The late, and undoubtedly great banjo player Doug Dillard convened The Doug Dillard Expedition late in 1969, following the break-up of his duo project Dillard & Clark, which he had formed with Gene Clark, ex of The Byrds in the early part of 1968.
Together, Dillard & Clark recorded The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark in mid-1968, the first of two albums they would make for A&M, a real classic of the Country Rock genre. It skilfully merged Country, Pop and rock and roll with Bluegrass touches, and promised much more to come from the duo. However, although they had achieved notoriety by dint of their frequent appearances on the popular TV comedy/ soap opera The Andy Griffith Show Clark split from the band to resume his solo career after their second album, Through the Morning, Through The Night was released late in 1969.
Dillard had to consider his options and so came up with The Doug Dillard Expedition, whose line-up initially comprised David Jackson (bass, piano, vocals), Donna Washburn (guitar, vocals), Jon Corneal (drums, percussion, vocals), Byron Berline (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Don Beck (guitar, banjo, vocals) in addition to Dillard’s banjo and vocals.
Byron Berline was a phenomenally talented musician, capable of lending his matchless fiddle style to Old Time Country, Ragtime, Bluegrass, Cajun and Country Rock. He had started to play fiddle at the age of five, and his skill developed remarkably. By 1965, he had recorded the album Pickin’ and Fiddlin’ with Doug’s previous band The DIllards, and after graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1967, he joined the Bluegrass Boys but left the group in September 1967 when he was drafted into the Army. On his discharge from the Army in 1969, he played on the Dillard & Clark album, Through The Morning, Through The Night. Obviously, he and Doug Dillard got on well, and they ended up touring together.
But this line-up was very brief indeed, lasting only from December of 1969 through to the end of January 1970. The personnel changed, with only Dillard and Berline remaining, to be joined by Roger Bush (bass, vocals), and Billy Ray Lathum (banjo, guitar and vocals).
Roger Bush came pretty much from Bluegrass Royalty. Born in September 1940 in Hollywood, and raised in El Monte, California, he was taught to play upright bass by none other than Roland White (brother of future Byrd Clarence White), replacing bassist Eric White (brother of Roland and Clarence) in The Country Boys, which in 1962 became The Kentucky Colonels. He met up with Byron Berline in September 1969, and enlisted with The Doug Dillard Expedition.
As for Billy Ray Lathum, he followed a similar path. Born in Wild Cat Corner, Arkansas in 1938, young Billy grew up around bluegrass and country music. Listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio with his family, he learned to play banjo and, after moving to Los Angeles, he met a young Clarence White who invited him to join The Kentucky Colonels. When Clarence left the band in 1965, Billy toured and recorded with Ricky Nelson, and helped form The Country Gazette with Byron Berline, before getting an offer to join The Dillards and then The Doug Dillard Expedition.
With this line-up, The Expedition had a fine pedigree of performers playing a real tour-de-force of Bluegrass, Country, Folk and Old Time styles with flair, fire and skill. Their tenure together was short-lived and Dillard went on to pursue a successful solo career but the music of The Expedition was infused with honesty and passion, and to this day has a truly timeless, luminous quality. Dillard passed away in May 2012.
With thanks to Alan Robinson