march 2011

andy griffith
The Andy Griffith Show gave Griffith an opportunity to bring to his national audience the bluegrass, country and folk music he loved, and in fact could play with authority. Thank you, and happy birthday!

Four Score And Five Years Ago…

The love for Andy Griffith, 85 years old this month, keeps on keepin’ on as The Grascals honor the Sheriff with a sampling of Mayberry music, and the show that bears his name keeps on keepin’ on

By David McGee

Surely by now everyone reading this publication knows that Andy Griffith turned 85 years old on June 1. Gifted in front of and behind the camera (if he had only starred in Elia Kazan’s epic A Face In the Crowd [1957] he would have written his name large in American 20th Century cultural history), Griffith secured a spot in the hearts of many Americans first as the tolerant, pragmatic small-town sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina, from 1960 to 1968 on The Andy Griffith Show, and later, starting in 1986, as the wily, sagacious country lawyer Matlock in a hit series that ran through 1995 (there were several other series TV attempts between The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock, including The New Andy Griffith Show in 1971, but none caught on like the two big hits).

a face in the crowd
Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal in Elia Kazan’s A Face In the Crowd

Griffith’s resume is deep and impressive, in dramatic and comic roles alike, on stage, screen and television. His shiftless drifter Lonesome Rhodes, who becomes a manipulative, power hungry political candidate in the Budd Schulberg-scripted A Face In the Crowd, continues to resonate in the current 24/7 news cycles (Schulberg’s inspiration for the Rhodes character was his disdain for Will Rogers and Arthur Godfrey, whom he regarded as phonies, despite their easygoing, avuncular on-stage personas); on Broadway (1955) and on film (1958), his country boy antics in No Time For Sergeants were hailed for their comic ingenuity (the film version also introduced him to his legendary foil Don Knotts, who was cast as a corporal in charge of manual dexterity tests); and in dramatic appearances on shows such as Playhouse 90 and Hawaii Five-O, and in the TV films The Savages (1974) and especially Murder In Coweta Country (1983, co-starring with Johnny Cash), he plumbed the dark side of his amiable personality to craft villains memorable both for the depth of their depravity and the persuasiveness of their cool public personas.

Sheriff Andy and the Darlings, ‘Dooley’

With all these achievements (and more) under his belt, Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor and his Mayberry compatriots remain the source of his large, devoted following even to this day. In Mayberry, simple, down-home values applied to all, and Sheriff Andy was notable not only for his benevolence towards his fellow citizens, but also for his humility—no matter how backwoods or uneducated the show’s bad guys were, Sheriff Taylor treated them all fairly, never lording his rank over them except to let them know he had a job to do and they were forcing him to do it. In a real sense, Sheriff Andy was the modern-day counterpart to the late James Arness’s Sheriff Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, which shared its prime years with The Andy Griffith Show. Dillon, harder edged because he had to be in an untamed west resisting the encroachment of civilization, and Sheriff Taylor shared level heads, an unbending moral code but also a recognition of moral ambiguity, an understanding of human behavior not always being as clear-cut as it might seem on first blush, necessitating on their parts a common sense approach to administering justice centered first on appeals to conscience, using force as a last resort.

The Andy Griffith Show had something else going for it besides a gifted ensemble cast and good writing, and what it was was music. No surprise here, to anyone who knew Griffith’s history. Growing up in Mt. Airy, NC, where he lives now, young Andy had music all around him in his family along with a story-telling father who influenced his sense of humor about the world. An actor in his high school years, he went to college intending to study to be a Moravian preacher, but changed his major to music and graduated in 1949 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor of music degree. At UNC he was a member of the Men’s Glee Club and the Alpha Rho Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sonfonia, which bills itself as America’s oldest fraternity for men in music.

