Andy Griffith: Behind The Music (Updated)

Thursday, 18 August 2011 06:00 AM Written by 

This week's "Believe Your Ears" music podcast looks at another side of Andy Griffith, who turns 85 this year: the music.  Not just the bluegrass you heard him sing on the Andy Griffith Show with the Darling Family and the Country Boys (featuring bluegrass legends Roland and Clarence White. We look at some pop tunes he recorded for Capitol, vocals from his 1957 dramatic film debut in Elia Kazan's film A Face in the Crowd and his obscure 1958 Capitol album Andy Griffith Sings the Blues and Other Old-Timey Tunes, a surprisingly funky, gutbucket effort. Blues great Brownie McGhee plays guitar and sings backup on a few songs.

This is one of the early scenes from Face in the Crowd, starring Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, a low-life drifter sitting in an small town Arkansas jail, where he meets local radio host Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), whose program A Face in the Crowd profiles average (or in Lonesome's case, below-average) people.  The jailbird asking him to sing "Rye Whiskey" is Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield, who played a fellow hobo named "Beanie" in the film.  In this compelling scene, Rhodes is creating the persona that would make him famous right on the spot, one of many intense scenes showcasing Griffith's broader range.

It's worth noting the film's cast included some other heavy hitters as well, among them Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa and in her first film role, Lee Remick, with cameos from future 60 Minutes luminary Mike Wallace and the notorious gossip column pioneer Walter Winchell.

In this clip from Face, Griffith, as Lonesome, officiates at a baton-twirling competition in the character's Arkansas home town as they twirl to the sounds of his "rock and roll" record "Mama Guitar." "Betty Lou," (Remick) is the winner he chooses. Lonesome, who'd proposed to Marcia, impulsively marries Betty Lou on the trip. Then all hell really breaks loose.

And here's how the end begins.  If it sounds like the approach of certain political factions right now, it's safe to say this movie predicted all that over half a century before.

And finally, it hits the fan. Bigtime.

This is Andy many years later, discussing how he prepared to shoot the film's climax, where Lonesome literally goes bonkers at his apartment after he's just self-destructed on the air.

On to the Griffith Show.

"Whoa Mule" (or "Kickin' Mule") was a tune Griffith played on the first season of the Andy Griffith Show, specifically on Episode 19 ("Mayberry On Record").  The band with him is the Country Boys which included the White brothers: Roland on mandolin, Eric playing bass and Clarence picking guitar. Billy Ray Lathum is the banjoist and LeRoy McNees (LeRoy Mack)  on Dobro.

Clarence and Roland White gained greater fame with the California bluegrass band the Kentucky Colonels. And in the late 60's, Clarence became a pioneer country-rocker when he began picking a customized Fender Telecaster with the Byrds.

Most of Andy's musical performances on the Griffith Show were with the Missouri-born Dillards as the Darling Family.  At the time the band consisted of Doug Dillard (banjo), Rodney Dillard (guitar), mandolinist Dean Webb and bass player Mitch Jayne.  Denver Pyle, (later Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazard) and Maggie Peterson were actors and did the talking. Here, they do "Doug's Tune," a banjo showcase.

Here's Andy, years later,  explaining music's place on his program and discussing both the Dillards and the Darling Family.

There's a lot more of Griffith's musical side over at "Believe Your Ears." The segment begins at 5:16. Click here.


I was asked if the Griffith Lonesome Rhodes character was based on 50's CBS star Arthur Godfrey, one of the most beloved broadcasters of the time, known for his warm, folksy manner, a facade that disappeared when he cheerfully fired a cast member, singer Julius LaRosa, on the air in 1953.  Godfrey was only one inspiration for the film.

Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay for Kazan's classic film On the Waterfront, authored the Face screenplay from an earlier short story he wrote titled "Your Arkansas Traveler."  In Richard Schickel's 2006 Elia Kazan: A Biography, Schulberg explained that he based the short story, which also featured Lonesome Rhodes, on the late American humorist Will Rogers, beloved for his down-home charm and charisma.

Schulberg had met Will Rogers Jr., who asserted his late father was the total opposite of his public persona, shunning the common folks he celebrated and after moving to Hollywood, socializing with the very politicos and power brokers he ridiculed.  Godfrey was factored into the film, particularly in one scene where Lonesome's seen on the air, poking fun at his sponsor, a mattress company.  Godfrey was known for making fun of his sponsors, who didn't care because the more he did it, the more products they sold.


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