Interview with Rodney Dillard
Ch.L.: Country Music has many new fans in Europe, who may be hearing about you for the first time. How would you describe yourself and the music you play to someone whose never seen or heard you before.
R.D.: Well I have a history of being here a long time on the planet and if anybody wanted to do any research on Rodney Dillard they would go on the internet and find and realize that my history goes back to where I was credited by Rolling Stones as being the“ Father of Country Rock.“ And I guess to a new person now I’ve come full circle…from using electric instruments and drums back down to using acoustic so I’m sort of myself unplugged (chuckle)
Ch.L.: How was the last year for you? What were the highlights?
R.D.: Well, you see the last year for me…the highlights were waking up every morning. (He laughs jokingly) The highlights were probably…yes I think it was last year that we were inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. And also and the Spirit of the Folk Awards received down in Memphis from the Folk Alliance. That and my granddaughter. I would say those are my highlights as far as my career is concerned each day that I gain a new fan is a highlight for me.
Ch.L.: What’s your latest CD and how’s it doing?
R.D.: We have a brand new one. The latest one is called „I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry“ and it relates to me having been on The Andy Griffith Show. And if reflects the values…well the songs do of what that show represented and most of its songs that we did on that show or on the album. As far as it’s doing I don’t follow it around but I think it’s doing quite well.
Ch.L.: How did you choose the title for the CD, is there a story behind it?
R.D.: The title of the cd was chosen because I was on the Andy Griffith Show songs that were on that show that we did, as the Darlings, are represented on the album plus more and that’s why we came up with the title „Life Is Like Mayberry“ because Mayberry is a place that people would like to visit if it existed and so the show has not been off the air for fifty years. So it’s a real tribute to people who liked that show and the values that it represented and like the music that came from the shows that we did.
Ch.L.: Do you write the songs yourself and if not, how do you go about finding the songs for the your CD?
R.D.: Most of all the songs were written by me as a co-writer and yes I wrote the songs myself I didn’t have anybody type them out. I used a pencil. Mainly the material for the songs…those particular songs relate to practical applications of life or story songs about people that I grew up with and who I knew…who I knew songs aren’t just unrequited love songs about made up fictional situations they are about real people and real life.
Ch.L.: Please tell us about the songs on your album.
R.D.: They were songs we did on the Andy Griffith Show and they were songs that were inspired by characters that I have encountered from since I was young and still continue.
Ch.L.: What’s the difference between your last CD and the current one?
R.D.: The one that’s coming out now …the next one in August is a gospel album. Entitled „Don’t Wait for the Hurst to Take you to Church. In other words it’s not a good thing for last minute salvation but it will work but it’s always better when you can beat the odds.
Ch.L.: Your current single is being played by radio. What do you thing is special about this song that makes people what to hear it?
R.D.: Well, it is a song about the…how can I say this? Let me say this properly. It’s about urban encroachment into the rural areas in other words we are becoming homogenized because of urban sprawl and you go into the country and it’s called there goes the neighborhood. And what it’s about is you wake up one morning and where you used to bail your hay is now they have golf courses and condominiums and as I say we are being „malled“ …there’s a mall here and a mall over there and so it’s slowly eating up rural life. In fact one of the lines in the song is „There moving in a little more everyday playing golf where we used to bail our hay. They don’t like our pink flamingos or the outhouse when the wind blows. I’m starting to feel out of place. “ So that’s what it is its urban sprawl and very meek sort of rural class of life
Ch.L.: What kind of songs do you like to record the most?
R.D.: What kind of songs…well let me see. In the earlier days when we were on some of the major labels we did a lot of love songs and we did dog songs. But our love songs were interchangeable with our dog songs. We would just change it from „Ol Blue“ to Cynthia“ depending on where we were. You could use that up North and they wouldn’t know the difference. We did once again a lot of story songs, songs about real life people doing real life things in a poetic sense. You know they weren’t prose they were songs. They did have a beginning, a middle and an end. And it wasn’t just about watching the wind blow or high mountain squirrels or that sort of thing. You know a lot of bluegrass tends to go that way in the old days and now it’s…their getting a little more sophisticated in lyric.
