I learned recently that another musician friend was called home – Doug Dillard (1937-2012).
It has been nearly 50 years since the Darlings crawled up onto Briscoe Darling’s truck and rode down from the hills into Mayberry. With them were sister Charlene (Maggie Peterson) and all the Darling boys (The Dillards: Rodney Dillard, guitar; Doug Dillard, banjo; Mitch Jayne, bass; and Dean Webb, mandolin) with their instruments in hand.
The Doug Dillard Band performs at the IBMM in 2011.
As Briscoe Darling (Denver Pyle) dipped his hat in the memorial horse trough in the center of town, you just knew The Darlings were going to give Andy, Barney and all the folks of Mayberry a heck of a ride.
It was during this time that the folk revival was in full swing. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were popularizing bluegrass through appearances on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and the sounds of bluegrass on “The Andy Griffith Show” came largely from the Dillards. While Lester and Earl made appearances as themselves on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” The Dillards had the unique distinction of appearing in character on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
I had the honor of producing Doug in the studio, recording with him and also having the Doug Dillard Band perform with me as I did my live show. I took the opportunity to interview Doug back in 2003 about his experience.
“The (show) brought bluegrass to a lot of people who normally would not even listen to it,” he said. “I did not realize at the time what network exposure meant. I knew back in Missouri that Andy Griffith was one of my favorite shows. It had only been going since 1960. Our first one was aired in 1963.”
When Doug was in his teens, he was so enthused by Earl Scruggs he convinced his parents to drive him from Missouri to Madison, Tenn., to Scruggs’ house. Scruggs opened the door, and the teen asked Earl to install his Scruggs tuners, which the innovator of the banjo did without reservation.
Doug confirmed my hopes that the Griffith set and crew was just like a family. The Dillards made six appearances on the show between 1963 and 1967.
“Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) would make candy and cookies at home and bring it down to us on the set,” he saidPublish. “All the people were just down-to-earth type people.”
Doug said their time on the set with Andy and Don Knotts was spent making music or watching the two co-stars square off at a game of darts. He said those games could get a bit heated. Often other Desilu studio stars such as Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas and Dick Van Dyke would stop by the show while they were there performing.
He loved working with Denver Pyle (Briscoe Darling).
“He treated us just like his boys,” he said.
Dillard also said that performing in “The Return to Mayberry” in 1986 was just like a family reunion.
In addition to playing the banjo in films such as “Bonnie and Clyde,” Doug also appeared in the “The Rose” with Bette Midler and in “Popeye” with Robin Williams as “Clem, the banjo player.”
While filming “Popeye,” he took a 50-foot fall, went into a coma and was not expected to survive.
“Somehow or another I think I had something that was riding on my shoulder,” he said.
Of course, along the way he continued performing, recording and creating a legacy that crossed the genres of bluegrass, country and rock music
Along with the late Earl Scruggs, Doug was probably America’s most influential banjo stylist, reaching millions through the Griffith appearances and a never-ending stream of recordings and film soundtrack work.
There have been only a handful of bluegrass stars that have achieved widespread fame where it seems like everyone on the face of the earth knows who he or she are. Doug, Rodney, Mitch and Dean are definitely among that very elite group. Their influence around the world will probably never really be known. They were inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
On a personal note, Doug was one of those who inspired my life in music and acting through the work he did on television. He was a more than a friend.
Just as the Darlings unexpectedly climbed down a rope from the Mayberry Hotel window into the arms of Andy Griffith 50 years ago, the Dillards climbed down that woven string onto the fabric of what would become America’s town — Mayberry.
Doug lived in Nashville with his wife, songwriter-singer Vikki Sallee. More information about some of his books and recordings are available atwww.hillbillyhollywood.com.