Cover photo for Douglas Dillard's Obituary
Douglas Dillard Profile Photo
1960 Douglas 2013

Douglas Dillard

March 6, 1960 — May 16, 2013

Born in East St. Louis, Il on March 6, 1960 Departed on May 16, 2013 and resided in Nashville, TN

Bluegrass Banjo Legend Doug Dillard Has Died
Member of Groundbreaking Dillards and Mayberry's Darlings
NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 18, 2012—Bluegrass banjo virtuoso Doug Dillard died here on Wednesday, May 16, 2012, after a long illness. His wife, Vikki, was at his bedside. He was 75.
It was stated a few years back that, whenever people in the bluegrass music world start counting the all-time great banjo pickers on one hand, Earl Scruggs is always the thumb, and Doug Dillard is always the index finger. Doug's dazzling picking entertained and inspired generations of fans and fellow musicians across all genres, from the Ozarks and Hollywood to Mayberry and Carnegie Hall.
Douglas Flint Dillard, the second of three sons in the musical family of Lorene and Homer Earl Dillard, Sr., was born March 6, 1937, in East St. Louis, Ill., and grew up in Salem, Mo. Doug started playing guitar at age five and fiddle around the same time, and he picked up his first banjo, a Kay model that was a Christmas present from his parents, at the age 15.
Doug learned his own style of three-finger picking by listening to the early recordings of Earl Scruggs, Don Reno and Ralph Stanley. Doug often recalled the first time he heard the music of Earl Scruggs. "I was driving down the road with the radio on. All of a sudden, I heard this incredible banjo music. I got so excited that I drove off the road and down into a ditch. I had to be towed out." That was the beginning of one of the longest lasting admiration societies in music. Earl Scruggs was Doug's banjo hero.
Young Doug wrote Earl a personal letter in which he asked, "Is sixteen too young to learn the banjo?" Earl graciously replied and supplied the needed encouragement. Doug then pestered his parents into driving him to Scruggs' home in Madison, Tenn., some five hundred miles away from Salem. With courage not usually found at that young age, Doug boldly walked up to Scruggs' front door and rang the bell. He introduced himself and asked Earl to install "Scruggs tuners" on his banjo. Earl kindly installed them and even brought out this own banjo for Doug to inspect. He also gave Doug a couple of finger picks and showed him some techniques for using them.
In 1956, Doug played banjo on the local weekly radio show hosted by Howe Teague on KSMO in Salem. From 1956 to 1959, Doug and younger brother Rodney, along with Bill Glenn, Henry and Jim Lewis, and Paul Breidenbach, formed The Ozark Mountain Boys. Mitch Jayne, a local radio personality and future member of The Dillards, invited the band to play on "Hickory Hollow," his Saturday morning radio show on KSMO. Doug also played banjo for The Hawthorn Brothers, and during that time he appeared on television with the group Lee Mace and the Grand Ozark Opry.
In 1958, Doug and Rodney joined Joel Noel and The Dixie Ramblers. Based in St. Louis, this band featured John Hartford, Buddy Van Hoosier and Joel Noel. Shortly after joining The Dixie Ramblers, Doug and Rodney began recording for Mario Records K-Ark Records a St. Louis based record label. Their first single was "Banjo in the Hollow." Three more releases followed.
Soon thereafter billed as The Dillard Brothers, Doug and Rodney began to perform on their own. Doug and Rodney met Dean Webb, a masterful and intuitive mandolin player from Independence, Mo. Next came Mitch Jayne, the radio announcer at KSMO in Salem who by this time had been friends with Doug and Rodney for a few years. With the help of Doug, Rodney and Dean, Mitch learned to play the bass fiddle. Mitch had a very keen wit, original down-home Ozark humor and a sense of natural comedic timing, all of which, when combined with his bass playing, rounded out the sound, look and personality of The Dillards.
In 1962, The Dillards played their debut show at Washington University in St. Louis. That first performance as The Dillards held such high energy that the crowd roared and stomped with enthusiasm over the sheer passion of the playing and singing by The Dillards onstage. Bluegrass music had finally arrived on the college campus.
The Dillards knew then that they must go to Hollywood and bring their special sound to the music world at large. They left Salem in pursuit of a recording career in the big city. Doug reasoned that if the group's music career didn't pan out, he could always fall back on the accounting expertise he had from his studies at Washington University and his work experience as a bookkeeper. At that time, most country music was produced and recorded in Nashville. Country music and bluegrass music were virtually nonexistent in Hollywood.
Once The Dillards arrived in Los Angeles, they discovered the burgeoning folk scene that was happening at a club called The Ash Grove. The Dillards took their instruments up onto the stage one night for the club's customary after-hours jam session. Jim Dickson, an A&R man from Elektra Records, happened to be there and witnessed this incredibly talented new group fresh from the Ozarks. By the next night, The Dillards were signed to a multi-album recording contract with Elektra.
Richard O. Linke, Andy Griffith's manager and an associate producer of "The Andy Griffith Show," spotted the announcement of the record deal in Variety magazine. Linke contacted Elektra Records and arranged to audition the band for the "Griffith" show, which was looking for the right group to play a musically inclined backwoods mountain family. They were signed immediately as recurring performers, along with Denver Pyle, who played father Briscoe, and Margaret Ann Peterson, who played the boys' sister, Charlene. Together they became the rustic and beloved Darlings of Mayberry.
