Sunday, March 19, 2006

The *real* 'Darling Boys'

And you thought they were just a bunch of actors.

In the early 1960s, The Dillards were the hottest bluegrass group on the planet. Pre-staging the bluegrass revival of the 1970s, the group landed in Los Angeles from the Missouri Ozarks at the peak of the folk movement.

They set up shop in the lobby of the Ash Grove folk club and started playing -- and blew everybody away. Uninvited to California, The Dillards soon had won a record contract.

Doug Dillard's banjo playing and tight harmonies were the hallmark of the early years. Songs like "Dooley" and "The Old Home Place" have become bluegrass standards. But The Dillards weren't just a talented bluegrass group. Nope, they merged 'grass, folk, country, pop, and gospel together and created a distinctive new sound.

You may know The Dillards best as the Darling boys from "The Andy Griffith Show." The band (Rodney Dillard, Doug Dillard, Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb) would show up once or twice a season from 1963-65, picking 'grass and playing non-speaking cameo roles as the male sons of Briscoe Darling (Denver Pyle). The family would head into Mayberry ever so often to torment (and to pick a tune or two with) Sheriff Andy Taylor. "Dooley," "Banjo in the Hollow," "Ebo Walker," and other Dillards hits became part of the Griffith Show soundtrack.

By the mid-1960s, Doug Dillard fled the group to start a new band with Gene Clark of the Byrds. The remaining trio found a California banjo picker, Herb Pedersen, to keep the group going. (Pedersen's "Wait a Minute," recorded later by the Seldom Scene, is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking songs from any genre.) Influenced by the budding folk rock movement, The Dillards forged a new vocal style that would soon be the hallmark of groups like The Band and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

Highlights from this period include Pedersen's "Copperfields," a fine cover of Lennon/McCartney's "Yesterday (which owes its sound as much to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as to bluegrass), and Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe."

Vanguard Records has released a fine collection from this period that is a must have for bluegrass and folk music fans. "There is a Time: 1963-70" is a sampling of tunes from the five albums the group released on Elektra Records during this period. All the "Griffith Show" songs are here, as well as the folk music and other standouts, like the gospel classic "Somebody Touched Me" and Lennon/McCartney's "I've Just Seen A Face."

Although their best work happened in California, The Dillards never forgot their Ozark upbringing. "Dooley" and "The Old Home Place" evoke images of a simpler, rural America. Even the later folk 'grass remains, at its heart, rooted in the heartland.

If you only knew them as The Darlings, do yourself a favor and pick up "There Is a Time." It doesn't get much better than this.

"There Is A Time: 1963-70" is available on compact disc from Vanguard Records.


Anonymous Seth Burnett said...

my favorite dillards song is "don't hit your granny with a big fat stick."


3:22 PM  

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