Doug Dillard, a virtuoso banjo player who gained his greatest national recognition as a member of the fictional Darling family on The Andy Griffith Show, died Wednesday (May 16) at a Nashville hospital following a lengthy illness. He was 75.
Born in Salem, Mo., he and his guitarist brother, Rodney, began performing at a young age with their parents’ band in the Ozarks. Influenced by Earl Scruggs’ three-fingered banjo style, he and Rodney moved to Nashville in the late ’50s and joined the Dixie Ramblers, a band that featured the late John Hartford. The brothers later worked as a duo, eventually adding mandolinist Dean Webb and bassist Mitch Jayne. As the Dillards, the band moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s, were signed to Elektra Records and released their debut album, Back Porch Bluegrass, in 1963.
Around the time they released their second album, Live!!! Almost!!!, in 1964, the associate producer of The Andy Griffith Show contacted Elektra to audition the band for the TV series. Referred to as the Darling Boys, the “family” also included veteran actor Denver Pyle as the father, Briscoe Darling Jr., and actress Maggie Peterson as his only daughter, Darlene.
During their semi-regular appearances on the show, Griffith encouraged the Dillards to perform their own material. In doing so, the group’s music was exposed to a mainstream national audience, and they made guest appearances on TV specials hosted by Judy Garland, Tennessee Ernie Ford and others.
Doug Dillard later teamed with Gene Clark, a former member of the Byrds, to blend country and rock into a style later popularized by bands such as the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and the Eagles. As the Dillard-Clark Exhibition and Dillard & Clark, they released several albums, including the A&M Records releases Fantastic Expedition and Through the Morning Through the Night.
In the ’70s, he recorded a series of solo albums for 20th Century and Flying Fish Records and also reunited with Rodney Dillard and Hartford as Dillard-Hartford-Dillard for Glitter Grass From the Nashville Hollywood Strings (1977) and Permanent Wave (1980).
As a session musician, Doug Dillard recorded with acts as diverse as Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Harry Nilsson, Linda Ronstadt, Kay Starr, Glen Campbell, the Monkees, Aztec Two Step and the Beach Boys.
He was inducted into the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s Hall of Greats in 1992. The Dillards were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2009.