When the Dillards bumped into Steve McQueen on a Hollywood street
The Dillards are to bluegrass what Steve McQueen was to film cinema — supreme innovators during a decade when everything was a changin’.
Originating from Salem, Missouri, the first and still classic lineup of the band found Rodney Dillard on guitar and lead vocals, pipe smoking emcee Mitch Jayne on stand-up bass, Dean Webb on mandolin and harmony vocals, and elder brother Doug Dillard on lightning speed banjo.
Breaking into the mainstream when they guest starred on six fan favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show between 1963 and 1966 as a peculiar, non-speaking, but musically agile mountain clan called the Darling Family, the Dillards were simultaneously signed to Elektra Records by label owner Jac Holzman and Byrds producer-manager Jim Dickson. As the ’60s progressed, they infiltrated the L.A. folk rock scene, accumulating club appearances all over the Sunset Strip like the famed Troubadour. Plugging in and hiring Buffalo Springfield’s future drummer Dewey Martin, the Dillards opened for the Byrds on a major USA tour and may have been the first bluegrass act to cover Bob Dylan [“Walkin’ Down the Line”] and the Beatles [“I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Yesterday”].
A master raconteur capable of discovering humor in mundane situations, Dillard is a one of a kind guy just like McQueen. In the second installment of a five-part, comprehensive interview series, I kinda randomly wondered whether Dillard had ever crossed paths with the King of Cool — for years I penned a “Jeremy’s Steve McQueen Files” column for the defunct Examiner.com. The acoustic guitarist divulged, “Funny that you should ask that. I was driving down a Hollywood street sometime in the ’60s, going out toward the ocean in an old van. Oil was just pouring out of it. And this guy pulled up beside me in a car and yelled, ‘You’re throwing oil out of your truck!’ It was Steve McQueen. I replied, ‘Yeah, I know!’ and I kept on going” [laughs]. In the midst of dropping such critically acclaimed movies as The Cincinatti Kid, The Sand Pebbles, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Bullitt, McQueen obviously had no qualms about reaching out to a total stranger in automotive distress.
Further into rock territory: Rediscovering the Dillards’ blazing ‘Roots and Branches’ 1972 album [PART THREE OF THE RODNEY DILLARD INTERVIEW]
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Full circle with the founding frontman of trendsetting country rockers the Dillards [PART FIVE, THE CONCLUSION OF THE RODNEY DILLARD INTERVIEW]
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