The Dillards started off through the combination of Doug Dillard on banjo (East Street, Louis, Illinois) and Rodney Dillard on bass guitar (18 / 5 / 42) . The next to join in the late 60s was Dean Webb on mandolin (from Independance, a suburb of Kansas City). Completing the four piece was Mitch Jayne (bass).
Mitch On Bass
Mitch was the eldest of the group and had already led an eventful life. He had been in the US navy (a tail gunner on a bomber on an aircraft carrier). Leaving the navy he became a teacher. His wife came from Salem, and her memories of the countryside apparently led Mitch to live in the Ozark Mountains. When new qualification rules came in Mitch had to leave teaching. Next he became a disc jockey / radio announcer in Salem. It was here that he discovered the Dillards. He heard the first single (Banjo In The Willow) and liked it so much he kept playing it. Eventually he met the group. Mitch wanted to play, and he was taught bass guitar by Dean. His experience as a DJ enabled him to become the main spokesperson for the group.
Out To California
With the lineup complete the group decided to make their fortune in California (1962). The long trip was apparently arduous and slow. But when they got there they managed to sign with Electra (which started out as a 'folk' label before moving to 'folk rock'). They also became part of the Andy Griffith Show - playing the Darling family (dim country folk, who were virtuoso musicians - silent in speech but communicative in music). From 1963 to 1965 they combined their tv appearances with the making of three albums.
The Andy Griffith Show
I haven't viewed any of the episodes with the Dillards, but I've read up on their appearances. They only appear in 6 episodes (nos 88, 94, 96, 121, 139, 193). The first episode differs from the others in that the Dillards have a speaking role, and are given different first names. In later episodes they are mute and use their real christian names. In their episodes they create havoc. They visit the town of Mayberry and don't understand it's customs. Their own beliefs are shown to be ridiculous superstitions. This often revolves around marriage (trying to marry a girl in Mayberry, or marry off Charlene). They seem to be portrayed as naive but amorous and romantic folk. Essentially this is a romanticised urban view of mountain people. This natural way of life is most positively shown through their brilliant instinctive musicianship. Andy Griffith represents the bridge between the folk of Mayberry (and the actual tv audience) and the Dillards - he helps them out of scrapes, or gets himself out of them. Often he does this by in some way using some of the suspicions of the Dillards. Ultimately it's the musical tradition they bring with them that they are shown to be bring new and vibrant life to the town. Andy's trying to get to understand their customs, is almost a metaphor for their music. He is bridging the gap between two cultures and is bringing it to a city audience. Similarly the Dillards' attempt to marry into the Mayberry populace is a metaphor for their wish to interact with the urban culture (and even adapt their music to it). Distance between the two cultures is accepted through the laughter the Darlings provoke. With the 'difference' accepted the music is then free to be accepted on it's own terms. While the Dillards are acting a part - in it's representation of them bringing their music to a new audience it reflects reality.
The Dillards were not a traditional folk orientated band. Rosenberg explains that they were pitched towards the urban folk music market. Jayne's liner notes to the first album describes bluegrass in romantic terms, describing it as representing the rural heritage of America. He "understood the complexities of the music business and carefully shaped the image of the Dillards as real country boys to appeal to the folk revival audiences", he used " playful and urbane manipulation of hillbilly stereotypes and rural images" (Rosenberg p193). Purists denigrated the band's somewhat irreverent attitude - derived from their days as the Darling Family and Mitch's comic monologues. John Stewart said Mitch had "to be the most quoted man in Salem". Through their enjoyment of the music and comic interplay with the audience they helped make the music alive.
The Dillards then were never a traditional bluegrass group. In 1964 they had electrified their instruments at a bluegrass festival and in 1965 they toured with drummer Duey Martin (before he joined Buffalo Springfield, on the recommendation of Rodney to Stephen Stills). They had covered the Dylan song "Walkin Down Down The Line" (the vocal harmonies foreshadowing the later work), and on the 63 album they introduced the fiddler Byron Berline. Mitch on the 'Live' sleevenotes said "If a band sticks to time honoured approaches, it is stereotyped; if it seeks new approaches it becomes fair game for the tongue-chucking of the traditionalists. The answer, we think, is to do what comes naturally."