Ch.L.: You did a duet with Ricky Skaggs. How did that happen to come about?
R.D.: Ricky Skaggs and I did a song that we wrote called „There Is A Time“ for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s „Circle Be Unbroken Album“ the latest one. And he sang a verse that and with me on „There Is a Time.“ On that particular album.
Ch.L.: What’s your favorite song among all the songs you’ve recorded and what’s the story behind it?
R.D.: The favorite song…you know the one that’s done the best for me…alright let’s see….boy that’s tough question. Favorite song? It probably would be maybe „Dooley“ and it was written in such a short time and it was such a simple song. And it only goes to prove that you don’t have to get complex with the lyrics to get it popular with folks. It’s a very simple song it’s almost nursery rhyme in its structure. It seemed to attract a lot of attention. A lot of folks have recorded it including the Kingston Trio and Doug Glen? And Porter Wagner and Dolly Partner recorded it and it was just a simple song but I think that one just to be redundant I think it’s my favorite because of the way it was written and once again the example of how simplicity sometimes is the best thing. I mean to sit down a write a lyric like the train full it runs through the night. When I was searching for the light. It’s whistle screaming in the right. You know that gets heady but you can be chasing your tail too philosophically.
Ch.L.: How much creative control do you have over your music?
R.D.: Total. I mean I would have been more popular if I hadn’t. (chuckle) There was a time when I let other people produce a couple albums and one of them was produced by a very famous producer Richie Poddler who produced groups….one of them was Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf blues image back in the 70’s. And he produced an album with me when I toured with Elton John. And it was different….it was very different. And then another producer who produced other famous groups produced one of our albums but I always felt more comfortable because I knew my limitations so I could do what I knew how to do. Limitations breed style.
Ch.L.: There’s a lot of work that goes into a Number One hit … what did it take to make it in your case?
R.D.: I have no idea! And I’m telling you something no one else knows that question. To ask that question in itself shows you that there are no…what happens and I have seen in the past and I have seen producers do this they hear a good song they usually according to Alan Reynolds who produced one of my records…who produced Garth Brooks… said that it’s always in the content of the song. And then everything else will fall into place but to say you can predict a number one hit…even computers can’t do that with all the variables and permutations. You can’t a lot of things depend on it timing, where the nation is socially in the moment, economically and politically a lot of that has a varying on what people like about music. But I think the music that is lasting is not always the hit. Cause you know they are like picked flowers of the day, they come and they go but good music will always continue to last it becomes classic and that’s what country and good bluegrass lasts forever and so does classical music.
Ch.L.: Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your music?
R.D.: I have one that comes to mind and to tell it it’s kind of arrogant but I really feel i want to tell it. I did a song once on a record called „You Gotta Be Strong and Keep on Hanging On and Have Faith“ well I got a letter got to me and this was in a really specular time in the Vietnam War and a fan said he was in a foxhole being overrun by the Vietcong and all he could think of was to keep from breaking and running and getting killed and staying there was you gotta be strong and keep and that song keep running to his mind and he said it saved his life. So that to me has accomplished anything that I have ever tried to achieve. At least in my life of blundering around I did something that did something and affected and helped in their hour of need.
Ch.L.: Who do you look up musically and how deep do your musical roots run?
R.D.: My dad and my mother all played music. I had uncles who played banjo. My dad was from Tennessee, West Tennessee a little town called Burns, TN and he learned to play fiddle when he was a kid and he passed that onto his kid my brother on the banjo and me and my mother played the guitar. I grew up in a musical family and music was a part…a key part of our lives. And I think that’s what has held me together all those years was that kind of upbringing as a child and I’m very grateful and blessed to of had that. Who do I look up to musically anybody that is creative, innovative and non-judgmental about other people’s music.
Ch.L.: What do you think about today’s Country Music versus its roots and where do you see it going in the future?
