"A Night in the Ozarks..."
... an Ozark Home Movie, on DVD
A long time ago in a land far away, I was caught in the '60's L.A. haze daze of southern California's Orange County, looking for a way out. 6 months in to playing the guitar at 17, and a master at the basic Freight Train, some friends invited me to a strip mall coffee house to see something called dillards, of which I knew nothing. Appropriately named The Paradox, its facade not at all letting on what I was in for, it happened.
Not one to have neither nervous jumpy legs nor sweaty palms, but experiencing both, I waited as a patient audient for the unknown show to start. Then the announcer said “Please welcome, from Salem, Missouri, The Dillards!”, and my life changed.
Kicking off Hickory Hollow with confidence and hi-speed, Doug ripped in to my life with his precise grinning picking presence and joy of playing hot music, and kept me from breathing until Mitch made that happen with between song hilarious comments about their Ozark life. Rodney was the first great singer I experienced live, and Dean's driving mandolin filled the spaces waiting between banjo solos with excitement, a far away glaze in his eye that spoke of coming from a mysterious different time and place.
The Dillards would play a week or two at around the circuit of 7 L.A. area clubs, selling out two shows a night, and showed me the path to a way out. Simply put, they were hot - a perfect combination of Smothers Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs. Let me say right here thanks to them - for their mentorship, friendship, and Ozark hospitality that let this Dillard disciple in their dressing rooms over the next two years, 2 or 3 times a week.
Without the Dillards there would not be a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (at least with me in it), or a Will the Circle Be Unbroken album (that is for sure). I would still be shifting majors in some school, or continuing to turn tricks in the Disneyland Magic Shop. Doug who showed the way for me to Scruggs, Bill Keith, Don Reno, J.D. Crowe, Alan Shelton, and Bobby Thompson. He often, unknowingly to me, reflected their licks in his live playing. Rodney's energy, dedication, comedic timing and rhythm guitar showed me how to get the other parts of sho-biz right.
I spent many hours slowing down Doug's picking (in the days when you could make the 33 1/3 go 16 2/3 rpms), listening to the banjo an octave low growling along and trying to catch all the nuances. Going back to live show after show I'd find out if it was right or what was missing. Then I'd show those newly learned tricks to my first banjo student, fellow high school senior, Dillard fan, and Magic Shop cohort Steve Martin.
Walking up the Golden Bear stairs for their 2nd set one night, Doug turned to me and did the 4th string J.D. Crowe lick from You Don't Know My Mind that several years later I was to emulate on the Circle album with Jimmy Martin. Doug simply said, to my “what was that!?” .. “J.D. Crowe .. Go find out about him.” Those instructions were followed, as well as an important lesson a bit later that night about how to 'sound'.
At a later post show picking party that night I had invited myself to, Doug broke a string on his banjo. It was such a heated session that I offered up my banjo (still in its case, as I never had the nerve to take it out around him), and to change his string. Excited about the honor of changing the master's string, I then worried that, although I had done everything to make my banjo sound like his, it still didn't - would he like it? The Lesson: Once he started picking mine- it sounded exactly like his. Thus was my introduction in to how every one of us can have our own tone and style, and… it's the archer, not the bow.
Fast forward to 1991, my career they unknowingly nurtured well under way, I realized the Dillards had not been captured properly on film and was determined to document their playing - close-up - in a way that I would have wanted to see them in their nascent days; in the way I saw them at that long ago picking session. Others should be able to experience their musical magic. Having learned by then most of the things necessary to make something like this happen, and figured what I didn't know would be obvious, we got in to it. It came together because the Dillards believed in me, to let me do it, and a great team was assembled.
Especially important was long-time Dirt Band fan Scott Flanagan, who put up the money. One thing you learn in sho-biz is 'the money is everything…without the money you just have an idea”.. so, thanks to my Executive Producer Scott for making it happen, for this group had also effected his life greatly.
I had to save on the shooting budget where possible, so brother Bill was tapped for some do-re-mi 'angel' dollars. I convinced him to buy two Super-8 film cameras for the project and added two rentals and added a video camera (I wanted to use several formats within the show for mood changes). The opening of Ozarks, for instance, is video. and segues in to film when we cross in to the living room of the farmhouse (hopefully transporting the viewer in to a different space).. And, then allow for it to 'breakdown' a bit as the filming proceeded. No real justification for this, but hey. I was the director, so I could.
The picture needed to be lit, and d.p. Gary Regester was enlisted not just because he was my best friend, or that he was cheap, or because he was between inventions. He is such an expert on lighting that he has often been highly paid to lecture on it, and had shot over 200 album covers (like the famous Jefferson Airplane aircraft carrier cover). He also wanted to try out some of his new low-heat lighting umbrella inventions, and loved the challenge of a live film shoot while recording sound.
Then sound. My lifetime friend, Mike Denecke, engineered Mr. Bojangles (produced by my brother Bill, with NGDB in 1969). Mike won an Academy Award for his invention of the time code slate (the one with flashing LED lights, used on every film shoot.) He came on board as soundman to capture live audio with two, and sometimes 'as many as three' microphones, and place them invisibly in the set. With enough film to shoot each song 1-_ times, the sound had to be failsafe. Since many songs were first take, it went fine.
I needed one more cameraman. Knowing one of my early fans in Florida was a Dillard freak too, I called Jon Mark Fletcher with an offer he couldn't refuse: if he'd get to Salem on his own, including cost - to run a camera and be a production assistant to 'the director' for 5 days - I would pay him $50. And, assured he would get to watch Doug from about 5 feet away most of the time and shoot close-ups, I think he was in his car before I hung up. He was glad to paint the fence and not pay for the privilege.
Finally, staffing the crew for 1st A.D., grip, camera crew foreman, line producer, talent coordinator, gaffer, and most importantly editor, layback, etc., I filled the positions with the following people: Craig Burnett. Let's say he filled the positions, as this genius from Kansas City knows his craft and shows that well here. We are all indebted to him for covering so many bases so well, as without him I would have had a pile of great footage and a pile of great audiotapes. He put the puzzle together and made it a painting.
We found a deserted farmhouse in the Ozarks, a few miles outside of Salem, and set it up as if 'the boys' were getting ready for a concert road trip, and, well, it is all in the film. It was the time of our lives.
John McEuen, director/writer
A Night in the Ozarks