Banjoist Doug Dillard, of Mayberry's Darling Family, dies at 75

Friday, 18 May 2012 06:00 AM Written by 

On Wednesday banjoist Doug Dillard, founding member of the bluegrass band the Dillards, who played the backwoods Darling Family on the Andy Griffith Show, died in Nashville of  a respiratory illness at age 75,  just weeks after the passing of Griffith Show regular George "Goober" Lindsey.

If  Doug and his brother Rodney, and bandmates Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb had done nothing but occasionally appear on the Griffith Show from 1963-1966 as the Darling Family, they would have earned a place in pop culture. That, however, was only part of the story.

On the show, the Darling brothers did the bidding of family patriarch Briscoe Darling (played by Denver Pyle) and defended the honor of sister Charlene (played by singer-actress Maggie Peterson),

Here's the group on the Griffith Show playing "Dooley," perhaps the song they're best remembered for.

Douglas Flint Dillard and Rodney were natives of Salem. Missouri and got their first experience playing there on the radio in the 1950's.  Rodney played guitar. Doug got his first banjo at 15 and developed a picking style based mainly on Earl Scruggs (his first hero), Ralph Stanley and Don Reno.   

The Dillards as an act evolved out of that band with the addition of mandolinist Dean Webb and Mitch Jayne, a radio announcer they taught to play upright bass. In 1962 they decided to relocate not to Nashville but to Hollywood, where bluegrass bands were scarce but the Folk Revival was in full swing. That became a fateful decision. They landed a contract with  Elektra Records, then mainly an acoustic folk music label. The album, titled Back Porch Bluegrass included this showcase titled, simply, "Doug's Tune."

While recording a live album for Elektra, Dick Linke, Andy Griffith's manager, brought them in to audition for the Griffith show.  No slouch as a folk and country guitarist himself, Griffith saw the possibilities and had them written into the show as the Darlings, giving them latitude to pick their own music. This is "There Is A Time," with Peterson on lead vocal.

And this instrumental, showcasing the banjo.

Beyond the Griffith Show, the Dillards became also pioneers in the LA Country-Rock movement of the late 1960's,   Gram Parsons gets credit today from the Americana crowd who consider him the ultimate visionary of that movement for his work with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Gram was certainly a prime mover, but the fact remains that Dillards were experimenting, albeit unsuccessfully, with early amplified "folk rock" as early as 1965 on two singles for Capitol Records.

That wasn't all.  Except for the Flatt and Scruggs recording of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," that became the theme of the 1968 Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway film Bonnie & Clyde, all the other banjo work for the soundtrack was supposedly done by Doug.

In 1968 he left the Dillards with no animosity to pursue other projects. He toured Europe with the Byrds in the wake of their own pioneering country-rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, then  settled into a new collaboration with former Byrd vocalist Gene Clark as Dillard & Clark. 

This is the pair doing "Why Not Your Baby."

When Clark departed, Dillard kept the group going as Dillard & The Expedition.  This 1969 performance features him with fiddler Byron Berline, Billy Ray Lathum, Roger Bush and Donna Washburn from a very early episode of Hee-Haw. This particular band made few records. 

His 1969 solo effort The Banjo Album included this instrumental, "With Care From Someone."  Accompanying  Dillard were future Eagles member Bernie Leadon, John Hartford on fiddle, Gene Clark playing harmonica and jazz bassist and studio musician Red Mitchell.

Doug maintained his solo career, occasionally reuniting with Rodney for special projects.  He spent most of the time,however, fronting his own band.  In this 1980's performance, he plays "Remington Ride," originally a Western swing steel guitar instrumental.

In 1986 the original Dillards reunited and appeared in the Griffith Show TV-movie reunion Return to Mayberry (no clips available).  They began touring again as the Original Dillards, with Dean Webb and Mitch Jayne in the lineup, doing many numbers including the tunes they played on the show. This 1999 clip from a concert in Denmark reprises "There Was A Time."

Both brothers pursued other projects (Rodney Dillard performs Christian music with his wife), but still worked together occasionally until Doug's illness.  

The Griffith appearances will always be what  the world remembers but as is usually the case, it was just one waypoint in Doug Dillard's half-century career .

 

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