Oct 7, 2019
About This Episode
With a refreshed lineup and newfound
energy, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band remains one of the most
accomplished bands in American roots music.
Following an extended 50th
anniversary tour, the ensemble grew to a six-piece in 2018 for the
first time since their early jug band days. The group now includes
Jeff Hanna (acoustic guitar, electric guitar), Jimmie Fadden
(drums, harmonica), Bob Carpenter (keyboards), Jim Photoglo (bass,
acoustic guitar), Ross Holmes (fiddle, mandolin), and Jaime Hanna
(electric and acoustic guitar). All six members also sing, and when
their voices merge, the harmonies add a powerful new component for
the legendary band. And with the father-son pairing of Jeff and
Jaime Hanna, the band carries on a country music tradition of blood
harmony. Jeff Hanna says, "It's like when you throw a couple of
puppies into a pen with a bunch of old dogs. All of a sudden, the
old dogs start playing, you know? That's kind of what's happened
with us. The basic vibe is so up and positive, and the music– we're
hearing surprises from Jaime and Ross all night. And they're
encouraging us in the same way to take more chances. It's opened a
lot of doors for us, musically, and the morale is really great.
That's important for a band that's been out there for over 53
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played
their first gig in 1966 in Southern California as a jug band and by
1969 had become a cornerstone of the burgeoning country-rock
community. Their career breakthrough came in 1970 with the release
of the record Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy and the single "Mr.
Bojangles," a folksy Top 10 pop hit that remains a staple of their
live show. During a tour stop in Nashville around that time, Earl
Scruggs and his family came backstage to say hello. That
introduction led to a friendship and some of the connections the
band needed to record Will the Circle Be Unbroken. That three-disc
album brought Nitty Gritty Dirt Band together with a number of
country, folk, and bluegrass legends. Heroes like Roy Acuff, Mother
Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin, Merle Travis, and Doc Watson joined
the scruffy, young band to record country music standards such as
"I Saw the Light" and "Keep on the Sunnyside." The acclaimed
project is considered a landmark recording in American music.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band earned a pop
resurgence in 1980 with "An American Dream" and "Make a Little
Magic." Those singles also found traction on the country chart,
setting the stage for a major run at country radio. The band
secured 16 Top 10 country hits between 1983 and 1990, including
three No. 1 singles: "Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper's Dream),"
"Modern Day Romance," and "Fishin' in the Dark." Bernie Leadon, a
founding member of The Eagles, played in the band from 1986 to 1988
filling a vacancy by longtime member John McEuen.
With so much material to work with,
the band is making it a point to shuffle the set lists more often,
meaning that this isn't the same Dirt Band show from years past.
"We're fortunate that we've got a deep songbook. That's been on our
list, to resurrect some of the tunes we haven't done in a while, in
addition to some new stuff," Hanna says.
At the peak of their country career,
the band toured Europe with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, who
hinted that they'd love to appear on a sequel to Will the Circle Be
Unbroken, if the band ever decided to make one. That gesture
convinced the band to get back in the studio to record another
all-star album. Circle Volume II featured Johnny and June, as well
as Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, John Hiatt, Bruce
Hornsby, John Denver, Ricky Skaggs, New Grass Revival, and many
other marquee names – not to mention encore performances by Roy
Acuff, Jimmy Martin, and Earl Scruggs. Released in 1989, the album
won three Grammys and a CMA Award for Album of the Year.
As the country music landscape
shifted toward a youth market, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band kept on
touring and recording. They played on two projects by The
Chieftains, cut a song with Karla Bonoff for an album dedicated to
the 1996 Olympics, and contributed "Maybe Baby" to a Buddy Holly
tribute, Not Fade Away. Another collaborative album, Will the
Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III, arrived in 2003. Soon after, the
band earned an additional Grammy for "Earl's Breakdown," which they
recorded with Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs, Vassar Clements and
Jerry Douglas. Meanwhile, both "Mr. Bojangles" and Will the Circle
Be Unbroken were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took a
moment to acknowledge their incredible history by filming a 50th
anniversary concert event at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Guests for that Circlin' Back special included early Dirt Band
member Jackson Browne, Sam Bush, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Alison
Krauss, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Byron House, Jerry Jeff Walker,
and longtime Dirt Band member Jimmy Ibbotson. The concert aired as
a nation-wide PBS Pledge special in 2016 and won a regional Emmy
for Special Event Coverage.
Today, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
consists of Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter, for years
known as "the new guy," and Jim Photoglo, a friend of the band
whose credits include cowriting "Fishin' in the Dark", as well as
touring and recording with Carole King, Dan Fogelberg, and Vince
Gill. Newest members Jaime Hanna and Ross Holmes also bring years
of experience to the band. Hanna toured and recorded with The
Mavericks and Gary Allan, while Holmes toured and recorded with
Mumford & Sons and Bruce Hornsby.
"The energy these days is so up --
and our fans have responded in a really great way," Hanna says. "As
a fan of other bands, I know how complicated it can be when members
come and go. You can either embrace that or you don't. Our fans are
really gracious and I appreciate that. It's been a really good run
and there's a lot of daylight ahead of us."
About Michael Perry
Michael Perry is a New York Times
bestselling author, humorist and radio show host from New Auburn,
Perry's bestselling memoirs include
Population 485, Truck: A Love Story, Coop, and Visiting Tom, and
his latest, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through
Philosophy. His first book for young readers, The Scavengers, was
published in 2014 and first novel for adult readers, The Jesus Cow,
was published in May of 2015.
Raised on a small Midwestern dairy
farm, Perry put himself through nursing school while working on a
ranch in Wyoming, then wandered into writing. He lives with his
wife and two daughters in rural Wisconsin, where he serves on the
local volunteer fire and rescue service and is an intermittent pig
farmer. He hosts the nationally-syndicated "Tent Show Radio,"
performs widely as a humorist, and tours with his band the Long
Beds (currently recording their third album for Amble Down
Records). He has recorded three live humor albums including Never
Stand Behind A Sneezing Cow and The Clodhopper Monologues.
Learn more about Michael and where
to get his publications at www.sneezingcow.com.
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