Doug Dillard

by admin  1st Jun 2012 Comments [0]

By Domenic Priore


Born to a musical family March 6, 1937 in the Ozark Mountains of Salem, MO, Doug Dillard counted Earl Scruggs as an early supporter. After initial encouragement via postal service the bluegrass legend later installed the tuners to Doug’s very first banjo with his own two hands, after a 500 mile trek by Dillard to the legend’s home with heckled parents in tow. Dillard, a forefather in his own right, was one of the early alchemists—with his group the Dillards—to fuse the soul of rock’n’roll to bluegrass and country music, bringing that peculiar hill-folk music to a ’60s youth generation. He brought down electricity on high from the sky and few have harnessed that instrument before or since with such power, dexterity and skill. Doug left this square world on May 16, 2012, aged 75, in Nashville, TN, of lung infection brought on from a collapsed lung a few months prior. Below our pal Domenic Priore issues the raw facts on the legend. (jeremy nobody esq)

The Dillards at Hollywood High School, opening for the Byrds. (Photo copyright: Lisa Law). From the ibook/Kindle edition of "Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood."

Banjo picker Doug Dillard came out to Los Angeles from his native Missouri with his brother Rodney, Dean Webb and Mitchell Jayne as the Dillards, and quickly helped to popularize bluegrass music as part of the LA Folk scene during the early ’60s at clubs like The Ash Grove, The Troubadour, The Ice House, The Mecca, The Golden Bear and others that made the city a freeway spread-out Greenwich Village of the West Coast. The Dillards were surrounded by a lot of great local bluegrass talent that would evolve into The Byrds ever-growing family tree: the Country Boys/Kentucky Colonels (with Clarence White), the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and the Golden State Boys (both featured Chris Hillman, the latter featured Chris with Vern and Rex Gosdin). The Dillards were managed by Jim Dickson who would also come to manage the Byrds. When the Dillards made the attempt to electrify in 1965, Jim hired Dewey Martin prior to his taking the drummer spot in Buffalo Springfield. This kind of interaction would play an incredible part in the growth of early Country Rock from its most core hill-bound element.

The Dillards released their first LP in 1963, Back Porch Bluegrass, and soon became a semi-regular act on the Andy Griffith Show (four episodes) as wise-cracking hillbillies the Darlings. Their next LP on Elektra Live!!! Almost!!! was recorded out at The Mecca in Buena Park and they followed that with a special collaboration with Byron Berline, Pickin’ and Fiddlin’. The sit-in would lead to much collaboration with Byron later on. When the Dillards made the switch to electric instrumentation and went on tour with the Byrds for a little while (in LA, at the Valley Music Theatre), despite great tracks like “Each Season Changes You” (heard on the Together Records various artists compilation Early LA) and a single called “Lemon Chimes,” very little was released. They played acoustically again on the soundtrack to the groundbreaking Bonnie & Clyde movie, but shortly afterward Doug left the Dillards to be replaced by Herb Pedersen.

Folk-rock double-bill at the Valley Music Theatre, May 2, 1966.

The Dillards went on to record the brilliant Wheatstraw Suite with Herb, while Doug for a brief period joined the Byrds on the road when Gram Parsons was in the group during the Sweetheart of the Rodeo days. A live tape from the Piper Club in Rome, Italy, shows the collaboration of Roger McGuinn on guitar, Doug Dillard on banjo and Gram Parsons on keyboard going where no Country Rock had gone before or since, during a jam session on “My Back Pages”/”Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do”.

Doug then connected with the Byrds’ former lead singer and songwriter Gene Clark to also record what may have been the most important record of his career, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. Doug wrote songs with Gene and Bernie Leadon (previously of Hearts & Flowers, later with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Eagles) and the album, on A&M Records, was parallel with that other great Country Rock release on A&M around that time, the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin. While The Flying Burrito Brothers were practically a house band at Whisky a Go Go in ’69, Dillard & Clark, Poco and Linda Ronstadt’s band all played steadily that year nearby at The Troubadour. Country Rock became thee hot new sound in LA because of the energy whipped up by these four pioneering groups that year.


The original Dillard & Clark members recorded an entire Doug Dillard release on Together Records called The Banjo Album that extended that prime lineup for just a little bit. A second Dillard & Clark LP Through The Morning, Through The Night emphasized more covers than originals, but Byron Berline had joined to make things more interesting on the instrumental side. Clark left at the end of 1969 to go solo, and Doug Dillard later re-emerged with a second LP Duelin’ Banjo in 1973.

More recently Doug rejoined with Rodney Dillard for a nice money gig in Branson, Missouri, very near where they grew up, and a trip was made out to Los Angeles, where the Dillards (with fine replacements for Webb and Jayne) played McCabe’s in Santa Monica on February 2, 2009, sounding exactly like the original 1963 lineup must have at The Ash Grove.