The Live!!!!Almost!!! album exemplifies their approach. Side 2 only seems to contain 2 traditional style bluegrass nos (the first track and Rodney's Harmonia break). The rest is a variety of styles: the modern folk of Dylan, trad folk in Pretty Polly, an old mountain song (Buckin Mule) and something from an 'earlier era' - Jody's Tune. The group show their adaptabilty not just in taking bluegrass into newer music, but also in transforming older material. This eclecticism reflects their desire to communicate with a wide audience and their superior creative capacity. All great music is eclectic.
The Andy Griffith Show persona is maintained in that most of the band are described in ridiculous terms by Mitch. They have no voice only their instruments. Mitch however stands apart - he acts as the bridge between the audience and the band (he takes the 'Andy Griffith role'). By relating facts about hillbilly life to the songs, he links the music to a specific lifestyle. These facts are then made into funny anecdotes. The town square is used for local trading (fact), but it has men spitting tobacco on the ground to make old ladies slip over. The privy is 100 yards from the house (fact), but it's too far in winter and too near in summer. As John Stewart says in the liner notes bluegrass can be like a museum. The way of life it represented was no doubt disappearing. As Mitch talks of bluegrass bands in the squares, he adds they are now normally electrified. The sense of loss in bluegrass songs probably relates to this. 'Never See My Home Again' relates to the Dillards own journey from their homeland as well as others'. Bluegrass can be kept alive not just through eclecticism and real life story connections to songs, but through humour, the unpredictable (Mitch isn't sure what will happen in 'Buckin'). As Mitch says earlier "madness strikes every 60 seconds". By the end the humour has gone beyond the interval between the songs to the Buckin Mule song itself. The creative unpredictability of the live show imparts new life to the music. Laughter is a means to connect with the audience, to make the music 'real' to them. As with the Andy Griffith show it's also a way of accepting difference as a first step to getting the audience to accept the music. Yet Mitch also joins in the laughter from the audience. So it also acts as cohesive force at the concert. For the Dillards their past mountain life is being left behind for the LA scene. This journey is reflected in their musical development
Doug Out Herb In - Two Masterpieces
According to John Tobler sibling rivalry surfaced over the development of their music. Doug wanted to keep to a more traditional bluegrass style (while Rod was moving towards rock/pop), so he left the group (to join, amongst over things, Dillard and Clarke) and was replaced by Herb Pederson.
Herb was from Northern California (Berkely), he had just returned from Nashville having deputised in the Flat-Scruggins group. He was subsequently described by Mitch as "that shy giant of a musician". Herb was an excellent banjoist like Doug, but also had a knack for producing fascinating compositions and arrangements. His vocal stylings changed the Dillards sound. He had a clear high tenor and had a knack for harmony vocals. They were under the same management as the Byrds and cross influence (eg "The Nototious Byrd Brothers") is likely. Jim Dickson (who produced the first 3 albums) said they were a big influence on Crosby, Stills and Nash. He said "we were one of the first groups ever to double vocals.........which was different and gave a more celestial sound" (Rosenberg p193). Herb was responsible for getting a polished double voiced sound. Rosenberg said the smoother sound was created by duplicating vocals. In turn this enabled the other instruments to be played at a higher volume. They also used an electric pickup for their accoustic instruments and by Wheatstraw Suite had added a drummer (Jimmmy Gordon - later Derek and The Dominoes - and Michael York) to the band. Other additions: an electric bass and a pedal steel guitar (Buddy Emmons). They used high string guitars (popular in Nashville). These replaced the bottom 3 strings with 3 an octave higher. The fuller sound that resulted veered more towards the rock/pop sound of the time, than their bluegrass origins. The music of the 60s was a tremendous melting pot of styles and the Dillards became one of the first country rock groups.
