From the moment John McEuen helped found Grammy Award-winning Americana icons The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966, he set in motion a career that would see the versatile singer/songwriter tour the world to international acclaim, and play and record with a vast number of living legends of folk, country and blues music.
That group —best known for their landmark early-’70s platinum-selling album Will The Circle Be Unbroken (called “the most important album in the history of country music”)— has scores more acclaimed LPs under their collective belt, and while they continue to tour, increasingly McEuen has made a name for himself as a solo artist. This masterful storyteller and singer will bring his one-man show to Randy Wood’s cozy Bloomingdale venue this weekend for an evening of words and music that should prove to be a treat to anyone entranced by the Dirt Band’s mélange of traditional acoustic roots music.
The convivial artist (who’s flown two million miles and driven a million more over the course of his life) spoke with me by phone in advance of this concert.
The Dirt Band evolved out of informal jams at McCabe’s guitar shop in Santa Monica. From bootlegs I’ve heard, and articles I’ve read, that seems like a magical room. How did that vibe influence the Dirt Band?
John McEuen: I would say it’s a place musicians gravitate to. Much in the way that Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor is. It’s just one of those places where it all came together in the right way. It only holds about 140 people, but man, everybody’s played there.
Have you played Randy’s place here before?
John McEuen: No, but I’m looking very forward to it. If Randy’s involved, it’s gotta be good. His rep is well known as a fine luthier. I last saw him about ten years ago. I played plenty at his original concert hall. We’d just be sitting around playing with Vassar (Clements) and Buck (White) and Marty Stuart, or whoever dropped in that day. It was something you always looked forward to when you were in Nashville.
Vassar Clements’ name will forever be linked to the Dirt Band, and he was a very beloved figure in these parts. Do you have any particular memories of Vassar?
John McEuen: It’s interesting you mention him. I actually dedicate a part of the show to Vassar through personal insights, stories and music. The stories usually crack people up, and folks can hear them on Sunday.
Is the internet a big part of your career?
John McEuen: Extremely so. You know, my mother actually came up with my website name (www.johnmceuen.com), but I added the part at the end. (laughs) I get e-mails all the time and I answer them. Folks in Germany, Italy or England actually make vacation plans around seeing me in Minnesota or someplace! Six people came all the way from Australia to see a solo show in Virginia. What would it cost to advertise in Australia just to get those six people there? (laughs)
What about your solo shows would likely surprise Dirt Band fans the most?
John McEuen: They’re more fun. (laughs) For them and for me, as I get to do more of what I can do. I try to give people an idea of what “the journey” has been like and how they’ve been involved in it — with just a guitar and a banjo and a mandolin and a fiddle. If the Circle LP hadn’t been accepted by so many people, no one would know about it or me. We’d still have made it, though! My solo shows are more eclectic. I do traditional tunes, some of my own songs, and some Dirt Band material too.
Are your solo shows child-safe?
John McEuen: I have six kids and seven grandkids, and I never do anything that I’d be afraid of doing in front of them.
John McEuen plays Randy Wood’s Concert Hall (1304 E. Hwy 80, Bloomingdale) at 7 pm, Sunday. Advance tickets to this intimate, ALL-AGES show are $25, and can be reserved by calling 748-1930.