Whenever possible, Andy Griffith graciously allowed and encouraged The Dillards to perform their own tunes on the show. When Andy heard one of Doug's original instrumentals, he asked what it was called. When Doug said it didn't really have a name yet, Andy christened it "Doug's Tune." It would become one of the signature banjo instrumentals in all of bluegrass.
The Dillards, rarely saying an audible word of dialogue, appeared and performed music as the Darling boys in six episodes of the "Griffith" show between 1963 and 1966, and in doing so helped to introduce the urban American television audience to the special brand of mountain music that The Dillards performed. With their high energy, musical talent and lively presentation, The Dillards brought bluegrass music and mountain culture directly to the large audience for one of America's top-rated television shows.
The Dillards also made many guest appearances on other high-profile TV shows, including "The Judy Garland Special" and "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Special." They likewise were a hit at the Newport Folk Festival, Monterey Folk Festival, UCLA Folk Festival and New York Folk Festival. The Dillards during this time and later toured with Elton John, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Carl Perkins and many others. On their tour of the United Kingdom, they received The Edison Award for their excellence in music.
Not long after The Dillards finished work on acclaimed albums with Glen Campbell and Byron Berline, Doug decided to part musical ways with the group. He wanted to explore some new musical territories, and he hooked up with The Byrds for their first European tour.
After the tour, Doug and ex-Byrd front man Gene Clark teamed up to form a completely new sound, a blend of back-hills country and rock music. The band at this time consisted of Bernie Leadon, Mike Clarke, Byron Berline, David Jackson, John Corneal, Don Beck and Donna Washburn. Doug and Gene Clark recorded several landmark albums as The Dillard-Clark Expedition and as Dillard & Clark. In 1969, Doug recorded the critically celebrated Banjo Album. Other solo projects followed in the early 1970s.
Doug signed as a regular cast member on "Music Country USA," a Nashville based television show on which he performed the theme song "Runaway Country." He also had a recurring guest spot on "The Dean Martin Show." In the late 1970s, Doug reunited with childhood pal John Hartford and with brother Rodney Dillard to record albums in Nashville for Flying Fish Records.
In 1979 Doug recorded as a solo artist for Flying Fish and released two classic banjo albums, Jackrabbit and Heaven. After moving to Nashville in 1982, Doug formed The Doug Dillard Band with Ginger Boatwright on vocals. Key members of the band over the years included David Grier, Roger Rasnake, Jonathan Yudkin and Kathy Chiavola. The band recorded a couple of albums, including their 1988 release, Heartbreak Hotel, which was produced by Rodney Dillard and nominated for a Folk-Bluegrass Grammy Award.
Doug Dillard's extensive session work included albums with Hoyt Axton, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Vassar Clements, Harry Nilsson, Bob Lind, Linda Ronstadt, Kay Starr, John Hartford, Glen Campbell, The Monkees, Aztec Two Step, Gene Clark with The Gosden Brothers, The Byrds, Judie Sill, Jess Pearson, James Lee Stanley, Steven Fromholz, Tom Pacheco, Michael Melford, Paul Hann, Michael Martin Murphey, Woody Guthrie, Ray Park, John Anderson, Larry Groce, Michael Nesmith, Ron Davies, Jim Ringer, Millenium, Hayseed, Larry Perkins, Byron Berline, Doug Kershaw, The Beach Boys and Ginger Boatwright.
Doug also worked on numerous motion pictures—both scoring and performing in many, such as Bonnie and Clyde, Junior Bonner, Vanishing Point and 1980's Popeye during which Doug suffered a near-fatal fall that left him in a coma for weeks.
Doug was a headliner with his Doug Dillard Band for every Mayberry Days festival held to date in Andy Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., each September since 1990. He was the only performer to participate in every Mayberry Days—22 in all—through 2011.
Doug and The Dillards received countless professional honors and accolades through the years. Perhaps most special of all was when Doug and his three fellow original Dillards members were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in October 2009. Longtime friend John McEuen, a banjo disciple of Doug's and a founder of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, presented The Dillards with the honor. Original Dillards member Mitch Jayne died on August 2 the following year.
Doug was married to singer-songwriter Vikki Sallee-Dillard of Nashville. They were partners and best friends and had many happy years together. Doug was preceded in death by his parents, Lorene and Homer Earl Dillard, Sr. In addition to his wife, survivors include: older brother Homer Earl Dillard, Jr. and wife Halene, of St. Louis, Mo., niece, Earlene Sissy, nephew, Earl J.; younger brother Rodney Adean Dillard and wife Beverly Cotten-Dillard of Branson, Mo., niece, Rachel, nephew, Brian; stepdaughters Kelley Snead of Thompson's Station, Tenn., and Kristi Ritson of Peachtree City, Ga., and grandchildren; as well as numerous cousins, great nieces and nephews; and his beloved dog, Venus.
Funeral services will be held on Thursday, May 24, at 1 p.m. in the chapel at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home, 9090 Highway 100 in Nashville. Burial will follow onsite at Harpeth Hills Memorial Garden at 3:30 p.m. Visitation with the family will be on Wednesday, May 23, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Douglas Dillard Legacy Fund, PO Box 90537, Nashville, TN 37209.
Editor's Note: Much of the information in this story is adapted, sometimes verbatim, from the biographical notes written by Dillards music publisher Lynne Robin Green for www.dougdillard.net.

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