Videos: Here's proof that Mayberry picked the finest musicians to perform as the Darlings
Watch Andy perform "Duelin' Banjos" with the band.
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Call it “Mayberry Jail Cell Blues,” but the first time Andy Griffith ever joined the Darlings in a performance on The Andy Griffith Show was in his own jail in the episode “The Darlings Are Coming.” It all comes together when the family band is kicked out of Mayberry’s hotel for having too many folks occupying a single room. Andy pities them and invites them to pass the night in the jail, also secretly itching to play along after hearing their fine tunes through the door to their former hotel room.
In the cell, you see the band packed in, and then Andy squats in the door with his guitar, and the frenzy of strumming starts that marks the soothing nature of bluegrass music. Watch the video below to see how the Mayberry lawman holds his own with the Darlings, after Briscoe Darling (Denver Pyle) remarks with surprise, “I didn’t know you strang!”:
On The Andy Griffith Show, most fans know that the core members of the Darlings band – Doug (once dubbed Jebbin), Rodney, Mitch and Dean – were actually highly revered bluegrass musicians the Dillards, Doug Dillard, Rodney Dillard, Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb.
And while the Dillards were certainly well-known to any bluegrass fan at that time, it was their appearances on The Andy Griffith Show that ultimately broadened their audience in ways few bluegrass bands achieve. That’s how much Griffith’s clear love for the music rubbed off on all his fans. In that way, the two influential entities in pop culture supported one another in their developing successes.
This collaboration perhaps culminated during The Andy Griffith Show episode “Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee,” where Pyle’s character briefly courts Andy’s sweet aunt. In that episode, audiences were treated to the first widespread broadcast of the song “Feudin’ Banjos” (aka “Duelin’ Banjos"), when Andy again joins the Darlings to play it on the show. That song later went on to be famously used in a memorable scene from the movie Deliverance, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1973. We heard it on The Andy Griffith Show an entire decade sooner, or at least, attentive fans sure did.
Yes, it seems The Andy Griffith Show took its music so seriously that they actually did find the finest players around to populate Mayberry’s favorite country band. And as for Andy, most fans also know that he’s a trained Southern gospel singer with a talent for the guitar that he often displayed on the show.
But you may not know that as a boy, Andy’s first instrument was the trombone, learning from the minister who led the brass band in his North Carolina church. (No offense to Briscoe, but perhaps Andy should’ve been the one playing jug?) Later, Griffith earned his bachelor’s in music and became so dedicated to his studies that he was made the president of the chapter of a fraternity at the University of North Carolina that’s the oldest music fraternity in the U.S. And just before Griffith launched his career as a performer? He could be found teaching music and drama at a North Carolina high school.
Rounding out the Darlings, of course, are Briscoe and Charlene, played so charmingly by Denver Pyle and Maggie Mancuso. For his part, Pyle started his show business career as a drummer and band member, so even if we teased his jug playing earlier, it should be acknowledged he had the chops to keep the beat. Mancuso actually got her start singing out of the back of pickup trucks and in 1959 released an album with her band called “It’s the Most Happy Sound.” Later she joined a new band and it was while touring with them that she was discovered by The Andy Griffith Show. At first, they thought she’d make a great Ellie, but we’re glad instead she showed up as Charlene, and in an interview with the Archive of American Television, Griffith confirmed she rounded out the act, saying, "She wasn't a hillbilly, but she fit right in." It was her beautiful singing voice that did it.
In truth, it was no accident that there was this high quality of music on The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith wanted music on his show and set it up to always be an easy thing to integrate into any scene, telling the Archive of American Television, "I kept two guitars on the stage all the time and a 5-string banjo on the stage all the time."
He goes on to explain why "that wonderful group called the Darling Family" never really had many lines on the show, saying, "we hired some boys who had just come out of the Smoky Mountains, called the Dillards. And the way we used them, we knew they couldn't act. There wasn't room for that many people to talk, anyhow. So we had them never speak. And Denver Pyle does all the talking for them, Briscoe Darling." The formula worked, because clearly, Andy knew, all most fans want to hear when the Darlings are in a scene is their fine playing, anyhow.