Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 30 July 1944, Sioux Falls, SD) Multi-instrumentalist and one of the godfathers of country rock. His family were military and soon moved to southern California; he soon began learning to play anything that had strings. After graduating from high school he formed a bluegrass group called the Dry City Scat Band, with David Lindley, Steve Cahill, Richard Greene, and Pete Madlem. They were soon very successful and landed a summer gig at Disneyland in 1964, but changes were afoot. Darrow met Jim McGuinn, who played in the Chad Mitchell Trio and who had just returned from England raving about the British music scene, wearing Beatle boots and long hair. Later that summer, the Scat Band was replaced by the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and mandolinist Chris Hillman, a hardcore bluegrass purist who confessed to Darrow that he was joining McGuinn's rock & roll band, called the Byrds, because he needed the money.

Darrow put together Kaleidoscope, with Lindley and others, mixing any number of genres; next, in 1967, Darrow joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (see entries for these influential groups). Next came a long if intermittent working relationship with Linda Ronstadt. Darrow and Jeff Hanna from the Dirt Band had formed a group called the Corvettes; former Monkee Michael Nesmith produced singles for them, and had also written Ronstadt's hit 'Different Drum'. They became Ronstadt's backing band and Darrow stayed with her off and on for years, while Bernie Leadon came in to replace Hanna, who left to re-form the Dirt Band.

Darrow signed with United Artists in 1972 and made his first (eponymous) album, followed by Under My Own Disguise in 1974. 'Whipping Boy' from the first album was a critical success and is still covered occasionally, e.g. by Ben Harper. (These two albums were reissued by BGO Records in England in a twofer in 2001, and were scheduled to be released by Everloving Records, the home of Van Dyke Parks among others, in March 2009 in a very fancy set: Chris Darrow/Under My Own Disguise was to be a deluxe two-CD, two-LP set with a 48-page 12” x 12” photo book, and also available digitally without the trimmings.) Darrow subsequently sessioned with James Taylor, Sonny & Cher, Gene Vincent, Helen Reddy, Hoyt Axton, John Stewart and John Fahey, to name a few. His slide guitar work was featured on a compilation album called Everybody Slides Vol. 2, with tracks by Lowell George, John Hammond, Lindley and Rory Block. on Sky Ranch Records in France and Rykodisc in the United States. Darrow also appeared on two Takoma Records compilations, Takoma Slides and Takoma Eclectic Sampler Vol. 2.

In the 1990s Darrow began recording for the Taxim label of Germany, which had been named after a Kaleidoscope track. In 2000 there was a two-CD set, Coyote/Straight From the Heart, with a 40-minute instrumental suite and 20 original songs. Taxim also released Fretless, Southern California Drive, Los Chumps with Max Buda, and Mojave, a Darrow-produced album featuring members of Emmylou Harris's band, Lone Justice, and the Byrds.

Darrow’s influence is attested in books such as Barney Hoskyns’ Waiting for the Sun and Hotel California, Chuck Crisafulli’s Are You Ready for the Country, and Richie Unterberger’s Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock. Darrow is also a photographer. He planned to publish a book of photographs he has taken over 35 years, many of which appeared on album covers. He said he decided to take photojournalism to a professional level after his wife ran off with a photographer.