No dust on this bus
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band still on the move after 50 years
By DEENA FERGUSON
Special to The Union Leader | May 17. 2017 1:13PM
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was a pivotal player in the country rock and American roots movement in the '60s and '70s. The group includes, from left, original members John McEuen, Jimmie Fadden and Jeff Hanna and relative newcomer (1980) Bob Carpenter. (David McClister)
But on this day, Jimmie Fadden, one of the founding members of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, has more mundane things to talk about.
“So I am about to pull into my mechanic’s place,” Fadden says in a telephone interview, somewhere on the road near his Florida home when car troubles arose. “Got a bad bushing in my front end and I gotta get it fixed so I can drive to Tampa tomorrow to catch a plane.”
Legendary musicians don’t have someone to do this stuff?
“Lord, no,” he says. “Just because I’ve made a few bucks along the way doesn’t mean I’m helpless.”
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose biggest radio hit was “Mr. Bojangles,” is in Manchester today for a 7:30 p.m. stop at the Palace Theatre on the group’s 50th anniversary tour. Fadden says that NGDB has lasted this long because the music — not the chase for fame or money — always came first.
“We’ve been given the gift of longevity,” Fadden says of his bandmates Jeff Hanna, Bob Carpenter, John McEuen (though a half dozen others have rotated in and out over the five decades). “And I think our music has survived the test of time because we were true to it. We’re musicians first. The other stuff along the way is just extra.”
NGDB was comprised of a handful of long-hairs in the late ’60s (Jackson Browne was there in the beginning), playing country and bluegrass music in a place and time where that was not the norm. Fadden, Hanna and McEuen were part of the original group. Carpenter joined in 1980.
In the summer of 1971, the band went to Nashville to do something some musicians only dream of — play and record with their heroes. That recording, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” went platinum and is now in the Library of Congress and the Grammy Hall of Fame. Country and bluegrass legends like Roy Acuff, “Mother” Maybelle Carter (whose daughter June married a guy named Johnny Cash), Junior Huskey, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson were part of those sessions.
“We were at the feet of greatness,” Fadden said. “Simple as that.”
It really became the first country album to get the attention of rock ’n’ roll devotees. The band was playing American songs from the early days of the 20th century; “Will the Circle be Unbroken” is a hymn written in 1907.
“Nothing showy about any of it,” Fadden says. “A true highlight of our lives.
“Now we’re the ‘old guys,’ you know, that people come to see,” he adds. “I’m fine with that. Better than the alternative!”
Fadden plays everything from the guitar to the washtub bass to the jug. Yep, the jug.
“Well, when you’re playing jug-band music, someone has to do it,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a sound that is needed in some songs. Almost percussive. I don’t play it a lot, but I do play it.”
On the road making a living for half a century, he’s seen many places. But he does have some favorites.
“It will be nice to get up in your part of the world,” Fadden says. “It’s a very, very, VERY different place from where I live, but it’s always fun.”
A California kid, Fadden calls his Florida home “kind of a replacement scenario for that. … Came down here in the ’80s from Colorado. I got tired of the winters. I’m not a snow person, but I did my time. Then I moved to Nashville and spent some years there, then moved back down here full time in 2007. It’s got the California feel, sort of, but without the traffic.”