The bluegrass, folk and country rock worlds are in mourning today with the death of banjo player Doug Dillard at the age of 75. A spokesman told AOL’s country blog, The Boot, that Dillard died Wednesday in Nashville following a lengthy illness.
Along with his brother Rodney, the Dillards would become one of the dominant acts during the acoustic music boom of the 1960s, also gaining prominence and widespread exposure as occasional guest stars on “The Andy Griffith Show” as the mountain family ‘The Darlings.’ He also left his mark on the country rock genre as half of Dillard & Clark, which he formed in 1968 with ex-Byrds frontman Gene Clark.
Born March 6, 1937 in Salem, MO, Dillard started playing guitar at age five, and began plucking the strings on 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 listener favorite on KSMO in Salem.
Dillard patterned his style after that of Earl Scruggs, and even had written fan letters to the legend during his formative musical years. According to his website, Dillard even had his father drive him to Scruggs’ home, where he asked him to install the Scruggs tuners on his banjo.
In 1958, the brothers Dillard recorded their very first record together, “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. With their sound finely tuned, 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 when 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 the the top-rated CBS series.
The weekly exposure led to other guest spots on TV shows, and even to slots on tours alongside of acts like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Carl Perkins, and the band even served as the opening act for Elton John on his first American tour in 1972.
In addition to his work with his brother, Doug also recorded many solo albums — starting with 1969’s The Banjo Album, and scored 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 players, Dillard was inducted into the SPBGMA Preservation Hall Of Fame ,and in 2009, the Dillards were inducted into the IBMA Hall Of Fame. Dillard had been ill for the past few months, and was taken to a Nashville hospital last night, where he passed away.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.