The Dillonaires are a father, son, daughter folk/americana/blues trio from Jackson, Mississippi.
Dad, Sherman Lee; son, Andrew John and daughter, Anna Lee provide the voices and musical accompaniment served up with an unforgettable helping of down-home honest energy. From the worn pages of an old shape-note hymnal to brand-new tunes penned in the style of A.P. Carter and Hazel Dickens, the trip will make you laugh, sing, cry and dance.
Wielding an impressive array of instruments, not the least of which are their naturally powerful and expressive voices, the Dillonaires are as much fun to watch as they are to listen to. Their talents run wide and deep.
Sherman Lee is a slide guitar and banjo player, and has worked as a consultant to the filming of “Brother, Where Art Thou,” represented Mississippi in several blues competitions, toured Germany playing Country & Western guitar and harmonica with George Sandifer and The Mississippi Band, and has appeared on stage with John Hartford, John Prine, Riders in the Sky,& Jim and Jesse, Rufus Thomas, Johnny Winter,and Little Milton Campbell. His harmonica workshops are among the most eagerly attended at folk festivals.
Andrew John has a rich baritone voice, a deft touch with the fiddle, and a capacity to write songs that sound decades older than he is. He’s also a lot of fun to watch on stage.
Anna Lee plays rhythm guitar with authority, but it’s her voice that reaches out and grabs you. A soulful ballad, a tender love song, or an angry take on a woman persecuted and scorned … all find their optimal expression in her singing.
Together they offer a memorable show that will echo in your ears and stay in your heart for years to come.
The Dillon family is also committed to social and environmental justice. In 2004 Sherman Lee ran for governor on the Green Party ticket, garnering more than 16,000 votes. Sherman and Anna Lee have also been the organizers of the state’s Earth Day celebration for the past 15 years.
Sherman Lee has been on several blues albums through the years. In the 1990's he released a folk album titled, "Did You Say 'Juan Valdez'?" A hilarious ballad about Sherman Lee's adventure following a mishap meeting Juan Valdez. It was a regular feature on Mississippi's #1 call in radio show.
The Dillonaires debut CD is titled "Dirty Dusty Road." A borrowed line from the CD's most popular song, "Henry & Polly." "Talk About Me," "I'm Bringin Him Home," and "Without You" are other originals that sound right in place beside the other songs that make up this "Old School" CD.
Sherman Lee Dillon- Vocals, Dobro, Banjo, Harmonica
Anna Lee Dillon- Vocals, Flat top Guitar
Andrew John Dillon- Vocals, Fiddle, Upright Bass
"Dirty, Dusty Road" - The Dillonaires (Wepecket Island Records, April 2008)
"State of the Blues" - Sherman Lee Dillon (Wepecket Island Records, September 2009)
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Jackson Free Press Article March 21, 2008 By: Michael Patronik The Dillons are a musical fa...Jackson Free Press Article
March 21, 2008
By: Michael Patronik
The Dillons are a musical family in the purest sense. As daughter Anna Lee puts it, her father Sherman Lee Dillon, 57, has raised seven kids on music, not only through his work as a musician and instrument craftsman, but also by imbuing in them a love for making music.
The Dillons started playing music together in the mid-’90s when Sherman Lee, already a veteran Mississippi musician of two decades, located instruments for his wife, his seven children and one son-in-law, forming a 10-member family folk band. The Dillon Family Band played at schools, churches and festivals around Mississippi until about 2004, when members’ marriages, college and career moves dwindled the band’s ranks.
Sherman Lee continued playing solo until his son, vocalist and fiddler Andrew John, and Anna Lee, who sings and plays guitar, started sitting in during his shows. Gradually, the trio became Sherman Lee Dillon and the Dillonaires. For Sherman Lee, it was a natural progression.
“Anna and Andrew were the only ones that really liked (performing),” Sherman Lee says. “It just made sense.”
These three Dillons have been performing under the banner of The Dillonaires for the past two years since being signed in February 2007 by Massachusetts-based Wepecket Island Records to cut an album. With the September 2008 release of “Dirty, Dusty Road,” the band is seeking audiences outside Mississippi.
The Dillonaires recently played the Taunton River Folk Festival, a benefit to help save the Taunton River watershed in Massachusetts. Given patriarch Sherman Lee’s close involvement with the Mississippi Green Party, participation in environmental causes is a foundation of the band’s philosophy.
“Environmentalism is definitely a passion of ours,” Anna Lee says. “Particularly of my dad’s.” Sherman Lee has been the chief organizer of Jackson’s Earth Day events for the past 15 years, and also ran for governor on the Green Party ticket in the 2003 race.
