July 5, 1928
– August 5, 2010
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Mitch Jayne, 1928 - 2010
musician, and humorist Mitch Jayne died Monday, August 2, in Columbia,
Mo. Jayne was the author of five books, a weekly newspaper column
published in the rural Ozarks for 20 years, and more than a dozen
bluegrass songs recorded by The Dillards. He hosted a radio show in
Salem, Mo., that attracted national attention for its satire, including
the “Tick and Snake Market Report,” a regular feature that reported
market prices for Hoo-Boy White Dot Crushproof Dry Valley Wonder ticks
and black, copperhead, coachwhip, garter, and rattle snakes.
Jayne was born July 5, 1928, in Hammond, Ind., the son of Bea and Gus
Jayne. After a stint at the University of Missouri-Columbia, he began
teaching in one-room schools in Dent County, Mo., where he documented
the use of the forgotten words and phrases of Elizabethan English
spoken by his pupils.
He once asked a six-year-old what his father did for a living. “He
principally farms,” the youngster told him, “and when he isn’t farming
he sits on the porch and plays the fiddle, just to beguile the time.”
One day when a student learned he wanted to see a beaver in the wild,
the student told him, “Mr. Jayne, there’s a beaver a’workin’ forenent
the mill.” When Jayne asked a student to stay after school for some
chore, the boy replied, “No, Mr. Jayne, I’d best haste home. Mother
don’t sanction us being dilatory.”
Jayne published his recollections of his students’ use of Elizabethan
English in 2000 in Home Grown Stories & Home Fried Lies,
illustrated by his wife, artist Diana Jayne. He lamented the
consolidation of one-room schools, comparing it to the influence of TV
and radio that brought homogeneity to language and culture, ultimately
leading to the demise of the rich old English phrases in their last
sanctuary in the remote Ozarks mountains.
Sometime after 1959, Jayne befriended talented bluegrass musicians
Douglas and Rodney Dillard, who invited him along to seek their musical
fortunes in California. On the day of their departure, while loading
suitcases and instruments in (mandolin player) Dean Webb’s old black
Cadillac and homemade trailer, the Dillard brothers’ Aunt Dollie’s
parting words were, “You boys sure are going a long way to flop!”
Jayne learned to play the bass lying down in the back of Dean’s
Cadillac en route to the West Coast. When they arrived in LA, at Dean’s
instance, the group headed directly to the then nationally known Ash
Grove Folk Club, where the Greenbriar Boys were performing. After the
Greenbriar Boys went on break, The Dillards got out their instruments
and started picking in the club’s lobby. Immediately, the Ash Grove’s
owner hired them to be regulars. Their performances at the Ash Grove
landed them a contract with Elektra Records, and “discovery” by a
talent agent for "The Andy Griffith Show," where they appeared
regularly as the Darling Family for three years.
Jayne authored many of the Dillard’s best-known works, including
“Dooley,” “The Old Home Place,” “The Whole World Round,” and “There Is
A Time.” The group recorded numerous albums from 1963 to 2006, but
Jayne’s participation in the group waned in the late 1970s.
Not realizing that they would become a part of music history, The
Dillards went on to influence the formation of bands such as The Byrds,
Eagles, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In 1972, The Dillards (with
Herb Peterson who replaced Doug Dillard on banjo) were the opening act
on Elton John’s first American tour. Quoted from an interview on
www.cmt.com, Elton says, “The Dillards did an album called Wheatstraw
Suite, which is one of my favorite albums. It was mostly Beatles
songs, and the first thing I did when I came to America was go and see
droll, whimsical narrative background for The Dillards was a main
ingredient in their popularity. Without being limited to a specific
style of music, Rodney Dillard’s innate creative musical compositions
have credited The Dillards with being the originators of country rock.
While in California, Jayne also published his first books, Forest
in the Wind, in 1966, and Old Fish Hawk in 1973. Old
Fish Hawk, about an Osage Indian, was made into a movie starring
Will Sampson in 1979.
Jayne returned to Missouri in the late 1970s, where he built a log
house adjacent to the Mark Twain National Forest in a remote area of
the Ozarks. One week before Christmas in 1981, a spark from the massive
stone chimney of his house caught the hand-made shakes of the roof on
fire and destroyed his home. Two weeks later his bluegrass friends held
a benefit concert to raise money to rebuild the house, which he moved
into in 1983.
His popular radio show, “Hickory Holler Time,” broadcast on KSMO in
Salem, Mo., featured local news, bluegrass music, the Tick and Snake
Market Report, and a variety of satirical sketches, including a July
4th episode in which Thomas Jefferson and George Washington trade
foxhounds. He invented a character, Zeke Reeferzottum, who shared
folklore such as predicting the severity of winter by looking at “wooly
caterpillows. Not their color, their size! I been skinnin’ ’em and
tannin’ their hides!” Mother Mitch’s News was a spin-off of the Mother
Earth News, providing practical advice for living off the land,
including making your own toilet paper (“perforations can be added with
a spur or pizza cutter”) or a sturdy truss out of old shoe tongues and
The radio show – especially the Tick and Snake Market Report -- had a
wide following. A commercial airline pilot once told Jayne he diverted
his plane to fly over Salem so he could entertain passengers as they
passed through his air space.
In the 1980s, Jayne started a third novel, the yet-to-be-published Glory
Hole War, a story about Ozarkian saboteurs who take exception to a
government plan to dam their spring. He also began writing his weekly
newspaper column, “Driftwood,” which appeared in several Missouri
newspapers. He also wrote humor columns for several magazines, and went
on the lecture circuit to talk about conservation, not just of natural
resources, but of culture and history.
In his last decade, he received the official praise that in earlier
years might have been the object of his gentle jokes. In 2002, the
Dillards reunited to play to a packed audience in Carnegie Hall. In
2009, they were inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame at the Ryman
Auditorium in Nashville.
The publication of his fourth novel, Fiddler’s
Ghost, in 2007 led to the 2008 Missouri Governor's Humanities Book
Award, and it was named one of the 10 best books of the year by
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In addition to his wife of 16 years, Diana Jayne, he is survived by a
brother, Sears Jayne of Watertown, Mass., and daughters Carole Jayne of
Eminence, Mo., and Valerie Jayne of St. Charles, Mo. Family and close
friends were with him during his final days of compassionate care at
the Columbia veterans hospital, where he entertained and told stories
until he was too weak to talk. When asked by a friend how he was doing,
he replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never died before.” A memorial service
is planned for the fall in the Ozarks, the time and place Jayne loved
best and never tired of sharing through his stories and music.
“Your idea of what’s funny is going to get you into trouble,” Mitch’s
mother used to say to him.
“And it has,” he said, “but what she didn’t know was it’s also made me
By Kathryn Love and Diana Jayne
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