Andy takes the lead vocal on ‘Boil Them Cabbage Down,’ with the Dillards, with Maggie Peterson as Charlene and Bob Denver as Dud Wash, Charlene’s husband.

andyHis earliest professional endeavors hearkened back to his childhood upbringing. Signed to the Colonial record label in 1953, he released a hilarious comic monologue he had written, “What It Was Was Football,” told in the backwoods drawl of an uneducated rube encountering gridiron competition for the first time, with no knowledge at all of how the game is played. Another Griffith original monologue, “Romeo and Juliet,” offered a similar backwoods interpretation of the tragic Shakespearian romance. “What It Was Was Football” was popular enough to rise up the record charts and peak at #9 in 1954. Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes character in A Face In the Crowd, of course, came to prominence as a guitar playing, populist sage.

The Andy Griffith Show, however, gave Griffith an opportunity to bring to his national audience the bluegrass, country and folk music he loved, and in fact could play with authority. Supervising all aspects of the show, Griffith first featured the Country Boys, with Roland and Clarence White, in two episodes; they were succeeded in their musical roles by the hillbilly family that always threatened to wreak havoc on Mayberry when they came down from the mountain, the Darlings, led by Brisco Darling Jr. (played to a T by mustachioed, lumbering Denver Pyle), whose sons, the Darling Boys, were portrayed by the legendary bluegrass band The Dillards, led by Rodney and Doug Dillard, along with Dean Webb and Mitch Jayne. Although they appeared in only six episodes with Andy, it seemed the Darlings were around much more than they were, perhaps because in those six appearances they managed to get 14 songs on the air, all of them wondrous displays of impeccable bluegrass craftsmanship in the playing and warm, soulful vocalizing, sometimes by Andy himself. (Andy did some musical numbers on the show alone with his guitar, too—serenading his schoolteacher sweetheart Helen Crump on the front porch, or son Opie and Aunt Bee. His solo acoustic rendition of “Midnight Special” is one of the series’ highlights.)

The Grascals sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Andy Griffith and perform ‘Dooley’ from their new EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show

grascals danceWho better, then, to honor the music of Mayberry than the Andy Griffith Show fanatics who call themselves The Grascals? The much-honored and –lauded sextet has done precisely that on a new seven-song EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’ now available on the band’s own BluGrascal label in conjunction with Mayberry’s Finest Brand Foods (in fact, the bouncy Mayberry’s Finest theme the Grascals wrote for the company a few years back is included on the EP).

Speaking from home over the Memorial Day weekend, the Grascals’ formidable lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Terry Eldredge made no bones about his affection for The Andy Griffith Show, or anybody else’s for that matter. “I’m a huge fan myself, and I think everybody is. I’ve said before I think even the Communists like The Andy Griffith Show! I think it should be shown and taught in schools, in social studies classes.”

The Grascals, ‘Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer),’ from the new EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show

The idea to honor the 50th anniversary of the show’s first airing (it went on the air on October 3, 1960) and Andy’s 85th birthday originated with an executive at Mayberry’s Finest. When he approached the Grascals about doing it—a natural fit given their affection for the show and the Andy Griffith-approved theme they had done for Mayberry’s Finest (yes, the Sheriff is still involved in all things Mayberry; nothing gets out without his stamp of approval)—they were gung-ho to follow through. This too was Andy-approved, and off they went.

The Grascals, ‘Boil Them Cabbage Down,’ from the new EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show

The five songs reprised from the TV show are all upbeat and certainly familiar to Andy Griffith Show fans: the first, a sprightly rendering of “Dooley,” would rank with the finest of the on-air Dillards-Andy performances, and the Grascals give it the proper toe tapping bounce, as Eldredge’s nasally vocal adds the requisite mountain flavor. The traditional “Boil Them Cabbage Down” has wonderful close harmony singing, but its driving force is instrumental—furious, breakneck soloing by fiddler Jeremy Abshire, mandolinist Danny Roberts and banjo virutuoso Kristin Scott Benson (who shines every time she steps into the fray); similarly, another traditional number, “Ol’ Joe Clark,” is keyed by Abshire’s energetic, jittery fiddle lines setting the stage for Benson’s more measured banjo solo as a contrasting voice before Roberts lays down an energized mandolin retort, raining notes everywhere before Abshire returns and takes it home with more sturdy fiddling. The Bob Wills-Tommy Duncan classic, “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer),” is full of life and high spirits, with those tight, plaintive Grascals harmonies in full force and Benson sparkling on her banjo solo midway through; the old spiritual, “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms,” brings out the warmth and conviction in Eldredge’s lead voice, with the message supplemented by the band’s warm harmonizing in the chorus, along with stirring, stately solos by Abshire, Benson and Roberts. These songs are indicative of what Andy Griffith was doing in those years that could not be heard on any other network TV show, dating as they do as far back as 1888 (“Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”) and up to 1945 (“Stay All Night [Stay A Little Longer]”), with “Ol’ Joe Clark” and “Boil Them Cabbage Down” being vintage traditional tunes of uncertain genesis (but back there a ways).

