RIP Doug Dillard – bluegrass legend and founder of country -rock

Banjo player, bluegrass giant and one of the founders of country-rock and alt. country, Doug Dillard died at the age of 75 on May 16th in Nashville following a lengthy illness.

Along with his brother Rodney, his group the Dillards would become one of the dominant bluegrass acts of the folk music boom of the early 1960s. The Dillards gained widespread exposure as guest stars on US TV show ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ as the mountain family ‘The Darlings.’

Between 1963 and 1970 they cut a number of excellent albums for Elektra Records developing a mix of country, bluegrass and rock which became country rock – as played and recorded by The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Among their best Elektra albums are ‘Back Porch Bluegrass’, ‘Pickin’ and Fiddlin’ (with Byron Berline), ‘Copperfields’ and ‘Wheatstraw Suite’.

As half of Dillard & Clark duo, which he formed in 1968 with ex-Byrds singer the legendary Gene Clark, he cut the classic ‘The Fantastic Expedition Of…..’ and ‘Through The Morning, Through The Night’ for A&M Records. Both essential country rock albums.

Born on March 6th, 1937 in Salem, Missouri, Doug Dillard started playing guitar at the age five, and began playing the banjo after receiving the instrument as a present from his parents at age fifteen.

Just a few years later, he and his brother, along with Bill Glenn, Henry and Jim Lewis and Paul Breidenbach formed The Ozark Mountain Boys. The group became a favorite on KSMO in Salem.

Doug Dillard patterned his style on that of Earl Scruggs, and wrote fan letters to the legend during his formative musical years.

In 1958, the Dillards recorded their first record, ‘Banjo In The Hollow’ for K-Ark Records, a label based in St. Louis. They would release two other singles for K-Ark, and later added radio personality Mitch Jayne to their act on the bass fiddle, along with mandolin player Dean Webb. The group ventured out to California to search for their big break.

In the early 1960s, while recording a live album at Los Angeles’ Mecca nightclub Richard Link caught their act. Link was a producer of the ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and was looking to cast a group as the musical mountain family ‘The Darlings’. Griffith, himself a musician, took to the Dillards immediately – often letting them perform some of their original songs on show.

The weekly exposure led to other guest spots on TV shows, as well as touring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Carl Perkins.

In addition to his work with his brother and Gene Clark, Doug also recorded many solo albums – starting with 1969’s ‘The Banjo Album’, and he wrote commercials for companies such as 7-Up and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Dillard  formed ‘The Doug Dillard Band’ in mid 1980s with Ginger Boatwright on vocals, Roger Rasnake, Jonathan Yudkin and David Grier, and they recorded and released ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ produced by Rodney Dillard.

The brothers still worked together in front of the camera from time to time, being part of Harry Dean Stanton’s band in the Bette Midler film ‘The Rose’.

One of the music world’s most respected banjo players, Dillard was inducted into the SPBGMA Preservation Hall Of Fame ,and in 2009, the Dillards were inducted into the IBMA Hall Of Fame.

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