Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Turns 50 | Sound Stories & Interviews | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Turns 50

John McEuen and crew have been producing influential music for half a century. #NGDB50



"If anyone is curious about how we've been a band for 50 years, come see us play," said John McEuen, founding member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (NGDB) found its name in Long Beach, Calif., in the summer of 1966. They are often cited as a catalyst for an entire movement of Americana music, and they continue to have an iconic and influential presence today. According to McEuen, "We set the groundwork for an earthy style of Americana and then put a little more dirt in it."

They were all juveniles when the band formed in the 60s and have since received multiple Grammys, International Bluegrass Music Awards, County Music Awards and multiple top 10 hits such as "Fishing in the Dark" and "Mr. Bojangles." They will grace the Crook County Fairgrounds on Aug. 13 as a part of their 50th anniversary tour (#NGDB50).

The band's sound began as a rock-country collaboration with founding members Jeff Hanna (guitar, vocals), Jimmie Fadden (harmonica, vocals, drums, and percussion), Chris Darrow (guitar, fiddle), Les Thompson (vocals, mandolin, bass, guitar, banjo and percussion), and John McEuen (banjo and fiddle). They coasted outside the coattails of fame, obtaining critical success but commercial failure with the release of their first three albums, "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band" (1967), "Ricochet" (1967) and "Rare Junk" (1968).

Eventually, NGBD began to produce music with a jug band sound that faded into country. They traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to record with country veterans such as Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, and Mother Maybelle Carter. It was in Nashville that the band harnessed its influential rock-country sound, releasing "Will the Circle be Unbroken" in 1973. It was a million dollar-seller with positive reviews, and the cycle has continued since then.

The group has continued to produce albums with success every year or two. In 1983, the album "Let Go" marked their return to country music, and NGBD made headlines as the first American rock band to tour the Soviet Union. In 1989, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken Vol. 2" won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal performance (duo or group) and Country Music Association's Album of the year. This album featured artists Johnny Cash, Chris Hillman and Ricky Skaggs. The band is known now for incorporating many recognized musicians into their work.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is featured in American country music discographies. The single, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," crosses the country barrier into bluegrass and explores Americana like a battle hymn. The band's other notable singles include "Fishing in the Dark," a song written by Wendy Waldman and Jim Photoglo that was released in 1987 as a second single for the album, "Hold On." It not only reached number-one on the United States country charts, but also made it to second in Canada. Photoglo is traveling with the band on this tour.

The band has visited Oregon on more than one occasion, including during the filming of "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) in Baker, Oregon. The film starred Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg, Lee Marvin and a soundtrack that featured NGDB. McEuen said he is hoping some of the people involved with the film will come see the show because they've got a half dozen new songs.

The band has packed 50 years of relevant hits into this anniversary tour. NGDB hosted a star-studded televised PBS special this past March to broadcast their sold-out performances. The special featured legendary guest artists including Jerry Jeff Walker, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell, Byron House and Jackson Browne. With these special guests the NGDB humbly displayed the talent that made them part of a pivotal project in history that led to a change in music genre. From the radical hippies of the 1960s to the millennials of today, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band still finds a way to keep folks listening.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Saturday, Aug. 13, 7pm

Crook County Fairgrounds, 1280 Main St., Prineville


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