Show #11: THE DILLARDS - Full Audio & Transcript
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The following interview with folk music group The Dillards was broadcast July 20 & 23, 1963 from New York City on worldwide short-wave radio. This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide hosted by newsman This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide hosted by newsman Alan Wasser.

Featuring four song performances: "Reuben's Train"; "Old Joseph"; "Polly Vaughn"; and "Doug's Tune".

Back Porch Bluegrass (1963)
Debut album by The Dillards

photo: Alan Wasser


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MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): Here is Radio New York Folk Music Worldwide. A program devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world. Showcasing the top performers and authorities in the field. Now your host for Folk Music Worldwide, Alan Wasser.

ALAN WASSER (HOST): With us today is a new group of bluegrass musicians called The Dilliards. We'll be talking to them and finding out where they get their material, and how they do it.

But first, why don't we listen to a selection of their music called Reuben's Train.

[Song performance 1 of 4: "Reuben's Train" by The Dillards]:


You could hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.

Old Reuben made a train and he put it on a track
He ran it to the Lord knows where.

Oh me, oh my, you could hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.

Lord, you oughta been in town and heard that train come down
You could hear the whistle blow 100 miles.
Oh me, oh my, you could hear the whistle blow 100 miles.

Well, I've been to the East, I've been to the West
I'm going where the chilly winds don't blow.
Oh me, oh my, you could hear the whistle blow 100 miles.

Oh me, oh my, you could hear the whistle blow 100 miles.

Oh me, oh my, you could hear the whistle blow 100 miles.

(end of music)

ALAN: That was Reuben's Train, as done by The Dillards on their album Backporch Bluegrass.

Let's meet The Dillards now. First, let me introduce their spokesman and bass player, Mitchell Jayne.

MITCHELL JAYNE (GUEST): Thank you very much, Al. I'd like to introduce the other boys. On my right here is Rodney Dillard, and Dean Webb who plays the mandolin.

Rodney plays the guitar, of course, and does most of the singing. And Doug Dillard, who's our banjo picker.

ALAN: You guys were all from the same area of Missouri, right?

MITCHELL JAYNE: The Dillards and myself are from a small town about 70 miles from the Arkansas line called Salem, Missouri. Dean's from a little bit north of us, Independence, Missouri.

ALAN: Had you known each other before you got together as a musical group?

MITCHELL JAYNE: Yes, for quite some time. I live about 5 miles southeast of Salem. I have a farm there, and the Dillard boys come from a farm about that far south of Salem.

Like most musicians in the Ozarks, especially people who are interested in Bluegrass, we had gotten together for a long time previous to that. As a matter of fact, I've known the Dillard boys since about 1952.

ALAN: On the album, it says Reuben's Train is an example of the "Dillard's sound". What is the Dillard's sound?

MITCHELL JAYNE: That's a good question, Al. I don't know, Rod, do you'd feel qualified to tell him what the "Dillard's sound" is?

Rodney and Doug Dillard
Rodney and Doug Dillard (The Dillards)
Huck Finn Festival - June 16, 2007

flickr / Bret Stewart

RODNEY DILLARD (GUEST 2): I guess when you sing the way you feel, in your own style, that is your own sound. The songs that we do on this album are songs that sort of float around the Ozarks.

Different people sing these songs. We pick them up and put our arrangements to them, or maybe do them in the old style.

ALAN: You learned them around your own home, growing up?

RODNEY DILLARD: Yes, around my parents and my relations. We used to play for square dances and different things.

ALAN: Another song I see here is Old Joseph. Where's that from, or do you know anything about it?

MITCHELL JAYNE: Doug and Dean were the two fellows who worked that out. Suppose you tell him, gentlemen.

DOUG DILLARD (GUEST 3): It's kind of a screwball arrangement on an old fiddle tune, Old Joe Clark. We use a de-tuning on the mandolin, similar to Bill Monroe's "Get Up John" tuning he uses.

We play the tune in this tuning, and it comes out sounding different, so we call it a little different name there.

ALAN: Let's listen to Old Joseph, then.

[Song performance 2 of 4: "Old Joseph" by the Dillards]:
(Instrumental - no lyrics)

ALAN: That was Old Joseph, as arranged by The Dillards.

There's something interesting about these guys. I've been sitting with them for quite awhile, and they're all in unusual outfits.

Most people you see around New York are in ties and white shirts and jackets. These guys are still in blue jeans and sport shirts; haircuts a bit more standard in Missouri.

Is this part of the act, or do you feel like staying this way?

MITCHELL JAYNE: What you mean by the haircuts is that we haven't had any, we know. I think we have individual feelings about what we wear and how we look.

We do want to try and give as natural an appearance like the part of the country we come from as we can without having to make a studied thing out of it. So we just sort of dressed the way we always did at home. As far as what we wear on stage, we have I guess you could call it a costume if you want.

