03/11/2011

Musical ?Circle? remains ?Unbroken? for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Read the full interview with Jimmie Fadden HERE now.

 

By Steve Wildsmith stevew@thedailytimes.com

It?s the little things that Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member Jimmie Fadden remembers the most.

Sure, there are the blurry nights that pass in a haze from one to the next, like the last time the band performed in East Tennessee. (He can?t remember the specific year, but he?s certain it was with the Kentucky Headhunters at the Civic Auditorium in downtown Knoxville.) And there are the days of wonder and awe, the times he finds himself looking at his old friends and bandmates and marveling at the longevity of this thing they all love so much.

But those little things ... those crazy times that sound like something lifted from an absurdest slapstick comedy ... those are the ones that get Fadden chuckling after all these years.

?Like the time the bus was just about to break down, because the air lines to the rear brakes were losing air so fast that the brakes were locking up,? he told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. ?I remember stopping to cut the lines away just so we could make it to the next show, stopping at this gas station and running into buy a hacksaw and some duct tape. I remember actually holding the duct tape around the air line joint through the open floorboard at the back of the bus, holding the tape so we could hold enough air pressure to make it to the turn-off.

?The shows are great memories, but there?s a lot of sub-par info that went along with doing those shows and getting to those shows -- just crazy, out-of-the-blue weird things that make people scratch their heads and go, ?Now what happened?? There were enough crazy things that I try not to look back too introspectively, because I get tired when I do. I walk away worn out.?

And it?s no wonder -- the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band started 45 years ago, when singer-songwriter Jeff Hanna met Fadden and four other aspiring professional musicians at jam sessions at a Long Beach, Calif., guitar shop. One of those original members included Jackson Browne, who would go on to a successful solo career after a few months; his replacement was John McEuen, who stayed on until 1986 and rejoined in 2001.

At the time, Southern California was a melting pot of music with a distinctly country sound that had developed out of the Western beats and trail songs of the previous century. Rock ?n? roll had its place, as did folk, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was more interested in making music that seamlessly incorporated banjo, mandolin, fiddle and steel guitar.

It was the recording of the 1972 album ?Will the Circle Be Unbroken,? however, that earned the band a spot in the history books. Recorded in late summer 1971, it was a landmark collaboration between a group of West Coast hippies and stalwarts of Nashville country, including Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs and Jimmy Martin, among others.

?I think it was a sense that we were having an opportunity to do something that we would be happy with at some point, and that this was the kind of project and music that we hoped we could create or be a part of -- to be an element in this synthesis that was taking place intellectually and musically,? Fadden said. ?We were just excited to play with people in the ?Circle? project, to have an opportunity to meet our heroes and musically influential legends. I mean, the idea of actually hanging out with Roy Acuff was amazing ... and he actually wanted to play ping-pong! If Roy Acuff wants to play ping-pong, then damn it, we?re going to play ping-pong.?

Fadden credits Acuff and Scruggs with opening the door for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in Nashville. At the time, many country purists viewed the bearded youngsters as an anathema to what country music stood for, but with titans like Acuff and Scruggs in their corner, the establishment was forced to take them seriously, Fadden added.

?When Earl Scruggs says, ?Hey, these guys have got an idea and really love this music; they may have long hair and beards, but they know what they?re up to,? then everybody else kind of took notice of that,? he said. ?It was nice to have friends like that, and it made a difference in us being allowed in, so to speak. We were from a different cultural experience, so I think having a chance to play with some of those people made our coming to Nashville a much easier process.?

It wasn?t until 1984 that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band charted its first No. 1 hit, but the 1980s were good ones for the group. From 1983 to 1989, the band charted 16 Top 10 country hits, including three No. 1 singles, and in so doing paved the way for bands like Rascal Flatts.

?Back then, there was always the sense of a lead personality in a country band,? Fadden said. ?In the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, there weren?t too many lead personalities. That was kind of a new thing. So maybe pioneering that sort of thing made us more interesting at the time.?

All these years later, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is still going strong, even though it?s been 11 years since the band charted a minor hit. ?Speed of Life,? the band?s 2009 album, did enter the Billboard Country Albums chart, however, and Fadden and his bandmates still get a thrill out of playing the old favorites night after night, as they?ll do this weekend at The Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville.

?Each time I play an older song, it?s a new performance,? he said. ?I can?t tell you how many times I?ve played ?Mr. Bojangles? where we?ve had a new moment. It?s like relationships with people -- you?re allowing them to grow by just allowing them to be what they are.

?If I were to look at my life, a lot of it seems like, ?Wow, that was just yesterday,? but then somebody chimes in and goes, ?No, that was three years ago.? It?s interesting to look back and forward at the same time, to have the kind of longevity that we?ve had and have people admire us for the influences that we?ve brought to their sense of musical understanding. It?s been a hell of a ride, what can I say??

 

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