The Dillonaires have a following in Jackson and frequently play at Millsaps College, a particularly progressive school and one with which Anna Lee says the band has a long-standing relationship. Their new tour has been taking them further afield.
“We’re pretty much touring every month for a week or two,” Anna Lee says. “We’re having a good time getting to see the country, getting to move around.”
The Dillonaires’ album is influenced by bluegrass and gospel, and of course, traditional folk music. Their songs represent a mixture of folk and bluegrass classics in addition to brand-new material. Anna Lee takes up vocal duties on the lovely old-style folk song “Henry and Polly,” while the banjo gets put to good bluegrass use on the album-ender, “John Henry.” In between, the Dillonaires pay homage to old-time churchgoing sensibilities in the a cappella “I Feel Like Traveling On.”
Given their holistic approach to their album, you might expect that the Dillonaires aren’t folk purists. Ask Sherman Lee, who sings and plays banjo and harmonica, about what is and what isn’t folk music these days, and you get a pragmatic reply that reflects the state of flux in the genre.
“It’s like a Rorschach ink-blot,” he says. “Folks define it however they want to at the time.”
Touring the country playing music can be a grueling task, and some might imagine it becomes even tougher when your bandmates are also your relatives. Sherman Lee, though, finds that touring with his children results in a creative experience where they are in tune with one another.
“All in all, we get along very well,” he says. “Between the three of us, there is a mutual respect for one another. There is an awareness of each other’s shortcomings as well as each other’s strong suits.”
Taking the touring schedule in stride, Andrew John laments that coming off the Massachusetts trip has a definite drawback.
“I have mid-terms tomorrow,” the JSU music education major says.
A River Runs Through It
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By Staff reports GateHouse News Service ----------------------------------------------------------...By Staff reports
GateHouse News Service
TAUNTON — The Taunton River Folk Festival’s tradition continues on Wednesday through Monday, Oct. 10 through 13, with the addition of well-known musicians such as Peter Stampfel, John Cohen and Jack Hardy and the return of well-respected folk artists such as David Massengill, Harvey Reid, Paul Geremia, and Andy Cohen. New ventures unfold with added contra dance sessions, sea songs, additional workshops and the “Fresh Faces” program featuring up and coming artists.
Proceeds from the festival go to benefit The Taunton River Watershed Alliance. The 2008 Taunton River Folk Festival will include three days worth of free outdoor activities.
The festival will host return performances by the The Dillonaires. Sherman Lee Dillon has been the primary organizer of the Earth Day celebrations in the state of Mississippi since 1992.
This year’s folk festival will be held in three venues immediate to Taunton Center: Steve’s Backstage Pass, 15 School St., The First Parish Church at Church Green and The Runes, adjacent to Taunton Green.
Ticket prices are kept at a minimum, ranging from $10 for an all-day ticket Friday or Monday to $29 for a four-day pass. Discounts are available for senior citizens and students.
Anna Lee Dillon
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April 11, 2007 Anna Lee Dillon, 25, knows that perseverance is key to making a change. When her f...April 11, 2007
Anna Lee Dillon, 25, knows that perseverance is key to making a change. When her father, Sherman Lee Dillon, founded Jackson’s Earth Day festival 15 years ago, it was a decidedly intimate affair.
“In the early years, it was just my dad and some friends. He would play five hours straight,” the Jackson State graduate says, shaking her head in amazement. “Now we have bands calling us, wanting to be part of it. This year there will be at least twice the exhibitors we’ve had any other year.”
Dillon took the lead role in organizing this year’s festival, which comes April 22 to Jamie Fowler Boyll Park. Although she has two jobs and plays guitar with the Dillionaires, the rest of the family—she has six siblings age 15 to 34—are even busier. The busiest of all may be her father, who baby sits eight of his 10 grandchildren each day and has been working out arrangements for a new album of original music at night. Anna, who has been singing with the band since she attended Forest Hill High School when she was 15, says she is eager to spend time in the studio this May.
First comes Earth Day, however, which Dillon sees as a chance to have fun and send a message at the same time. “It’s always been an outlet for the frustration we feel as a family living in such a red state. It helps to get like-minded people together to see that you’re not alone, that your numbers are growing,” she says. “When Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970, he wanted it to be political. He wanted people to realize that you have to fight to protect the Earth.”
She takes inspiration in fighting for change from her father, who ran for governor as a Green in 2003. She says helping him crash a gubernatorial debate at Delta State was one of the highlights of her adult life.
“We did all the paperwork,” she says, “and they still excluded us from the debate. But we weren’t going to let them ignore us.”
They got passes to the event from a friend, and just after the major-party candidates made their introductions, Sherman hopped up on stage to announce his candidacy and ask for a chance to debate. They dragged him from the stage. A few minutes later, as Haley Barbour spoke on education, Anna sprung up from her seat in the middle of a long row, demanding that the candidates address “real issues” and let her father debate. “(Barbour) tried to talk over me,” she says, “but I’m loud—that’s one benefit of growing up in a large family.”
