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Members include Ralph Barr (born in Boston, MA), guitar, vocals; Merel Bregante, drums, percussion; John Cable, guitar, bass, vocals; Bob Carpenter, keyboards, accordion, vocals; Jackson Browne (born on October 9, 1948, in Heidelberg, Germany), guitar, vocals; Jackie Clark, bass, guitar; Chris Darrow, guitar, fiddle, vocals; Jimmie Fadden (born on March 9, 1948, in Long Beach, CA), guitar, harmonica, vocals; Al Garth, violin, keyboards, vocals; Jeff Hanna (born on July 11, 1947, in Detroit, MI), guitar, vocals; Richard Hathaway, bass, vocals; Levon Helm (born on May 26, 1942, in Marvell, AR), drums, mandolin, vocals; Jimmy Ibbotson, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Bruce Kunkel (born c. 1948, in Long Beach, CA), guitar, violin, vocals; Bernie Leadon, guitar, banjo, vocals; John McEuen (born on December 19, 1945, in Long Beach, CA), guitar, violin, vocals; Les Thompson (born in Long Beach, CA), bass, guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Capitol Records, 1750 Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028, website: http://www.hollywoodandvine.com. Band--c/o Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, P.O. Box 9995, Bowling Green, KY 42102-4995. Booking--William Morris Agency, 2100 W. End Ave., Ste. 1000, Nashville, TN 37203.

In addition to producing the pop hits "Mr. Bojangles" and "Make a Little Magic," the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "changed the way rock fans listened to country music" with their 1972 triple album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, attested critic Jimmy Guterman in Rolling Stone. Seventeen years later, band members Jimmy Ibbotson, Bob Carpenter, Jeff Hanna, and Jimmie Fadden got together not only with past group members Levon Helm, John McEuen, and Bernie Leadon, but with many stars of acoustic country music to record and release Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume II. This follow-up was hailed by Bob Allen of Country Music as "the sort of record you'll find yourself listening to again and again and enjoying more with each and every spin." Thirteen years later, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gathered their friends, family, and fellow musicians together to record the third in what has become a classic series, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume III, which was released to critical acclaim in 2002.

The original members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, including McEuen, Hanna, and Fadden, formed the band when they were all in their late teens and early twenties. They hung around a Santa Monica folk institution--McCabe's Guitar Shop--jamming on the guitar, listening to artists like Doc Watson and Brownie McGhee, and, in the words of McEuen to the Baltimore Sun, studying "how to make a living without getting a job." The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released their first album--aptly titled The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band--on Liberty Records in 1967. The record included their first smash, the now-classic "Mr. Bojangles," Jerry Jeff Walker's bittersweet song about a jailed dancer-turned-vagrant. The group was also the first to record singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins's "House at Pooh Corners." But after the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's initial success, they were not much in the public eye until they decided to record Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The group members, always interested in country music and adding folk-country flavor to their pop material, got together with country music pioneers Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter, and Earl Scruggs to make an album of traditional country favorites. In the words of Bob Millard, reporting in Country Music, the resulting effort, a three-album LP set full of notes and photos, "brought together titans of traditional country music with fireballs of a younger generation, mixing traditional bluegrass and folk with [the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's] own brand of early country-rock."

The band had conceived of Will the Circle Be Unbroken in order to pursue their personal interests and were surprised at the response it received; the record sold a million copies and according to Millard, continues to sell roughly 30,000 copies yearly. As Allen pointed out, the album, "played a significant role in initiating a younger, hipper audience into the pleasures of traditional country music." Will the Circle Be Unbroken influenced later artists as well. Band member Hanna told Millard that "a lot of people like Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Mark O'Connor or the guys in Newgrass Revival have told us that [the album] inspired them. For younger guys, not only was it some really great versions of a lot of those tunes, but it was also [saying] 'here's these young, hip guys playing country music' and it made 'em stop and think." Will the Circle Be Unbroken increased the prestige and popularity not only of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band but also of the older country stars performing on it.

During the late 1970s, the band was the first musical group invited to tour the USSR by the Soviet government. In the early 1980s, the group shortened its name to The Dirt Band and had a couple of pop hits--1979's "An American Dream" and 1980's "Make a Little Magic," from albums of the same titles. As the 1980s continued, however, they returned to the original version of their name and began concentrating on country music anew. In 1987 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released the country-flavored Hold On, which music writer Alanna Nash predicted "could end up on several of the music charts and not cheat buyers of any persuasion." But by 1989 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had decided that it was time for a sequel to their distinctive shared effort; thus, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume II was born.

