The Dillards

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One of the leading lights of progressive bluegrass in the '60s, the Dillards played a major part in modernizing and popularizing the sound of bluegrass, and were also an underappreciated influence on country-rock. The group was founded by brothers Doug (banjo) and Rodney Dillard (guitar), who grew up in Salem, MO, playing music together. During the late '50s, they appeared often on local radio and performed with several different area bands, including the Hawthorn Brothers, the Lewis Brothers, and the Dixie Ramblers; they also recorded a couple of singles for the St. Louis-based K-Ark label as the Dillard Brothers in 1958. In 1960, they decided to form their own group, recruiting DJ pal Mitch Jayne on bass, as well as mandolin player Dean Webb. Christening themselves the Dillards, the quartet decided to move to Los Angeles in 1962, and were quickly signed to Elektra after being discovered at a gig with the Greenbriar Boys. Not long after, the group landed a recurring role on The Andy Griffith Show, appearing in several episodes over the next few years as a musically inclined hillbilly family called the Darlings.Meanwhile, the Dillards released their debut album, Back Porch Bluegrass, in 1963, and also teamed up with Glen Campbell and Tut Taylor for the side project the Folkswingers, who went on to release two albums. The Dillards' second album, 1964's concert set Live! Almost!, captured their controversial move into amplified electric instruments, which was considered heresy by many bluegrass purists; they also began to tour with rock groups, most notably the Byrds. In response to purist criticism, the group followed Live! Almost! in 1965 with the more traditional Pickin' & Fiddlin', which featured co-billing for fiddler Byron Berline. Dissatisfied with the way Elektra was marketing them, the Dillards switched labels to Capitol, but found a similar lack of kindred spirits in the producers they worked with there, and wound up returning to Elektra without releasing an album. Meanwhile, Doug and Rodney were increasingly at odds over the group's creative direction, with Rodney pursuing a more radical break with tradition than Doug. Doug moonlighted in the backing band for ex-Byrd Gene Clark's groundbreaking collaboration with the Gosdin Brothers, and after he and Rodney recorded some material for the Bonnie & Clyde film soundtrack in 1967, he decided to leave the Dillards and strike out on his own.Doug soon teamed up with Gene Clark as Dillard & Clark and recorded some highly regarded material before starting a solo career that remained productive through the '70s. Rodney, meanwhile, replaced his brother with banjoist Herb Pedersen, and the Dillards recorded what many critics regard as their masterwork, Wheatstraw Suite. Released in 1968, the album displayed Rodney's progressive eclecticism in full cry, featuring fuller instrumentation and covers of the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" and Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe." Though it wasn't a hit, critics and musicians praised its unpredictable mix of bluegrass, country, folk, rock, and pop. 1970's Copperfields took a similarly adventurous approach, and drummer Paul York became an official member of the group. Unfortunately, Elektra was still somewhat mystified by their music, and they parted … Read More

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