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'Andy Griffith Show' character set to perform at Brandon church

Featured in this photo are Rodney Dillard, one of the Darling Boys on the Andy Griffith Show; Maggie Peterson, who played Charlene Darling; and Frances Bavier, who took on the role of Aunt Bea. Dillard will perform with the Walker Brothers in an Evening in Mayberry on Jan. 7 at New Hope United Methodist Church in Brandon. Photo courtesy of Rodney Dillard
Published Dec. 29, 2017

BRANDON — There are few things Rodney Dillard enjoys more than strumming his favorite bluegrass tunes on the guitar and telling funny stories about his time on the Andy Griffith Show.

Following his move to Hollywood with the Ozark Mountain Boys band in the early 1960s, Dillard, his brother Doug, and two other young members of the group changed their name to the Dillards and landed a spot as the Darling Boys on the iconic show.

The hit comedy series aired on CBS from 1960 to 1968.

"Andy was a warm and funny guy who loved playing tricks on Don Knotts (Barney Fife)," Rodney said. "Don Knotts brought in a mandolin and thought it was really valuable so he gave it to Andy to have it checked out. A few days later Andy brought it back filled with dirt and a potted plant in it."

He added that Griffith also was incredibly kind-hearted toward the Dillards, especially when it came to accommodating them when they had other late-night gigs on evenings prior to next-day rehearsals for the show, which required them to be on the set by 6 a.m.

"He would give us the keys to his office so we could sleep there or on cots in the jail," Rodney said. "We would fight over who would get the cots."

In addition, Howard Morris, who played the role of hillbilly troublemaker Ernest T. Bass, was an extremely talented and comical guy. According to Rodney, the only difference between Morris in real life and the character he played was the clothing he wore.

"We had a hard time keeping a straight face when he was on the set, like when we were kids and had to hide under the covers to conceal our giggles," he said.

Rodney's wife, Brenda Cotton-Dillard, appeared several times on the Hee Haw TV show and is well known among bluegrass aficionados for her mastery of the clawhammer banjo technique. She recalls a time when Morris went on a shopping excursion with her and a couple of her friends in search of a velvet Elvis wall hanging he'd been wanting for years.

"We found one and when I was trying to put it in the van I kept hitting something," she said. "I finally realized it was Howard I was hitting in the head, but in true form he just laughed it off."

But neither Rodney nor Brenda — who for close to 50 years have toured the country with the Dillard Band — would elaborate any further about the comical occurrences that took place with the actors on or off the set of the enormously popular Andy Griffith Show, which through syndication continues to warm the hearts of viewers worldwide.

Instead the couple prefers to save their comments for their appearance in An Evening in Mayberry, featuring the Dillards with the Walker Brothers on Sunday, Jan. 7, at New Hope United Methodist Church, 121 N Knights Ave., in Brandon. The event will begin at 6 p.m., but seating is available starting at 5 p.m. It is free, but a donation box will be located in the narthex.

The Walker Brothers, Cory, 27, Jarrod, 25, and Tyler, 22, each accomplished musicians in their own right, were born and raised in the Brandon community and grew in their Christian faith at the church in which they will perform.

What's more, Cory — whose musical talents include playing the banjo, guitar, mandolin, dobro and bass — is a member of the Dillards Band.

In addition, Cory and Jarrod, a mandolinist with the award-winning Claire Lynch Band, have performed together on the Grand Ole Opry stage and at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville.

And while the older two boys earned business degrees several years ago at Middle Tennessee State University and now live in Nashville, Tyler is in his senior year at Florida State University in Tallahassee and joins his brothers in gigs whenever he is able.

"We really love Corey's spirit and the entire Walker family are great people," Beverly said. "We're just really excited to play with them."

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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