentucky Colonels in a side group called the Folkswingers for two albums.
The Dillards' second album, The Dillards Live! Almost! marked the band's integration of electric instruments into their musical arsenal. The move served to alienate bluegrass purists in much the same way Bob Dylan's use of the electrified Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 alienated him from many folk music purists. The Dillards also exposed themselves to a new audience when they toured as a support act for folk-rock pioneers the Byrds. The Dillards beat a stylistic retreat for their follow-up recording in 1965, Pickin' & Fiddlin' with Byron Berline. Berline's impeccably performed fiddle blended nicely with the other band members' performances, and the group reclaimed some of their purist credibility. The musical differences between Doug and Rodney, however, made Pickin' & Fiddlin' the brothers' last album together as the Dillards for more than a decade. However, the brothers did collaborate on music for the soundtrack of director Arthur Penn's 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde.
Following his departure from the Dillards, Doug recorded a solo album, The Banjo Album, with future co-founder of the Eagles Bernie Leadon and with Gene Clark; with the latter he formed the duo Dillard & Clark. The remaining Dillards recruited former Flatt and Scruggs banjoist Herb Pedersen for two of the band's most critically celebrated albums, Wheatstraw Suite and Copperfields. The former album includes cover versions of such songs as the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face," Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe," and Jesse Kincaid's "She Sings Hymns Out of Tune," and it features drumming from Jim Gordon and pedal steel guitar from Buddy Emmons. For Copperfields, the band enlisted drummer Paul York as a permanent band member. The album features such cover songs as the Beatles' "Yesterday" and Harry Nilsson's "Rainmaker," as well as the Pedersen composition "Copperfields," which introduced orchestration to the band's sound.
Pedersen left the Dillards to join the group Country Gazette, which was formed by Byron Berline. The Dillards invited Billy Ray Latham to replace Pedersen, and they signed with Anthem Records, ending their relationship with Elektra. Sales of their next album, Roots and Branches, were helped by an opening-act gig for Elton John. Jeff Gilkinson replaced Mitch Jayne on bass for the subsequent release, Tribute to the American Duck. In 1977 the Dillards signed with Flying Fish Records and released The Dillards vs. the Incredible L.A. Time Machine. The next two years saw the band undergo frequent lineup changes: Pederson and Doug Bounsall replaced Latham on Mountain Rock and Decade Waltz. York retired after Mountain Rock. Perhaps most notable was the return of Doug Dillard to the fold for the 1979 live release Homecoming & Family Reunion.
Following the recording of Homecoming & Family Reunion, the Dillards disbanded to pursue solo and side projects and session work. Rodney Dillard relocated to Branson, Missouri, in the late 1980s and initiated a reunion of the group. This reunion gained traction with a celebrated appearance on a 30th-anniversary celebration of The Andy Griffith Show. Steve Cooley subsequently replaced Doug Dillard on the Dillards releases in the early 1990s, including Let It Fly and Take Me Along for the Ride.
Back Porch Bluegrass, Elektra, 1963.
The Dillards Live! Almost!, Elektra, 1964.
Pickin' & Fiddlin' with Byron Berline, Elektra, 1965.
Wheatstraw Suite, Elektra, 1968; reissued, Collectors' Choice, 2002.
Copperfields, Elektra, 1970.
Roots and Branches, Anthem, 1972.
Tribute to the American Duck, Poppy, 1973.
The Best of the Dillards, Elektra, 1976.
The Dillards vs. the Incredible L.A. Time Machine, Flying Fish, 1977.
Mountain Rock, Laserlight, 1978.
Decade Waltz, Flying Fish, 1979.
Homecoming & Family Reunion, Flying Fish, 1979.
I'll Fly Away, Edsel, 1988.
Let It Fly, Vanguard, 1991.
There Is a Time (1963-70), Vanguard, 1991.
Take Me Along for the Ride, Vanguard, 1992.
Best of the Darlin' Boys, Vanguard, 1997.
The First Time Live, Varese, 1999.
A Long Time Ago, Varese, 1999.
Kingsbury, Paul, editor, The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Wolff, Kurt, Country Music: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 2000.
ZigZag, September 1973.
"The Dillards," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (August 21, 2003).
Additional information was obtained from the liner notes for There Is a Time, Vanguard, 1991; and Wheatstraw Suite, Collectors' Choice, 2002.