The Dillards

Walk Right In12 String Guitar
LibertyLive!!!! Almost!!!!
I've Just Seen A FaceWheatstraw Suite
Listen To The SoundWheatstraw Suite
She Sang Hymns Out Of TuneWheatstraw Suite
The Biggest WhateverWheatstraw Suite
Ebo WalkerCopperfields
Caney CreekTribute To The American Duck



Contributor: Peter Viney

It was late 1971. Woolworths used to be Britain’s biggest record retailer, and they had cut-out bins with stacks of LPs at 30p. They’d have them out for a few weeks, put them away and bring them out again for the next “Sale”. There were a lot of the same ones in the bin, and they’d had them a while as cut-outs, because they had 6/- stickers under the 30p ones. I’d vaguely heard of The Dillards being in the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo/Gilded Palace Of Sin area. Wheatstraw Suite. 30p? Worth a punt. We took it home and listened … it’s a mere 27 minutes long … and went straight back to Woolworths and bought the other half-dozen copies and gave them as Christmas presents … we left the stickers on. All these years later, it’s a playlist on the iPod in the car and used at least two or three times a year when we can’t agree on what to listen to.

It was recorded in 1968 when the band wanted to try something more commercial. They had been going for several years, with two brothers, Rodney Dillard on guitar and Doug Dillard on banjo, plus Dean Webb on mandolin and Mitch Jayne on stand-up bass. They added Buddy Emmons on pedal steel, with a top session rhythm section of Joe Osborn on bass guitar and Jim Gordon on drums for Wheatstraw Suite. Doug Dillard was unhappy about the commercial country-rock move and quit, being replaced by Herb Pedersen, who played guitar as well as banjo and shared lead vocals. Having quit, Doug Dillard joined up with Gene Clark as Dillard & Clark and started making records that are pretty much indistinguishable from the Dillards new sound. That’s for another Toppermost though.

I’d happily take the whole album, but restricting myself, The Beatles cover I’ve Just Seen A Face is taken at a breakneck bluegrass speed. The Biggest Whatever is a hilarious but also catchy novelty song, and the Herb Pedersen/Mitch Jayne Listen To The Sound is cool country streams. She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune is beautifully plaintive. Reason To Believe is the Tim Hardin song, done completely differently to the Rod Stewart version, but I’ll keep it to four.

Wheatstraw Suite was their fourth album, and so led me to explore backwards. Back Porch Bluegrass (1963), Live!!!! Almost!!!! (1964) and Pickin’ And Fiddlin’ (1965) are bluegrass, the last enlivened when they recruited Byron Berline on fiddle, though it’s the straightest bluegrass of the lot.

Live!!!! Almost!!!! (yes, four exclamation marks) took my attention because you can see the sense of self-parody that crops up in Wheatstraw Suite coming into play. Liberty is great show-off instrumental bluegrass, but if you can play like that, flaunt it. It’s in Toppermost to represent that side of them, though Elektra chose the equally brilliant playing on Black Mountain Rag for the label retrospective Forever Changing. There Is A Time gives its title to a compilation CD covering 1963-70.

Then I went back further again to 12 String Guitar by The Folkswingers in 1963. That’s three-quarters of The Dillards (Rodney, Doug and Dean Webb) with Glen Campbell on 12-string guitar running through instrumental versions of well-known folk standards (Wildwood Flower, Wabash Cannonball) with contemporary folk hits like Blowin’ In The Wind and Walk Right In. I think it counts as a Dillards album, though Glen Campbell is mainly at the forefront.

Copperfields gets us back to 1970, and was the follow up to Wheatstraw Suite with Byron Berline rejoining them. It’s the other essential album. The title track Copperfields is first choice from it with orchestral backing. They get through an unaccompanied Yesterday without hanging about, in 1 minute 7 seconds. Ebo Walker is good high-steppin’ bluegrass with a lovely vocal blend, and lots of Berline on fiddle. I had to toss a coin between Rainmaker and Close The Door Lightly When You Go.

Roots And Branches in 1972 is the nearest they got to a hit album. They dropped the elaborate arrangements of the previous two, and beefed up the rhythm section. To match the sound they dropped the “The”. It’s just Dillards. Herb Pedersen left and was in great demand for sessions. Man Of Constant Sorrow was done acapella.

Tribute To The American Duck in 1973 features Billy Ray Latham on electric guitar, and Caney Creek is the choice.

Mountain Rock in 1978 was a German Audiophile direct-to-disc recording reprising some older stuff like I’ve Just Seen A Face, Reason To Believe and Caney Creek.

A Long Time Ago came out in 1999, with a live Los Angeles gig from 1963. Everything is short with long intros. Cripple Creek is a banjo showcase. Old Blue (which everyone’s done) is better than their later versions. But this is really straight bluegrass, without the magic they added on Wheatstraw Suite and Copperfields.

They’re still going, with only Rod Dillard left, but their moment in the sun was 1968 to 1973.

Picking out CDs, Pickin’ And Fiddlin’, Wheatstraw Suite and Copperfields are on a “3 classics on 2 CDs” set.

The Dillards Official Facebook Page

The Dillards biography (iTunes)

Peter’s selection is in chronological order. Solo Dillards? Just two albums from Dillard & Clark, but what albums, and another toppermost as Peter says. Doug Dillard, several solo and with others. Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band. All mighty welcome, and bluegrass bands in general … more please!

TopperPost #109

1 Comment

  1. Kasper Nijsen
    Oct 29, 2013

    This is great. To be honest, I only knew these guys from the Gene Clark / Dillard & Clark connection, but I’m listening to Copperfields now, and really like both the title song and also West Montana Hannah so far.

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