The variety of style and texture on WS showed a great progression. Accapella, traditional, pop covers, instrumental, orchestral sound (a 40 piece orchestra), guitar dominated tracks, banjo driven tracks. Despite the variety though no song seems out of place. It's been noticed that the influence of Sgt Pepper guided some of the music, the way one track led directly into the next (or even cross-faded). There were also 'sound collages', were a spoken word introduction is set against music. The return of the opening theme just before the last track is a clear homage to the Beatles (who are of course featured through the cover of I've Just Seen A Face). The cover shows a band of equality. The group members are features in the exact opposite order (front to back) on the back sleeve as on the front.
I'll Fly Away - A showcase for the harmonic unity and strength of the sound after the initial lone voice. It's a celebration of death as it's seen as a rebirth. This is symbolised in the song's recurring near the end of the album
Nobody Knows - The theme of self-deception and lack of knowledge is initiated.
Hey Boys - is a contrast to the last song. Knowledge - time passes, innocence lost experience gained. A fuller vocal sound suggests more certainty, also humour leads to next song.
Biggest Whatever - Mitch described how the group gave concerts - "A great deal of what we do is entertainment.... usually between songs we get acqainted with the audience...because bluegrass needs the warmth , the fun of a live audience to communicate itself to people who aren't familiar with it." The comic monologues / stories he gave were compared to Samuel Clemens. This again shows how the group appealed to the mainstream, and used spoken introductions to songs. This is a character song. Mitch's spoken introduction gives us a humorous angle, but it's also about the superstition of the country and the power of the imagination. The creativity of innocence. The humour of the group helps to lend their fictional past a distance. The more subjective emotional significance of memory can be expressed in other songs. The community is expressed here through a threat (imagined?) from outside. The story sounds like it's one of those mythical nonsense stories that would be passed down, and acquire a mythic awe (though here it's sent up). Apparently it was a send up of real stories circulating in the Ozarks.
Listen to the Sound - The warm sound of flute and strings and the smooth harmonies in the chorus. This song unites the different lands of sea and mountain. Along with this community a past is also evoked through the mention of sound and vibration. "You can hear the sound of far off places, echoes of a song in other days". "Sing to the wind and the will tell all of the things you never have seen".
Reason to Believe - Single lone voice, sings of separation and deception and self-deception ("I'd find a way to leave the past behind"). Rodney's use of vibrato in his vocal styling is a delight.
Little Pete - The innocence of the past is seen in this character. The relatively simple arrangement as with the next song suggests a less complex situation. The carefree pedal fills express a certain freedom.
Single Saddle - Single, but happy in nature, on the lone prarie.
I've Just Seen A Face - New love found - looks to the future.
Lemon Chimes - Back to sad memories, this song is a counterpart to Reason To Believe. "October leaves" and "Autumns Bells" clearly tell of Summer's passing. Loss is the main theme, but comfort is found in singing "simple songs of love that echo from other times". The catharsis may be through the linking of a lonely with a community of the past who have experienced similar feelings. As John Stewart said on the 'Live' sleevenotes of Rodney..."when he sings he makes you believe what he's singing...if he ever goes into politics we're in big trouble".
Don't You Cry - With it's rising string line this has a very positive contrast to the last song. It has long sweeping notes and is banjo driven. This links directly into the traditional instrumental - which feels like it springs naturally from what has come before. The confidence of being able to leave the sad past behind, and to flow along on the seven winds and seven seas is reflected in the freeing of the banjo and mandolin.
She Sang Hyms Out Of Tune - The second spoken introduction has a calmer feel than the first and is less dramatic, though there is still a comic undercurrent. Another magical character persona is introduced. She is seen to have some immortality ("she turned 10,000 when she touched the moon"). This is compared to the "clock on the wall" which "tells me how long she's been gone". Immortality seems assured through her song which is passed to the people. The fact that she sings hyms reflects the community spirit of this music, and its link to the past.