R.D.: I know I have seen things that spiral. Everything spirals…life is cycling in a lot of ways. It also spirals it adds to you know whatever is happening. That’s what he whole creative process is. Country music of the old days started probably I guess with Jimmy Rodgers years ago you came into the Earnest Tubbs and the forties music and the fifties music and it became borrowed from Los Angeles and became Country Rock and what we hear today in Nashville is what Rock used to be back in the 70s a lot of it. It’s all very ego-esk and that sort of approach to the music. Where it’s going I have no idea but as long as the money people are in control of it…it will go where they direct. Cause it all of Pop and commercial music followers the money and what happens when you get the music and everybody jumps off on the formula bandwagon and everybody says oh this is what it takes to get a hit. And they start getting records pretty soon they all start sounding alike. And in that particular genre of music crushes under its own weight. And it’s all dollars and cents and promotion. I would be just as guilty as anybody else if I said I wasn’t I’d be lying to say that I appreciate….you know for somebody on this planet and they say what do you do and I say I beat on this piece of wood and I yell at them and I expect them to like it. And if an alien came in and says what do you do. Well, I beat on this piece of wood let’s say he was describing it to his buddy. Well they beat on these pieces of wood and things and they sing into these sticks and they expect people not only to like it but to pay to see it and to hear them. So anybody that stands in front of a microphone is there for a reason. And the reasons vary some for money, some for the passion, some for the ego need and I think we’re all guilty of at least a part of that.
Ch.L.: If you had the chance to change something about the music industry, what would it be?
R.D.: I don’t think that I have the intellect or the power or the intelligence of a foresight to even wanna change it. I don’t think I’d want to. I wouldn’t know how and it would only be opinion and that’s like dandelion seed in the wind. So it really means nothing.
Ch.L.: As an artist you have to do so many different things such as recording, touring, doing interviews etc. What do you like best, what’s your favorite activity?
R.D.: I like being able to speak my perspective in interviews and set some records straight that might be a little a skewed from just the fact that we are humans and when we communicate it’s not always the truth. I like going into churches and sharing my ministry and testimony with people that were of like minds like me in my younger days.
Ch.L.: Are you doing anything to take country music beyond it’s current borders or are you happy where it is?
R.D.: I did that years ago like I said we were the European press gave us the title of the „Fathers of Country Rock“ in Rolling Stones made that statement and it was back in the early 60s when nobody was adding Country Bluegrass tried harmonies with a 25 piece orchestra and things. I have done my part of add to it people have gone much future than me with these young folks with talent and innovation. Am I happy with where it is…I don’t pay that much attention to it (as he laughs). You know even if you would say am I happy? Yeah as reasonably as you can be on a hostile planet that’s full of chiggers and ticks and crazy people.
Ch.L.: What was your big break that got you into the music business?
R.D.: The biggest break I suppose in retrospect would be being on the Andy Griffith Show as the Darling Family. And to most people who remember us for what that was is one thing but we had another whole…it was very schizophrenic. We were these crazy young guys on The Andy Griffith Show and then we were out doing college concerts and working with people who were opening for us like Bill Cosby, and Willi Tomlin, lot of folks like that we were working a whole arena of entertainment other than the Country and Bluegrass. We never really broke into the Bluegrass market really until later on even though what we were came from Bluegrass.
Ch.L.: Before you became a star, where your friends and family supportive or was it a struggle?
R.D.: No they were very supportive. My family were behind us. Well of course my mother and dad both played and they were so proud of the fact that we had actually taken the music beyond what our ancestors had to a venue where people could… a lot of people could hear it. Very supportive the home… my hometown when we were first on The Andy Griffith Show even the National Guard cancelled that nite’s meeting so that they could go home and watch The Andy Griffith Show.
Ch.L.: What inspired you to become an artist?
R.D.: Well, when I look at artists… when I look at all the people like Yo Yo Ma to Beethoven to Picasso and those guys…I don’t know if I’m a artist but I to tell you the truth what inspired me to do what I do comes from somewhere that I don’t even understand. It’s something that when I was a little little kid I would sit on the pond bank by myself and fish all afternoon sing and makeup melodies to myself knowing that there was something about that that I wanted to do when I grew up. So I quit college two weeks before finals left for Los Angeles CA. But this is what I want to do. You know no one wants to be a cookie cutter….we all think were not in the cookie cutter cause we can’t see the size of the cutter we’re under. So we assume we are not in one.