It's a problem in Bluegrass today to figure out how to dress so that you can keep your own personality. Because most Bluegrass groups run the gamut from the sequin suits with flamingos and things on the front down to shirts and ties and big cowboy hats.

Our music, just like the Dillard family, goes back an awful long way. Consequently, we've tried to reflect both the dress and the music of a period that was probably in the late 1800's. Consequently, on stage we wear buckskin shirts which gets pretty hot, I assure you, at times.

I think in our everyday dress we try to reflect the part of the country we come from, without shaming anybody.

Down home, we have a tendency to let our hair get a little bit long. There's not too much to cut it for in the wintertime. You need a little something back there.

ALAN: Let's get another song in here, while we've got time. How about Polly Vaughn. Anybody want to say something about that before we play it?

MITCHELL JAYNE: This is a song that's quite different from what most Bluegrass outfits are doing. It's one reason we have a tendency to refer to our music both kiddingly among ourselves and also to people who are interested in as "Dillard Grass", because we don't copy anybody's style.

We don't copy anybody's songs. I think if there's any strength in what we're doing, that's where it lies. The fact that most of the material we're doing is either written ourselves, or it has come naturally from the peculiar heritage of our part of the country.

Polly Vaughn is a folk song in the best sense of the word. Down in our part of the country you always have two or three old women who live up in some steep side hollow who are able to sing some of these old songs, usually very well.

We kept the words and kept the tune to this old song and have tried to give it the Dillard Grass sound. We think the words are real interesting, it's a good story, and that song hasn't been done enough. We hope you like Polly Vaughn.

ALAN: Let's hear, then, Polly Vaughn.

[Song performance 3 of 4: "Polly Vaughn" by The Dillards]:


Now come all ye hunters who follow the gun
Beware of your shooting at the setting of the sun.
For Polly's own true love he shot in the dark
But oh and alas Polly Vaughn was his mark.

For she'd her apron wrapped about her and he took her for a swan
Oh, and alas, it was she Polly Vaughn.

He ran up beside her and saw that it was she
Cried "Polly, oh Polly, have I killed thee"?
He lifted up her head and saw that she was dead
And a fountain of tears for his true love he shed.

For she'd her apron wrapped about her and he took her for a swan
Oh, and alas, it was she Polly Vaughn.

In the middle of the night Polly Vaughn did appear
Cried "Jimmy, oh Jimmy, you must have no fear.
Just tell them you were hunting when your trial day has come
And you won't be convicted for what you have done."

For Id my apron wrapped about me and you took it for a swan
Oh, and alas, it was me Polly Vaughn.

In the middle of the trial, Polly Vaughn did appear
Crying "Uncle, oh Uncle, Jimmy Randall must go clear".
The lawyers and the judges stood around in a row
In the middle, Polly Vaughn, like some fountain of snow.

For she'd her apron wrapped about her and they took her for a swan
Oh, and alas, it was she Polly Vaughn.

Oh, and alas, it was she Polly Vaughn.

(end of music)

ALAN: That was Polly Vaughn, as done by The Dillards. Doug, I see on the album there are 32 banjo pickers, numerous fiddlers, and guitar players in the immediate ancestry. These are all Dillards?

DOUG DILLARD: Yes, most of them were Dillards and cousins, distant cousins.

Our father is an old time fidder. He's a pretty good old time fiddler from Tennessee. All our people and relations came from Tennessee to live in Missouri.

ALAN: What do they think about a group of the Dillard boys coming off to New York and the big time circuit?

DOUG DILLARD: They're proud of us.

ALAN: We'll be back talking to The Dillards in a moment, but first let's get this message.

(Commercial break)

ALAN: This is Alan Wasser again, back at Folk Music Worldwide on Radio New York. We're talking to The Dillards, backporch bluegrass singers, as it says on their album. We'll be talking to them again in a moment.

First let's say this. We've been getting some letters from around the world from various listeners, always anxious in getting more. We want to know if there's anybody out there listening to us.

Just write in to me, Alan Wasser, or to the show Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York Worldwide, New York 19, USA. If you didn't get the address, Mel Bernum will give it to you again at the end of the show.

Let's get back to The Dillards and talk to them some more on their music and part of the country. You do instrumentals and vocals. Which do you prefer to do?

MITCHELL JAYNE: We try to get a pretty good balance of both, because there are people who like both. The college kids are the ones who are becoming the most interested in the fast banjo picking, the instrumentals.

Of course, the songs are worth reproducing. We have a lot of songs that we've tried and decided we didn't want to do.

But the few songs that we come up with we feel are the best selection we could make for what we do. I think we have about an equal number of instrumentals and vocals.

ALAN: Which instruments do you use?