The Grascals, ‘Leaning On the Everlasting Arms,’ from the new EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show

The Grascals collectively wrote one new tune for this project, “Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish,” its title lifted from a bit of Barney Fife dialogue in the episode “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs.” As Eldredge explains it:

“Opie had all these dogs and brought them to the courthouse. If you remember, the state inspector was coming to inspect the jail, because they were trying to get some more funding, to get new cots, new guns and everything. So Opie brought all those dogs in. Barney was like, ‘We gotta get rid of these dogs. The state inspector’s going to think we want the extra funds to build kennels for the dogs or something.’ So Barney finally gets an idea to get rid of the dogs and takes them out to a big field and leaves them. He comes back, Opie comes in and asks where are all the dogs, and Barney says he took them to this big field. Then a big storm comes up, lightning and thunder, and Opie gets worried about the dogs. So Barney says, ‘They’ll be fine, Opie. Dogs look out after each other, and they’re lower to the ground, so lightning can’t strike them.’ Finally, Barney says, ‘Now, if they were giraffes, it would be different. They go around looking out for number one, got their heads high up in the air.’ Then he goes, ‘Boy, giraffes are selfish. They’re selfish.’ Yeah, it’s from that episode.” At a swift 1:11, “Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish” goes by fast, but with Abshire sawing a rustic fiddle line and Benson plunking out banjo fills, it has its own charm; the lyrics essentially detail the plotline Eldredge explains above.

The scene from The Andy Griffith Show that inspired the Grascals’ new song, ‘Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish,’ from the new EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show

Clearly, with 14 songs having been performed by the Dillards on the show, plus others by Andy himself, the Grascals could have done an entire tribute album. Economics factored into the decision to do an EP, as Eldredge confirms. “It was just a quick thing to pay tribute to the music of the show. If you watched the show you know we could probably have done fifty songs. We just picked out a few to represent the show.”

The Grascals, ‘Ol’ Joe Clark,’ from the new EP, Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show

The Grascals’ tribute to Sheriff Andy and his gang doesn’t end with this EP release. The band has added a new wrinkle to its stage show in the form of an Andy Griffith Show trivia challenge. Audience members are invited to try to stump the musicians with questions about the show; to those who succeed in doing so goes a free CD, a t-shirt or a Grascals baseball cap. In turn, the band tosses out a few trivia questions hoping to stump the audience. The interactivity, Eldredge says, “is a fun thing, the crowds have been getting into it. And they come up with some hard questions, man.”

Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin’ is available at the Grascals’ website, and Eldredge adds that the band members will sign CDs for fans who buy them at Grascals shows. Check the itinerary on the band website to find out when the Grascals are coming to your town.

For more Grascals videos, visit the band’s YouTube channel.

Andy, solo acoustic, ‘There is a Time’

For more coverage of The Andy Griffith Show’s 50th anniversary, visit TheBluegrassSpecial’s October 2010 and November 2010 issues for:

“Behind the Scenes of the Real Mayberry”

“40 Acres—Where Mayberry Was Built,”

…and a review of the Dillards’ new album on the Rural Rhythm label,
“I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry,” Rodney Dillard & The Dillard Band

andy griffith show
Christmas greetings from The Andy Griffith Show, 1960: (clockwise, from lower left) Aunt Bee (Francis Bavier); Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith); Opie Howard (Ron Howard); Ellie Walker, Andy Taylor’s first season girlfriend (Elinor Donahue); Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts).

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