Jayne was born July 5, 1928 in Hammond, Ind., the son of Bea and Gus Jayne. After a stint at the University of Missouri, he began teaching in one-room schools in Dent County, where he documented the use of the forgotten words and phrases of Elizabethan English spoken by his pupils.
He once asked a 6-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.
In 1962, Jayne befriended talented bluegrass musicians Douglas and Rodney Dillard, who invited him along to seek their musical fortunes in California. Jayne learned to play the bass lying down in the back of their station wagon en route to the West Coast. They played several venues, including the hungry i in San Francisco, where they caught the attention of critics for their hard-driving melding of electrified bluegrass and rock. They were invited to play on “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” and “The Whole World Round.” The group recorded more than 20 albums from 1963 to 2006, but Jayne’s participation in the group waned in the late 1970s.
While in California, Jayne also published his first books, “The 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 around 1974 and built a house adjacent to the Marcoot region of the Mark Twain National Forest. One week before Christmas in 1981, a spark from the massive stone chimney of his house caught the handmade 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, featured local news, bluegrass music, “The Snake and Tick Market Report,” and a variety of satirical sketches, including a July Fourth 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 Band-aids.
The radio show — especially “The Snake and Tick Market Report” — had a wide following. A pilot once told Jayne he diverted his plane to fly over Salem so he could entertain passengers as they passed through his air space.
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 column, “Driftwood,” which appeared in several Missouri newspapers and 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 Grand Ole Opry.
The publication of his fourth novel, “Fiddler’s Ghost,” in 2007 led to the 2008 Governor’s Humanities Book Award, and it was named one of the 10 best books of the year by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Jayne died on August 2, 2010 at the age of 82.