In the years I have been studying, researching, and writing about old-time music, the name of John Dilleshaw has remained a tantalizing and elusive mystery. An inquiry about Dilleshaw—or Dilly and His Dill Pickles, as the record labels read—became a standard coda to any interview I did with any older southeastern musician, and the inquiry usually drew a blank. Who was this tall, laconic guitar player who propelled such excellent, driving string band music, and talked his way through a couple of solo performances besides?
There were abundant clues: His records are full of place-names like Bald Mountain, the Dog River, Bibb County, and Kennesaw Mountain, and the names of his supporting musicians appear on several of the skits the band recorded. Yet in spite of the clues, people digging after him kept drawing blanks. Repeated research forays into north Georgia unearthed a good many other musicians, and some of these had heard of Dilleshaw, but none really knew much about him. I had started hoping for the same fate that befell Donald Nelson in his hunt for the Allen Brothers: that the word would spread, and some morning I would get a phone call from a deep-voiced man who would identify himself as John Dilleshaw and invite me to his farm down on the Dog River for some barbecue and talk about old times.
Alas, this scenario never developed, but what did happen, while not as dramatic, is about as interesting, and it does give us at least a rudimentary portrait of one of the last big mystery figures of old-time string band music.
Dilleshaw has not been a complete mystery; over the years several researchers have gotten scraps of information about him. Back in 1963 Bob Pinson, stopping over in Atlanta, contacted Raymond W. Lindsey, the “Shorty” Lindsey of the Dilleshaw records, who played tenor banjo. In an informal conversation Bob learned that Shorty’s father was “Pink”