In the years between the two Circle albums, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had its share of personnel changes, and so, in addition to rounding up both classic country artists and some of the late 1980s' most distinguished acoustic country performers, they also invited many of their own former band members to help on Volume II. Veterans of the first Circle like Acuff, Scruggs, and Vassar Clements returned; the late Maybelle Carter was represented by her daughter and son-in-law, June Carter and Johnny Cash, and also by granddaughter Roseanne Cash. Country artists Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, and Highway 101's Paulette Carlson were also included on Volume II. While Allen cited Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member Carpenter's "lovely duet" with Harris on "Riding Alone," he also praised the fact that the Band "willingly fades into the shadows to lend able background vocals and instrumental support to their talented guests." Other noteworthy tracks from Volume II include "Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan," "One Step over the Line," and "Life's Railway to Heaven." In 1990 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released The Rest of the Dream, of which critic Ralph Novak of People assured readers: "They get by quite nicely this time, without a little help from their friends."

Not Fade Away was released in 1992 on Liberty, the same label their debut album appeared on. It attained the dubious distinction of being their first album in nearly a decade that failed to yield a hit single. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Alanna Nash found fault with the four cover songs on the album that she felt stifled the momentum their original tunes had. They came back in 1994 with the self-explanatory Acoustic. Jeff Hanna spoke to Billboard's Peter Cronin about how the fickle nature of radio influenced the recording of this album. "We kind of got trampled in the country boom. When you come off several big country records in a row and then all of a sudden the airplay starts falling, you start second-guessing yourself. We've analyzed it from every possible angle and basically come down to, 'Hey, let's just play our music.'" Cronin felt this approach worked well for the band. "Ironically, by disregarding radio's boundaries and letting artistic instincts rule over commercial concerns, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has made its most country-sounding record in years."

The band released several albums, including a set of Christmas songs, in the mid-to-late 1990s. However, the spotlight again eluded them until the beginning of the next century, which brought about the thirtieth anniversary of the original Circle recording, and a renewed interest in bluegrass and traditional country music. The movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? appeared in theaters. The soundtrack to the album was a surprise success, selling well over four million copies in the United States alone. The mix of bluegrass, country, and acoustic folk on the collection led to a revival of interest in such traditional forms of music.

Capitol Records rereleased the original Will the Circle Be Unbroken in 2002 to coincide with the thirtieth anniversay of the album's release. That year, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gathered their friends, family, and fellow musicians together once more to record Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume III. Guests on this album include original Circle veterans Doc Watson, Jimmy Martin, and Earl Scruggs; Circle 2 veterans June Carter, Johnny Cash, and Emmylou Harris; newcomers Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Taj Mahal, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakum; and family members Matraca Berg (wife of Hanna) and children Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen. Johnny Cash contributed a song he'd written about the late Maybelle and Sara Carter, who both appeared on the original Circle. "We couldn't wait to be a part of making that piece of history. It was chilling." McEuen wrote on his official website.

Although the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have had numerous spikes and dips in popularity over their 30-year history, they have maintained a devoted audience and have remained consistently innovative in the style of music they play, and that is probably the secret to their ongoing success. McEuen remarked to the Baltimore Sun Times with typical good-natured humor that merging country, folk, blues, and rock "is like being in the country version of Spinal Tap. We play a rock-and-roll show; they say, 'What's the country band doing here?' We play a bluesgrass festival, they say: 'What's that rock-and-roll band doing here?'"

by Elizabeth Wenning

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Career

Recording and concert act, 1967-. Group formed in Long Beach, CA, 1966; released first album, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, on Liberty, 1967.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Awards

Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Folk Recording for Tribute to Steve Goodman, 1986, Best Bluegrass Recording for "The Valley Road," Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume II, 1989; Country Music Association, Album of the Year for Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume II, 1989.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

September 30, 2003: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's album, Trilogy, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/country.jsp, October 1, 2003.

February 13, 2005: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band shared the Grammy Award for best country instrumental performance for "Earl's Breakdown" with Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs, Vassar Clements, and Jerry Douglas. Source: Grammys.com, www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/47winners, February 14, 2005.

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Lyrics

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almost 9 years ago

I have had "mary danced with soldiers" cooking in my head lately hoping I could remember,,now I'm looking for it. Emmy Lou Harris sings it on the circle 2,,

almost 9 years ago

I have been a fan of this wonderful group,I do have a few questions to ask and I hope that the guys won't mind. Are the same people in the group to as where when they first started? Do you still tour? Will the band ever be touring Canada? Is there ever a chance they would be coming to New Brunswick Canada? My mother loved the hymn "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" she passed away in Nov,27 2001 and she had requested that we play our song Will The Cicle Be Unbroken be played at her funeral and I made sure that it was. I have a son who is 31 and he has Autism,he loves all of the songs of this group. Take care Shirley McKenna.