Rodney Dillard & The Dillards to rock Hall of Fame

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  • Doug Dillard
    American musician, composer and banjoist (1937-2012)

Jan. 14—Grammy nominated artist and International Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee Rodney Dillard will be performing with his full band, The Dillards, at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

"Since we are the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, we are always excited about hosting a Hall of Fame member who is still making new music and still performing at the top of their game. I think there's a lot to celebrate in that," said Chris Joslin, executive director. "We are very excited about hosting Rodney Dillard."

The current lineup consists of Dillard, banjo and guitar player Cory Walker, stand-up double bass player Dr. Gary J. Smith, fiddler and mandolinist George Giddens, and Dillard's wife and clawhammer-style banjo player Beverly Cotten-Dillard.

Dillard co-founded The Dillards with his brother, Doug Dillard, in the late 1950s.

Born into a musical family in Dent County, Missouri, the Dillard brothers decided to try their hand at a music career while Dillard was enrolled at Southern Illinois University while his brother worked as bookkeeper at a shoe company.

They took mandolin player Dean Webb and double bass player Mitch Jayne, along for the ride in a '55 Cadillac and $60 in their pocket.

"We weren't used to large sums of money like that," Dillard said. "We ran through it in about two months."

Dillard said the group made their way to Oklahoma City, making ends meet by doing a number of odd jobs before earning enough money to head out to Los Angeles.

"We drove in, checked into a motel on Melrose Avenue near a place called The Ash Grove, because that's where we knew there was a lot of ... things were happening," Dillard said. "It was the petri dish of the new intellectual culture there at the time."

Dillard recalls walking into The Ash Grove with their instruments and started playing in the lobby and were stopped mid-performance for good reason per request from the club's founder Ed Pearl.

"(There's) a guy that (came) up and said, 'Ed Pearl said you can't do this here. He said do it on stage,' " Dillard said. "We had an opportunity to go up and play and while we were doing this, there was a fellow by the name of Jim Dickson ... who was actually responsible for The Byrds ...."

The group and Dickson became acquaintances with one another and Dickson asked the group if they were interested in making a record, which the band immediately accepted.

The band was eventually signed to Elecktra after being introduced to founder and future Rock and Roll Hame of Fame inductee Jac Holzman.

Though the band was becoming popular with audiences, it was their appearance playing the musical hillbillies The Darling Boys on the popular CBS comedy series "The Andy Griffith Show" from 1963 to 1966 that brought The Dillards to the mainstream forefront.

"...They put a little blurb in Hollywood Variety Magazine ... and Andy Griffith and his people were looking at a script called 'The Darlings Are Coming' and he saw that we signed and in Variety, they put a thing that said 'Elektra Records signs these weird-looking guys from the Ozarks that play this really weird music,' " Dillard said. "Well, they didn't say 'weird' but they didn't understand bluegrass at the time."

The group auditioned for the show while they were in the midst of filming an episode.

"They stopped shooting and (Andy Griffith) and Bob Sweeney, the director, pulled up a folding chair in front of us and said 'Show us what you got,' " Dillard said. "So, we started picking and halfway through it, Andy said '...That's it.' I thought they were kicking us out, but he said, 'Where are you going? You got the job.' "

Dillard said the band was originally supposed to do one episode of the show but co-creator and executive producer Sheldon Leonard showed the group that they were being well-received from the viewers at home.

"Sheldon Leonard dropped a bunch of letters on the table after we'd done the first episode ...," Dillard said. "...He said, 'Each one of those letters represents 150,000 people.' "

The group eventually were coined "The Fathers of Country Rock" by Rolling Stone, where Dillard became one of the first bluegrass musicians to "electrify" traditional Bluegrass instruments by adding drums, steel guitar, and orchestra. The band also toured with Elton John on his first American tour in the early 70s.

"...The Dillards and Rodney specifically — it's not that they were just really solid bluegrass artists, they emerged at a time when I think the music scene in America was changing in the 60s ...," Joslin said. "They really had a tangible part in shaping that (by) being on the west coast and bringing ... bluegrass music and how they weave that together with folk music and emerging rock sounds ...."

Since then, Dillard has continued to record and play music over the last 50 years, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Recording for the track "Darlin' Boys" at the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards in 1990, the recipient of The Outstanding Missourian Award and was inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Dillards' most recent album, the 11-track "Old Road New Again," which was released in September 2020, includes a number of collaborations with other heavy hitters such as Don Henley, Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush. It is the group's first release in 25 years.

"I haven't stopped working since and I'm 79 years old," Dillard said. "I've been very blessed. It's been a great career ...."

In terms of motivation of what keeps him going, Dillard still isn't certain.

"....I have no answer," Dillard laughed. "...I'm still trying to figure that out. I don't know — it's there. It's part of my genetic predisposition .... It's a passion; it's something that I feel (and) I've done all my life and it's not habit — it goes beyond that and it goes into a spiritual thing, I suppose ...."

But, Dillard looks forward to making tomorrow's show a shared experience between the group and the crowd.

"I hope they walk away feeling good about what they've seen," Dillard said. "All of my life, I have been wanting to break down that wall between the audience and us on stage and get them to interact and be a part of it, not just observe. That's what I've always done ...."

"... There's some authenticity there with Rodney Dillard," Joslin said. "He's not in (the) studio trying to figure out what he can do next to delight people. It just comes as part of his DNA, so he's doing what really comes naturally, which is (him) just being creative and collaborative."

Tickets are still available at bluegrasshall.org. Bar and concessions will be available and there will be no COVID-19 restrictions in place for

this concert.

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