MITCHELL JAYNE: Almost exclusively, and here in New York, we've used the bass, the banjo, the guitar, and the mandolin. We don't have a fiddler.

The mandolin, of course, is tuned like a fiddle and does a lot of the old fiddle tunes real well. Dean is an excellent mandolin player.

For instance, tunes like Old Joseph have almost always been done with a fiddle. This also gets back to what the "Dillard's sound" is. The Dillard's sound is sort of bluegrass without the fiddle, I'd say, letting the mandolin do the job.

dobro guitar
Clinesmith Dobro Guitar
flickr / Charles Knowles

RODNEY DILLARD. We also use the Dobro once in awhile. We used a Dobro on one of the cuts of this album. But unfortunately my Dobro is gone now, so we don't use it much anymore.

ALAN: What's a Dobro?

RODNEY DILLARD: It's the Edsel of the guitar family, as Mitch calls it. It was the first attempt at trying to amplify a musical instrument.

It is done by having a duraluminum cone in the center of it which resonates and gives it a real twangy sound, a real corny sound you might say.

ALAN: And you're not using this anymore?

RODNEY DILLARD: No. We put it on one cut of the album, it's on there.

ALAN: I'm surprised. I never thought of a mandolin as a bluegrass instrument. I always think of it as an old European sort of instrument. Is it common in Missouri?

MITCHELL JAYNE: It is a European instrument, but you have to remember that Bill Monroe is the man who coined the term "bluegrass" and developed the bluegrass sound into what it is.

And Bill Monroe is a mandolin player primarily. Dean could tell you a lot more about the mandolin than I could. It's an Italian instrument, isn't it Dean?

DEAN WEBB (GUEST 4): Yes, that's true. I don't know much to say about it.

MITCHELL JAYNE. Well, I don't know where it came from, I mean I don't know how it got here, but it's such an integral part of bluegrass that you couldn't have a bluegrass band without a mandolin.

ALAN: Dean, where'd you learn how to play it?

DEAN WEBB: Just listening to Monroe and most of the other players. That's what inspired me to want to play that instrument.

ALAN: Was it a local instrument before made it popular? Or did he introduce it?

DEAN WEBB: He heard a few mandolin pickers down in that part of the country, but he more or less pioneered the style of playing it.

ALAN: I see. Doug's Tune, now what instruments are used in that one?

MITCHELL JAYNE: Primarily the banjo. Doug wrote that tune himself, which is of course why we ran across that novel name for it. I don't know whether Doug had this formulated in his mind - I guess I could ask him, come to think of it - but it's a little different thing than is done on the banjo nowadays.

How did you come up with that, Douglas?

DOUG DILLARD: These tunes that I come up with, I usually don't think about them too much in advance. I usually just play them as they come to me. I'm just sort of inspired from here and there, and sort of pick them out of the hat.

MITCHELL JAYNE: This is true of almost everything we play, Al. This is a very inspirational type of music, if you can use that without making it sound like religious terminology.

We've run across more and more people who have learned this music from other people and have learned it from other bands. This, I think more with The Dillards, than with many groups that we've met, is a family type thing.

You have heard it for so many years, this is the music you were raised with, born with. That's why, as Doug says, it has to be inspirational. You can't sit down and say, "Today I'm going to write a banjo tune. It will have such-and-such type of rhythm and so on."

You sit around and you pick until you get a good sound, and then the guitar picker gets an idea and he falls in behind you, and first thing you know you've put something together.

ALAN: Let's listen to an inspirational song, Doug's Tune.

[Song performance 4 of 4: "Doug's Tune" by The Dillards]:
(Instrumental - no lyrics)

ALAN: That was Doug's Tune, named after Doug Dillard, who wrote it. We're running out of time, but real quick let me just ask you, Mitch, how have you been getting along - have you been succeeding in getting a name made for yourself?

MITCHELL JAYNE: We've had some pretty fantastic luck, Al. We went to Hollywood and got right on the Andy Griffith show out there. It was an extraordinary piece of good luck for us, because he's a real nice fellow and very understanding about the music.

We've done a couple of shows there and have another one coming up. We'll be at the Newport Folk Festival the late part of July.

ALAN: Let's mention again your record, Back Porch Bluegrass by the Dillards, on Elektra. That's your only one so far - got another one coming?

MITCHELL JAYNE: That's all we've had time to make, but we're going to make another one next month, also on Elektra.

ALAN: I've really enjoyed this. Thank you very much for coming in.

We've been talking to The Dillards. This is Alan Wasser, Folk Music Worldwide.

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): This has been Folk Music Worldwide. Devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world and spotlighting top performers and authorities in the field. If you have any suggestions, request requests or comments why not write in to Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York WRUL, New York City 19 USA. This has been a Music Worldwide presentation of Radio New York Worldwide.

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