Copperfields followed the same formula but with differences - a Beatles cover (but no banjo this time), one accappella (but not traditional, a Beatles song), one instrumental (but more of a Latin / Mexican sound). A fully fledged producer was brought in and HP found Paul York to play drums, Estone added electric bass. Herbs influence may be seen as increasing even more on this album: with a song at the end of both sides, and the first 2 tracks of side 2 (including the title track). There are interesting minor toned songs like Brother John and In Our Time, that have a slight psychedelic feel. On the sleeve HP is given more prominence. On the front he is central and stands out in the colour scheme, on the back he is at the front.
Copperfields - This starts with the superstition of the country people and the power of nature (Rainmaker). Also the power of song.
In Our Time - This asks us to go back to "the time of our beginnings", to the time when the morning (start of day and our lives) will shine. The past is clearly linked to music - we have to recognise the drums of the past (not forget them). The music, movement and vibrations of wind and bells can take us back to the past.
The Old Man At The Mill - A traditional type song which was done early in the Dillards career. The mill represents continuity through its repeated actions and through this a kind of spell in which time stands still (the regular rhythm and harmonies of the chorus mirror this).
Touch Her If You Can - This again relates to superstition and a magical character. Firstly we are told - "nothing lasts for very long and no-one stops to listen for her song". But (again) song is seen as a means of linking back to the past - "she can sing you secrets you would never know". This character can transform the lives of people by relating their past to them through song - "she can light the emptiness of dreams with just a spark".
Woman Turn Around - takes us into the past as it relates to a romance which is dead. It's very much anchored in the present as it's tight energetic vocal harmonies suggest. This song is the equivalent of Close The Door Lightly on side 2.
Yesterday - This gives us a more sorrowful angle on the termination of a love affair. Instead of being lively and happy at the end of a relationship the man is sad at it's passing and wants to return to the past (linking to earlier songs). This contrasts to I've Just Seen A Face which depicted a new love found.
Brother John - Another figure of magical repetition like the Old Man At The Mill - each day Brother John climbs the bell (link to In Our Time) tower.
Copperfields - The sweeping title song relates to the town where one is born is also where one dies. This is a coming to terms with ones past, a cyclical return. "Do you have the Copperfield to play in when you're growing old?" - suggests as in "Touch Her If You Can" that some people forget their roots.
West Montana Hanna - Again, the upbeat feel of Woman Turn Around. Again it's a broken love affair. It refers to the previous song in that Hanna has left her roots and gone away. But she is pleased to find the picture of herself (earlier self?) in a song. Song's ability to help retain the past.
Close The Door Lightly - This suggests "don't look back, walk staight ahead". Memories only drift like the snow and engulf you.
Pictures - Loss through the passing of Summer to September, but there is also continuity, birth - death.
Ebo Walker - A fiddler who is always playing. Others think it is pointless, but he is in touch with the power of music.
Sundown - A calming instrumental, which seems to have a Mexican feel to the melody. The end of the day - links to the birth - death theme. A song of acceptance.
Astonishingly both albums failed to have any great commercial success. This may have led Elekra to allow the band to sign with Anthem (a UA subsidiary). The following two albums - Roots and Branches and Tribute to The American Duck were attempts to move more into the mainstream. The first sold more but the second had better material. Mitch retreated from touring and eventually left the band to go return to radio work in the Ozarks. Herb had left to be replaced by Billy Ray Latham - some say more bluegrass orientated. The group continued but moved to more specialist labels, and their profile further declined. Later albums included "The Dillards v The Incredible LA Time Machine", a dig against the music industry which hadn't given them the rewards they deserved. Then there was "Decade Waltz" which saw Herb rejoining the lineup (and a good HP song called "Easy Ride"). Later albums include 'Take Me Along For The Ride'.
Herb After The Dillards
Herb went onto various groups like Country Gazette, Desert Rose Band, work in Hollywood (music for TV - Dukes of Hazard, A Team) and session player (eg "Greivous Angel"), toured with John Denver and arranged the vocals on Trio (sung by Ronstadt, Harris and Parton). There are also 2 solo albums - Lonesome Blues (including 'It's Worth Believin') and Sandman.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org you have any comments, ideas, info.....I need info on the Herb Pederson interview in Frets 4 (Feb 1982) pages 24 to 27.