Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Biography

Formed in Long Beach, California, in 1965, this enduring attraction evolved from the region’s traditional circuit. Founder members Jeff Hanna (11 July 1947; guitar/vocals) and Bruce Kunkel (guitar/vocals) had worked together as the New Coast Two, prior to joining the Illegitimate Jug Band. Glen Grosclose (drums), Dave Hanna (guitar/vocals), Ralph Barr (guitar) and Les Thompson (bass/vocals) completed the embryonic Nitty Gritty Dirt Band line-up, although Grosclose and Dave Hanna quickly made way for Jimmie Fadden (b. 9 March 1948, Long Beach, California, USA; drums/guitar) and Jackson Browne (guitar/vocals). Although the last musician only remained for a matter of months - he was replaced by John McEuen - his songs remained in the band’s repertoire throughout their early career. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band comprised jug-band, vaudeville and pop material, ranging from the quirky ‘Candy Man’ to the orchestrated folk/pop of ‘Buy For Me The Rain’, a minor US hit. Ricochet maintained this balance, following which Chris Darrow, formerly of Kaleidoscope, replaced Kunkel.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band completed two further albums, and enjoyed a brief appearance in the movie Paint Your Wagon, before disbanding in 1969. They reconvened the following year around Jeff Hanna, John McEuen, Jimmie Fadden, Les Thompson and newcomer Jim Ibbotson (b. 21 January 1947, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). Having abandoned the jokey elements of their earlier incarnation, they pursued a career as purveyors of superior country rock. The acclaimed Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy included excellent versions of Michael Nesmith’s ‘Some Of Shelley’s Blues’, Kenny Loggins’ ‘House At Pooh Corner’ and Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr. Bojangles’, a US Top 10 hit in 1970. Will The Circle Be Unbroken, recorded in Nashville, was an expansive collaboration between the band and traditional music mentors Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis and Earl Scruggs. Its charming informality inspired several stellar performances and the set played an important role in breaking down mistrust between country’s establishment and the emergent ‘long hair’ practitioners.

Les Thompson left the line-up following the album’s completion, but the remaining quartet, buoyed by an enhanced reputation, continued their eclectic ambitions on Stars And Stripes Forever and Dreams. In 1976 the band dropped its Nitty Gritty prefix and, as the Dirt Band, undertook a pioneering USSR tour the following year. Both Hanna and Ibbotson enjoyed brief sabbaticals, during which time supplementary musicians were introduced. By 1982 the prodigals had rejoined Fadden, McEuen and newcomer Bob Carpenter (b. 26 December 1946, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; keyboards) for Let’s Go. The Dirt Band were, by then, an American institution with an enduring international popularity. ‘Long Hard Road (Sharecropper Dreams)’ and ‘Modern Day Romance’ topped the country charts in 1984 and 1985, respectively, but the following year a now-weary McEuen retired from the line-up. Former Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon augmented the line-up for Working Band, but left again on its completion. He was, however, featured on 1989’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken Volume II, on which the Dirt Band rekindled the style of their greatest artistic triumph with the aid of several starring names, including Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. The set deservedly drew plaudits for an act that has survived as a recording unit with credibility intact.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has continued to maintain its remarkable enthusiasm with several new studio releases and frequent tours, including a third volume of Will The Circle Be Unbroken in 2002 with a huge cast of characters including Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Matraca Berg, and Alison Krauss.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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