Ch.L.: What inspired you to become a songwriter?
R.D.: Once again it’s wanting to communicate….it’s perceiving what you see around you. Comedians are the same way. They have a different way of perceiving and showing things to us but being a song writer it’s just. How can I say this? How can I do this? The same way a spring calf…in the spring…have you ever seen a little calf running around and all the sudden it jumps up in the air and shakes its tail and feels good about life. That’s kind of the way I equate what I do. And that’s all the explanation. I could go into some kind of intellectual detail…some kind of psychological psychobabble but it wouldn’t mean anything. It’s just fun and it feels good.
Ch.L.: What drives you?
R.D.: Same thing a passion for it. A passion for music. A passion for communication and a passion for sharing positive things in life that are there. You know it is very easy to write about the negative things but that’s very much like it’s easy to take a watch apart but it’s really difficult to put one back together.
Ch.L.: What does it take to be a country star?
R.D.: I have no idea I’ve never been one. Well you know not to the point that some of these guys are. What it takes? I can perceive what it takes and I have seen a few and have a few of them as my friends. It takes anymore someone that looks good on camera, and who is under 25 usually and has a song that everyone can relate to usually written by committee and money behind it for promotion. And that’s usually what it takes. It doesn’t even take a great singer a lot of times. Cause you know you have pitch correctors. You go in you cut three or for takes you walk out and then you comp them all together. I had a studio for about 11 years I know how all that works. There is something about the kind of music we play that bluegrass folks play in acoustic music. It’s very much like sitting around a camp fire. There’s something that strikes a tone in people’s hearts and their souls and there’s not a lot of posing and prancing and that sort of thing.
Ch.L.: What’s unique about you that differentiates you from other artists?
R.D.: I don’t know sometimes I feel like…well everyone feels like that…. well sometimes I feel like I don’t relate to what. It’s very difficult to look at life and pour it into a song in a simple way. It’s like trying to pour water down the wrong end of a funnel. A lot gets spilled out and if you keep to writing about what most Country music is about or Bluegrass is either a simple way or a sophisticated way to say something about unrequited love or people in identity crisis. You know that’s why bars are so popular when people go in there and they hear something on the jukebox. „That’s me…that’s what I like“ there’s beer. And a lot of times Country music is like Conway Twitty said that he spoke for the common man who couldn’t speak for himself. But as far as I’m concerned I’m not concerned with the self deprivation of humanity. I’m not into that feel sorry for myself write about my long lost love or why did she leave me I can’t take it anymore and I’m turning my house into a tavern that stuff never did appeal to me that’s the drowning man syndrome. I’ve always tried to make my music positive, humorous and uplifting.
Ch.L.: What has been your greatest challenge in music business?
R.D.: It’s probably dealing with people who don’t know my music and what I do. You have to start from scratch especially with the younger people. You know I’ve been around a long time and doing it. Unless they watched The Andy Griffith Show a lot of times young people…unless they go retro….a lot of them are going retro and digging out the old electric stuff I did and the rock stuff and rediscovering our music from a historical thing. But usually it’s playing to a group of people who are more into…probably my biggest challenge would be playing to a Rap artist. Can you imagine going and opening up for Lady Gaga?(he laughs) That’s why theatre rock has gotten to the point that it has cause anymore the attention span of the American youth is about that of a goldfish. So that’s why…and the reason for that is cause the incensory bombardment we’ve had. Instant everything. You text. Everything is instantaneous everything on tv that you could want commercials used to be five minutes now they are ten to five seconds. So things get to moving so rapidly that you really do not have the time to stop and absorb what you’re dealing with. It’s kind of just like jumping off a cliff and feeling the wind at your face without really realizing what may be at the bottom.
Ch.L.: What moments in your career stand out in your memory as highlights and achievements which you’re proud of?
R.D.: I’m proud of the hall of fame IBMA. I’m proud of some of the comments of people whose opinion I respect over the years: Steve Martin to drop names…Elton John those folks who have appreciated my music and my peers. Peer understanding of what I was doing and maybe to think that I have affected a few people’s lives in a positive way that maybe pulled them out of some kind of depression or that sort of thing.
