The Dillards - Wheatstraw Suite (1968)

The Dillards were an American bluegrass group who in the mid-60s moved away from traditional music, becoming pioneers in the country-rock and 'progressive bluegrass' genres.

The Dillards first few albums were pure traditional bluegrass. However since the mid-60s they had started to innovate, and were moving towards a more progressive sound. They had toured backing folk-rock band The Byrds, with Dewey Martin on drums (later of Buffalo Springfield), and Doug Dillard had appeared on Gene Clark's first solo album. They were leaving their traditional roots behind and becoming part of the rock scene. Their record company, Elektra, had originally been resistant towards this new sound, so they had released a few singles on Capitol records. However Capitol soon grew unsympathetic towards their style, and they re-signed with Elektra, who were now willing to let them try their new commercial sound. However at this time the groups' banjoist, Doug Dillard, quit. By the time they recorded Wheatstraw Suite he had been replaced by multi-instrumentalist Herb Pederson, giving them the new lineup of Rodney Dillard (vocals/guitar/dobro), Pederseon (vocals/banjo/guitar), Dean Webb (mandolin) and Mitch Jayne (bass).
It was a truly innovative album in its mix of bluegrass, rock, pop, folk and country. Similar blends were being made around this time by The Byrds, The International Submarine Band, Buffalo Springfield, Gene Clark and others, but this was probably the first time this country-rock hybrid was approached from the bluegrass angle. The band were joined on various songs by electric bass from Joe Osborn, drums from Toxey French and Jim Gordon, and pedal steel guitar from Buddy Emmons, but their bluegrass instrumentation remained at the core throughout. Several songs were fleshed out with strings, which added to its commercial appeal. Pederson's presence strengthened the vocal harmonies, and he proved himself a great lead singer in his own right. The material itself mostly consisted of originals, though it had some standout covers of Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe", The Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face" and Jesse Kincaid's "She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune", all being nods to contemporary pop and rock songwriters. The result of all these factors was a pioneering progressive bluegrass album which crossed the boundaries into the then-present folk-rock scene. Today it is looked back on as an influential early example of country-rock.
Ironically, Doug Dillard, who had left the band due his lack of enthusiasm with their new sound, would the same year be making a similar fusion of genres with Dillard & Clark.

Pickin' & Fiddlin' (1965) <|> Copperfields (1970)
More from The Dillards


1 comment:

Monkadee said...

I wish they'd reissue all these great albums and include the Capitol and White Whale singles (and outtakes)!