She met her father at the edge of school property, amazed that they hadn’t been arrested and thrilled that they had forced the powers that be to take notice, if only for a minute.
“It was a shining moment,” she says.
The family that plays together...
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March 21, 2000 Combine 2 parents, 7 children, an in-law, and you get the Dillon Family Band. B...March 21, 2000
Combine 2 parents, 7 children, an in-law, and you get the Dillon Family Band.
By Lori Herring/Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
There is an air of urgency in the Dillon household. It's Friday morning, early, and the four children who live with their parents in the red house at the end of Glenn Street are still getting ready for work and school, eating breakfast, preparing for the day.
Additionally, the other three Dillon offspring are expected to show, and one, the oldest-Polly Thornhill- has already arrived. She's a social worker, like her mother, Louise Mary Dillon, but that, of course, is not the only way she spends her time.
She, with her father and mother, six siblings, and husband, comprise The Dillon Family Band. Her instruments of choice are the bari-uke and the penny whistle. Her husband, Tre -the only member of the extended family involved - plays the mandolin.
While Polly and her mother and siblings and husband may have other work or schooling to attend to during the day, her father, Sherman Lee, is not a part-timer to the music scene: he is a professional musician, and has been singing, and playing his banjo, guitar and dobro for upwards of 30 years.
"We've always had music in the house," says Polly.
Perhaps surprisingly, Sherman Lee never pressured his family to play any instruments, let alone participate in a family band. Polly and Margaret were just sitting around one day, playing around with the penny whistle and guitar, and Sherman Lee sat down to play with them.
"And I thought,this is such a neat thing," says Polly.
Dad certainly didn't disagree.
"I said, `I'm not going to drag them into it,' " Sherman Lee says. "They were just interested."
Jesse, the youngest at 9 years old, goes to his ukulele, picks it up, and begins to play.
"My dad taught me to play," Jesse says, not shyly. "I play my ukulele in almost all the songs."
He demonstrates how he can make his instrument "talk."
"I can play Amazing Grace, too," he says.
The Dillon family had their musical debut just a year and a half ago, at a Fourth of July picnic. Since then, they've played several venues, including Jubilee Jam. They'll be adding to their venue list on Saturday, when they'll be featured at the High Noon Cafe, to help build awareness for Earth Day - which is fast approaching.
What kind of music can you expect to hear? It sounds a lot like bluegrass to this inexperienced ear, but Sherman Lee Dillon, the expert here, says it's not.
"You hear bluegrass, and the banjo, bass and fiddle kind of define it. What we play is a pre-bluegrass music, a sort of early American folk music," he says.
Indeed, the Dillon family's collection of musical instruments includes such unique-looking instruments as the dobro, bari-uke, penny whistle and ukulele.
"Most of what we play is older instruments," explains Sherman Lee.
And the Dillons' use of these instruments breaks them out of the bluegrass mold.
"Bluegrass music is kind of like the orchestra, where the instruments have designated roles," Sherman Lee explains. "Ours is free-for-all folk," he says.
Sherman Lee's music could perhaps be explained as free-for-all. He's played solo, and with all sorts of bands - gospel, bluegrass, rock `n roll. Right now, he plays with some guys who call themselves Sherman Lee Dillon and the Tuff-Nutts.
"He's just been exposed to lots of music his whole life," says Louise of her husband, a little later. Sherman Lee is gone, taking the younger two children to school. "He knows so many instruments, he can teach the kids whatever they want to learn." (Andrew, the exception, is taking violin lessons from school.)
"I can remember when I was little, being in bed at night upstairs, and hearing Dad play," Polly says. "Dad was always encouraging us to pick up something (an instrument) and play."
And so the natural talent coursing through the Dillon blood has taken hold of them all. Newcomers to the family be warned: if you marry in, you better learn to play.
"Katie's fiance is going to have to play something," says Louise, half-joking, half-not.
All the Dillons present (minus Daniel, the oldest son, and Katie, the second daughter) get together to pose for their picture, all banters and smiles, then they start playing their instruments and singing and not one of them is tone-deaf they're all on key and ... they sound really good together. Sherman Lee, patriarch of the band, is coaching everyone through the song, and they are suddenly transformed into the happiest musical family since the Partridges.
"We went to New Hampshire and back, with all of us in a minivan," Polly says. "And none of us were killed."
"That's the thing about large families," says Andrew, a wise man at 12 years old. "There's just so many of us, and we all think we're all right. We just have to understand that not everybody can be right."
Section: Southern Style
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