Ch.L.: Any thoughts of retirement ahead?
R.D.: There’s no way that I would retire at all. It would be like the hokey pokey joke. You have heard that one right? Well, the guy who wrote the hokey pokey died two years ago and the funeral was somewhat chaotic because they put his left foot in and then his right foot went up and out. So that’s what I want is to leave a legacy of something positive and move on. I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a legend of being a “druggee doper” artist. You know living in the dark side of life and breed his art. Blah phooey. That’s no excuse!
Ch.L.: Who’s your biggest critic, yourself or others?
R.D.: My biggest critic would be my worst enemy…who ever that is? (chuckle) But probably my wife.
Ch.L.: When you get time off, how do you like to relax?
R.D.: At home. Let’s see when I get home how do I relax? Well let’s see…I play with the five dogs I have, I play with my grandchild, well there are some things I do that probably wouldn’t be…uh I’m a UFO chaser. Not just an internet UFO chaser…physically. I have physical trace evidence but that’s another story. I’m a gun nut. I’m a second amendment Constitutional person. And I’m politically incorrect. Yes, I’m very politically incorrect. I can’t believe that when I started out as a youth I was at all these rallies and stuff and know I look at it and I say where was my head? ( he laughs)
Ch.L.: Is there anything in your life that you would change if you could?
R.D.: Yeah I’d lose about thirty pounds but no because if I changed it what would I be changing it to? I have changed in forty years. I mean when I was forty I became Spiritual and there’s nothing that I would really change. But I probably wouldn’t change anything because I would be afraid of what I would change it…you know I don’t know what’s around the bend. I mean that’s a fantasy changing this, oh I’d change that, but when you change all of those things then what other things are you changing for other people. So you really don’t have the right really to make that kind of change. You can try to change yourself for the better but I wouldn’t change any decisions that I have made. I want to live with the responsibility and accountability of my decisions that I made put me where I am today.
Ch.L.: What Prive hopes and desires do you have?
R.D.: My hopes and desires uh…let me see… I hope that tomorrow is a beautiful day. I hope that my kids and my grandkids have a decent life in an America that might really be suffering at the moment and will probably suffer more. And also that I can keep working as long as I can and keep making sense before someone says „Who is this crazy old man?“
Ch.L.: Many European fans travel to Nashville for CMA Music Festival (Fan Fair), because of the opportunity to see so many of their favorite stars at the same time. Will you be participating and how will the fans be able to find you?
R.D.: I’ve never been to Fan Fair. I’ve been to the Bluegrass that was my genre but I’ve never been to that sort of thing but I wouldn’t know how they would be able to find me…I have no idea …I know I will put on a red nose and clown feet.
Ch.L.: Is there any place you haven’t played that you would like to?
R.D.: Russia and Australia…I’ve never played Australia. That’s two places that I’d like to see what they are all about.
Ch.L.: What can your fans expect to see when they see you in concert?
R.D.: Entertainment without the theatrics. In other words not a lot of lights, not a lot of props, not a lot of weirdness like that but it will be entertainment, song and communication with the audience…with the crowd so we break down that wall between entertainer and audience.
Ch.L.: When you’re on tour, do you have time to play tourist?
R.D.e: Oh, I’ve done that all my life. In fact we just came back from a job where we…The John Hartford Memorial Festival came to a little bitty…little bitty town and they had a Mayberry Diner and they wanted us to stop by. So one night I had a burger and a malt and sat there and pulled out the instruments and played there in front of the place just for the fun of it. Just to meet the heartland of America. And meet the people who really are the best people and are what keeps this country rolling.
Ch.L.: Do fans mob you everywhere you go or do they allow you a private life?
R.D.: Well my fans want to talk to me because we share common ground and common philosophies about life. So the way we are presented on stage we are very accessible to folks and we do have a great…and I get a lot of good stories out of people whom I’ve never met before. It’s a life enriching process for me to hear people’s stories about their lives and I’ve learned so much by doing that…that it is a real pleasure for me to get out and talk to folks. And it’s not just you know I’m not a hit and run entertainer. I don’t like to just hit and say warm up the Cadillac Charlie I’m outta here. Well I think because I don’t have that huge following like some of these big guys do. Where they can’t do that but I think that I’m blessed with the opportunity communicating with folks on a smaller scale.
