Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



West Coast band formed early '66 with deeper roots in folk and country music than most country-rock or folk-rock bands of the period. Bruce Kunkel (b c'48, Long Beach CA) and Jeff Hanna (b 11 July, '47, Detroit) began playing and singing together, recruited Jimmie Fadden (b 9 March '48), John McEuen (b 19 Dec. '45), Leslie Thompson and Ralph Barr, all from Long Beach except Barr, originally from Boston. All six played guitars and sang; Thompson also played bass, Kunkel and McEuen played violin, Fadden harmonica. Jackson Browne was an early member. They called themselves the Illegitimate Jug Band because they didn't have a jug player; after high school they changed their name and turned pro; signed with Liberty and released Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Ricochet '67. Chris Darrow joined in time for Rare Junk and Pure Dirt '68; between Alive and Dead And Alive '69 Darrow, Kunkel and Barr left; Jim Ibbotson (b 21 Jan. '47, Philadelphia) joined on drums and keyboards. They appeared in films incl. trashy For Singles Only; they should have been better suited to Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon '69 but most of their footage was cut. Up to this point only the first LP had charted briefly (incl. Hot 100 single 'Buy For Me The Rain'), but they remained faithful to their audience and were rewarded with success of Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy '70, no. 66 LP incl. their only top ten hit, Jerry Jeff Walker's 'Mr Bojangles' (prologue on single was the title idea of the LP). The label complex switched them to UA for partly live All The Good Times '72 (incl. Hank Williams's 'Jambalaya'); then their masterpiece, organized by manager Bill McEuen, John's brother: they recruited Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs and Jimmy Martin (Bill Monroe alumni) for a celebratory three-disc C&W set Will The Circle Be Unbroken '72, pulled off without sentimentality or folkiness; Acuff was suspicious of what looked to him like long-haired hippy types, but won over in the end, and Martin reportedly liked them so much he wanted to hire them. Stars And Stripes Forever '74 was a two-disc live set by Hanna, McEuen, Ibbotson and Fadden; studio set Dream '75 incl. Linda Ronstadt on vocals; three-disc set Dirt, Silver And Gold '76 was a compilation of hits, unreleased tracks etc. Shortened name beginning with The Dirt Band '78, with Ibbotson gone, newcomers Richard Hathaway, Al Garth and Merle Bregante added (latter two from Loggins and Messina), as well as strings and horns; An American Dream '80 (title track with Ronstadt was no. 13 hit) was followed by Make A Little Magic same year (title track at no. 25 was their third and last top 40 entry) and Jealousy '81, back on Liberty. Then they apparently changed their name back to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and have made it big in the country charts: 'Dance Little Jean' was no. 9 country hit '83; 'Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper's Dream)', 'Modern Day Romance' both no. 1, 'High Horse' no. 2, 'I Love Only You' no. 3, all '84--5. Let's Go on Liberty was no. 26 country LP '83, Plain Dirt Fashion and Partners, Brothers And Friends both top ten country albums on WB '85--6. McEuen left to write movie music and record solo on Vanguard (albums incl. String Wizards, Acoustic Traveller); Former Eagle Bernie Leadon contributed to Working Band and Will The Circle Be Unbroken Volume II '88, which also incl. Bruce Hornsby, John Denver, Chris Hillman etc and received two Grammys. They moved to MCA for The Rest Of The Dream '90, back on Liberty-Capitol for Live Two Five Anniversary Package '91, Not Fade Away '92 and underrated Acoustic '94. Compilation Country Classics on EMI drew mostly on the '70s.