Doug Dillard: 1937-2012

Murphy Henry

If you are a Murphy Method banjo student (especially a beginner), then you are already acquainted with the music of Doug Dillard. He wrote Banjo in the Hollow! You also probably know the Dillards (Doug, his brother Rodney on guitar, Dean Webb on mandolin, and Mitch Jayne on bass) from their appearances on the Andy Griffith show as the Darling Family. The Dillard biography, Everybody on the Truck, notes that while the boys were enthusiastic about landing a job on the show, they were “reluctant to appear on television as ignorant hillbillies.” Having grown up in the Ozark mountains in Missouri, Rodney, in particular, wanted to make sure that they “weren’t going to be making fun of the people they grew up with.” And in spite of the long-lasting appeal of their performances on the show, years later Rodney still had reservations about accepting the role. But there is no telling how many fans of the show were first introduced to bluegrass and banjo playing through the music of the Dillards.

I came into the music of the Dillards in a sideways fashion. I sorta married into it. Red and his banjo-playing uncle John Hedgecoth were big Dillards fans, since the Dillards' albums—Back Porch Bluegrass (Elektra, 1963) and Live, Almost (Elektra, 1964)—were some of the few bluegrass albums that were commercially available in Jacksonville, Florida, in the early sixties. And, of course, now that I want to write about those albums, I can’t find them anywhere! I guess I put them in a safe place. Or they are in a parallel universe. Nevertheless, thanks to Google, I can report some of the song titles. From Back Porch Bluegrass: Banjo in the Hollow, Doug’s Tune, Hickory Hollow (all written by Doug), Dueling Banjos (one of the pre-Deliverance arrangements), Old Home Place, and Dooley.

And from Live, Almost! (whose cover pictured Rodney Dillard lying “dead” in front of the other band members, Dean Webb, Mitch Jayne, and Doug): Old Blue, Walking Down the Line, I’ll Never See My Home Again, Dixie Breakdown, Pretty Polly, and Sinkin’ Creek (which I taught, while John played it, on our original Melodic cassette series!) This album also featured some of Mitch Jayne’s humorous stories, from which Red borrowed liberally before coming up with his own assortment. These include Mitch’s story about the song “Old Blue.” My favorite lines from that story (uttered often by Red when we used to sing “Old Blue”) was when Mitch was saying that the Dillards had a “lot different attitude about dogs than they do in Los Angeles...we don’t put rhinestone collars on them too much. If there was a rhinestone collar to spare around the house, it went on Mommy.”

The Dillards also recorded a third album for Elektra in 1965, Pickin’ and Fiddlin' with Byron Berline. I actually have that vinyl copy in hand. Since it didn’t have any singing on it, it was never one of my faves, although I think Red and John liked it a lot and learned a bunch of tunes off of it which they would trot out in the late hours of a picking party. Songs like Hamilton County, Fisher’s Hornpipe, Tom and Jerry, Cotton Patch Rag, Durang’s Hornpipe, Wagoner, Sally Johnson, Crazy Creek, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (not the nursery rhyme!). Good songs, all, but I still can’t play a banjo or fiddle lead to any of them!

Doug eventually left the Dillards and teamed up with Gene Clark, playing more of a folk-rock-county music. From their album The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark I particularly liked Git It On Brother (a funky arrangement of Flatt and Scruggs' Get In Line, Brother) and She Darked the Sun. Other Dillard and Clark classics included Don’t Come Rollin’ and With Care From Someone.

I write about albums because I don’t have but one personal Doug Dillard story to tell. I met him at one of the early IBMA Trade Shows in Owensboro. We had just come out with our first video, Beginning Banjo Volume One, which kicked off with Banjo in the Hollow. I was all excited to tell Doug about using his tune and introduced myself to him and dragged him over to our booth to see a clip of it. He was real sweet about it and seemed interested, which I appreciated. As I remember it, we had been trying to get hold of his publisher so we could pay the royalties for using his song. After meeting Doug personally, I think his publisher called us!

I was fortunate to get to see the Dillards play several times. Once at IBMA, once at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, and once at the Hiawassee Fair in Hiawassee, Georgia. I also got to see Doug play with his own Doug Dillard Band, which featured Ginger Boatwright on guitar and lead vocals. I saw them play in Alaska and at the Tennessee Banjo Institute. And I saw the Dillards from afar, sitting in the audience in the Ryman Auditorium when they were inducted into the IBMA Hall of Honor in 2009. I’m not sure but I think Mitch Jayne said, when he stepped up to the mike to accept the award, “I thought we were going to have to die to get in here.” It was a near thing, for now both he and Doug are gone. I’m so glad they made it in. Casey had her picture taken with Doug at the pre-awards party. She keeps it up in her house now, in her office, right across from her Big Earl poster.

It’s sad to lose two such amazing banjo players in such a short period of time. But we still have their music. If you’ve not heard much of Doug’s playing, get on the internet and buy some of it! I think those first two albums are on CD now, and if not, vinyl copies are still out there. And I highly recommend the book Everybody on the Truck: The Story of the Dillards by Lee Grant with the Original Dillards. It’s short, easy to read, and packed with inside information. And pictures!

John Hartford was good friends with Doug and Rodney and they played together early on, pre-Dillards, in a band called the Dixie Ramblers. I can imagine John and Doug, on Heaven’s Bright Shore, uncasing the fiddle and the five and kicking back for a joyous musical reunion. I treasure the thought.

Posted in banjo, By Murphy, Learning By Ear on by .

About Red Henry

Began playing mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and banjo in 1967-69. I married Murphy in 1974. We led the Red & Murphy bluegrass band, playing professionally, from 1975-87. Since then I've handled the technical side of Murphy Method cassette, videotape, and DVD production. When you call I usually answer the phone, and I'm normally the one who sends out the orders.

3 thoughts on “Doug Dillard: 1937-2012

  1. Martin Bacon

    Lucky me to have been at that IBMA awards too. And now you folks have to come down to Raleigh to visit for the IBMA. Hurray!

  2. Rita McCreless

    HI Murphy,
    I purchased your Murphy Method 1 & 2 and also your gospel cd as well.,
    some time ago. Due to my hand being operated on and torn rotar cuffs, rt. and Lf. shoulders both, I’ve had some big setbacks. I recently about 2 months ago picked it back up and started my learning all over again.
    I have learned banjo in the hollow. I am working on cripple creek , can play it but not up to speed yet. also working on cumberland gap. Do you have any suggestions on streching the left hand out. Besides just playing., I thought you or Casey might have a trick or two up your sleeve. Wanted to ask also about timing on cripple creek, cumberland gap.
    I do have Earl book, also. I want to learn as much as I can. Also have Doug Dillards book with banjo in the hollow.
    Any help, any time would be greatly appreciated. By the way I think you are a great teacher.

    Thanks so much, Rita

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