Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Bluegrass legend Dean Webb, influence on many, dies at 81

Dean Webb, on "The Andy Griffith Show," left, and playing his mandolin.
Bluegrass mandolin legend Dean Webb died on June 30 at the age of 81. He first began playing bluegrass and country music in honky-tonk bars across the rural Midwest, but in the early 1960s began playing with The Dillards. After the group got a recording contract in 1962, they released several albums and began to gain some notoriety. But their big break came from their appearances on The Andy Griffith Show, in which they played bluegrass as members of the fictitious Darling family. Besides that, "The Dillards have had television exposure on Nashville Now, The Johnny Cash Show, Hollywood a Go-Go and Hootenanny, among other programmes," Richard Thompson reports for Bluegrass Today. They also opened for Elton John on his first tour of the U.S. in 1972.

The Dillards' musical influence ranges far beyond what one might expect: Webb's mandolin playing helped influence Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones to pick up the instrument, and his harmony arranging skills helped The Byrds figure out the complicated harmonies on "Mr. Tambourine Man," Thompson reports.

"What an enormous influence he had on musicians out here," longtime bluegrass DJ Wayne Rice told Thompson. "I don’t think I ever heard anyone play the mandolin quite like he did. He held it like a machine gun and just blew us all away."

Ronnie Ellis, Kentucky statehouse correspondent for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., remembers Webb on a more personal level. He writes in the Richmond Register that Webb was his best friend and an uncommonly loving, patient and methodical man. "Dean loved deeply those he loved at all. He loved as well to share his friends, impatient to introduce one to another. Because he was that way, I met an extraordinary number of exceptionally interesting people, a couple of whom also became life-long friends," Ellis writes. "I've often told my children I am the richest person I know. Not for what I possess but because of the people I'd been given to love and enjoy. Dean enriched my life more than I can describe. His was one long adventure and he kindly took me along for the ride."

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