Ch.L.: Many music fans today get their information about artists via the internet. Do you have your own website and what will fans find there?
R.D.: I have a facebook and a website it’s rodneydillard.tv and they will find all kinds of stuff and I have a youtube channel called Dillard Grass and i have a little program that I have put together called „Notes From the Road“ and what I do is like what I was telling you about. We went out and stop and some place and film it and film us playing and different comments… and just get sort of a character picture of what people and who people are and what they and America’s like. What it’s like. We’ll stop at a little country store or something and play and talk to folks and then I will edit it and put it on youtube because reality TV became so popular and then it became phony reality TV and like humans always do they mess everything up. And when youtube became the large communicator with folks and again people want to see real things, stuff that’s fed to them and presented in a false format and that’s why I started doing this notes from the road. You know whether it’s sitting in the motor home playing or talking to some old boy sitting on a street corner asking him questions that’s the way since we really don’t anymore communicate that much with folks; it’s a good way for people who don’t have that opportunity to see what real America is all about.
Ch.L.: What’s the best compliment a fan has ever given you?
R.D.: That I have had some effect on their life in a positive way….a positive change or maybe a song or something that has gotten them through a very rough time and that’s happened more than once to me. It always just floors me you really don’t know the affect each and every one of us have an effect when we walk through space and time on someone and that’s why we must be very aware and conscious of what we do. How we present ourselves.
Ch.L.: What’s your favorite song that you wish you could have recorded?
R.D.: Maybe „Yesterday“by the Beatles. I’d of like to have gotten it before they did. Yeah since we are reaching out into fantasy world there’s no limits to that now is there. Yelp so that would be it…I wish I would have recorded that one before they did.
Ch.L.. What message would you like to send your European fans?
R.D.: That I’m not dead yet and that I’m still and I will put out records as long as I have something to say that might be of some relevance to something to the world and maybe when things calm down maybe I will come back over there again and when the American dollar ever becomes stronger. Oh my gosh what can I say I’d like to see the friend that I made over there again before either they pass on or me.
Ch.L.: Fans are always hungry for good road stories. Do you have one you can tell?
R.D.: Hahahaha I have several I can’t tell you. Let me see good road stories oh my goodness a lot of. Yeah this is a complicated one but one time I had a fella in my band whose name is Herb Peterson and he was in at the time in the National Guard and we were on the road and my brother and I came up with a way we could transmit onto the radio from a tape recorder. A very complicated way. So what I did I recorded a whole thing about the United States being attacked by nuclear missiles from Russia. And we’d go along and then I’d recorded the dial being passed to different stations and it was on all of the stations but I simulated that in a pre-record. We were sitting around in the North West we were on tour with gosh I’ve forgot who it was but we were sitting there in the bus and Herb was sitting there and the announcer came on…we had an announcer and everything. So I plugged it into the radio and we were listening to the radio and we were being under attack by Russia and nuclear missiles were headed for the United States would all the National Guard people report to their units and Herb got this look on his face and I would move the dial and it would say the same thing over and over. He got out of the bus and started running down the road as hard as he could run and he had to get to a phone and we had to chase him to get him to the bus to tell him that it was a joke(as he chuckles). And I don‘ think that he has ever forgiven me for that. Pretty wild huh?
Ch.L.: Describe what a perfect day is like for you.
R.D.: The perfect day is waking up and feeling good. Just being able to get through the day without any problems. No day is ever perfect! Especially living on this planet but the perfect day would be. Probably spending the day with my family doing something that would be the perfect day. Perfect and positive.
Ch.L.: Most careers don’t last as long as yours, what’s given your career the staying power?
R.D.: Good question. I would say persistence, a passion for what I do, money being the second very reason for doing it or maybe even the third reason for doing it, not trying to be commercial to the point that I become a flash in the pan but sticking to what your value systems are and sticking to what you believe in is probably given the creditability to carry on all of these years and still make records.
Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de )