Fans of The Andy Griffith Show and the 30th anniversary reunion show in 2003 know Rodney and Doug Dillard for playing guitar and banjo, respectively, as brothers Rodney and Doug Darling in the hillbilly band The Darlings.
What many don't know is that the Missouri-born brothers are bluegrass music pioneers who grew up with John Hartford, toured with Elton John, appeared on other major network TV shows and recorded music for the movies The Rose and Bonnie and Clyde.
They also sang in New York City's Carnegie Hall in 2002 with their friends Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. Doug had a bit part in the movie Popeye and played on one of John Lennon's albums that Phil Spector produced. Rodney is an ordained preacher with a ministry, Mayberry Values in Today's World, at mayberryvalues.com.
On Saturday, May 6, they will make their first appearance at The Lewis Family's Homecoming & Bluegrass Festival. Festival hours are noon to 11 p.m. daily May 4-6 at Elijah Clark State Park on U.S. Highway 378, about 10 miles east of Lincolnton, Ga.
"It was in the '50s that urban intellectuals discovered folk people," 63-year-old Rodney said last week by phone from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he and his 67-year-old brother were preparing for a show at the University of Alabama. "But we didn't do bluegrass festivals until later because we were doing other things.
"We did play a lot of the folk scene, because we were just different enough that folk music fans seemed to like what we did. We injected a lot of humor in our shows, because that's how you sold an urban audience."
Growing up at "a wide place in the road" five miles from Salem, Mo., the brothers were influenced by area musicians, including Mr. Hartford, who played fiddle with their father.
"We had a farm near Salem, about 100 or some odd miles from St. Louis. Back in those days, you didn't find a lot of bluegrass pickers, so you sort of sought them out when you heard about them. That was how Douglas and John and I began picking together as kids," Mr. Dillard said.
The brothers, with Dean Webb on mandolin and Mitch Jayne on upright bass, moved to California in 1962 and were signed to Elektra Records. They played The Darlings on The Andy Griffith Show and appeared on six episodes, in 1963, 1964 and 1966. The "father" was actor Denver Pyle, later to become famous as Uncle Jesse on the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard.
In 1966, they recorded music with an orchestra for the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty movie Bonnie and Clyde.
"Some of the music just didn't really sound authentic," Mr. Dillard said. "I felt this tug on me, and it was Warren Beatty asking, 'What's wrong with this?' I said, 'You know it ought to be just bluegrass music at this point.'
"Not much was said after that, and we went on and finished what we did. The next thing, when I went to see the premiere, Warren Beatty came up to me and said he had put this old Flatt and Scruggs recording in the movie."
That recording was the Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs classic Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which gave bluegrass music a huge boost when the movie became a hit.
At about that same time, the Dillard brothers were working on a project with their friend Glen Campbell, then doing studio session work in Los Angeles.
"Glen and I and Douglas took a break, and Glen started talking about John Hartford, who had just recorded a song he wrote called Gentle on My Mind. It was just starting to be played a lot in southern California," Mr. Dillard said. "Glen said, 'I'm going to record that song next Monday. Douglas, do you want to play banjo on it?' and Douglas said, 'Yes.'
"That's how the creative process happens. Sometimes things just come together like that, and musical history is made."
Don Rhodes has written about country music for 35 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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