It's time for an XL episode, because we couldn't choose just one song to help us chronicle the 50+ year career of the band that created the Americana genre. Founding Dirt Band member John McEuen joins us as we talk about a handful of our favorites from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Also:
Rob’s terrible Norm Macdonald impression
Sparsely-worded choruses galore!
“And we wondered what took so long.”
“He was a nice, drunk guy.”
Working in the Disneyland magic shop with Steve Martin
Get more of this show, and enjoy our other show, The Catch-Up with Rob and JP, exclusively on Patreon!
Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @greatsongpod, and join the Facebook group at Facebook.com/groups/greatsongpod.
The Great Song Podcast is a Tiger Leap Production. Check out the other fine Tiger Leap podcasts like Curio with Dan Buck, Project SSA, and The Punnery.
Producers: Andrea Konarzewski, Brad Callahan, Ari Marucci, Michael Conley, Peter Mark Campbell, David Steinberg, Randy Hodge, Chaz Bacus, Juan Lopez, Jason Arrowood, Howard Passey, Micah Murphy, Tim Jahr, and Christopher Cudnoski
--- Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/greatsongpod/message
[00:00:00] Turn up the radio and sing along. It's time for another great song. This is the Great Song Podcast Season's Greetings, and welcome once again to the Great Song Podcast. I'm Rob Alley. I'm J.P Moser, and we're here to celebrate the greatest songs in modern music history. We're gonna tell you what makes em great, why we think they're awesome, and why you should too J.P.
How you doing today, ma'am? Man, I am doing fantastic. Rob Rob. Is there song about Colonel Sanders called Mr. Kfc? No, I don't think so. There song called Mr. Zaxby's. Absolutely not. What about Mr. Chick-fil-A? No. No worries. You know what, there is Mr. Freaking Boj. Absolutely there. Let's talk. We're gonna talk today about the band.
Yes. That covered the greatest song about a chicken restaurant. and, uh, no Get Rob Tell who we're hanging out with today and who we're discussing. We are hanging out with John McEwen, founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and we're gonna talk all about him. Let's start with Mr. Bojangles. [00:01:00] There a freaking song called Mr.
Zaxby's. I knew a man Bojangles in, he danced for you in worn out. Shoot. I get a little more high hat, silver hair and ragged shirt and baggy pants. The old soft shoe jump. So
I met a, a New Orleans was down and out. This could have been plate on a three stringing base. Me.
presidents of the United States of America could have easily covered this.
it's so satisfying when that chorus hits.
There we go. There it. That would be not Mr. Zaxby's. No, sir. Not Mr. Colonel Sanders . That would be Mr. Bojangles by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. That's for the 1970 album. Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy will get there in just a minute. Uh, but that is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Also sometimes just called the Dirt Band and officially called.
So for about five years, from late seventies to early eighties, they have several number one country hits in their long career. Uh, a couple of which we're gonna concentrate on today. We're gonna talk about Mr. [00:03:00] Bojangles. We're gonna talk about Fishing in the Dark, uh, and a little bit on their landmark album.
Uh, Will the Circle be Unbroken, which is. celebrating 50 years, uh, in the, in the universe. And, uh, and John McEwen has a book. He has the book on the topic. He's written the book. So we're gonna talk to him and we're gonna talk about that book a little bit. Uh, let's see. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. They have nominations and awards out the wazu.
Here's a few CMA nominations for Instrumental Group of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year. Grammy Awards for best country collaboration with vocals. Best Bluegrass recording, co-producing Best Country, Country instrumental, and a slew of other awards and nominations all over the place. Uh, they are, Colorado Music Hall of Fame induces, and they're just one of those groups that you just know.
Yeah, you just know the Nitty gritty group. Absolutely. You know, it's like growing up in our age. You knew Nitty gritty dirt band. You knew Eagles, uh, you knew [00:04:00] who, There's Dooby Brothers like Right. And Alman Brothers. There's just these groups that Just Three dog night. Yeah. That, that, that have like, that dads love.
Yeah. That just, it feels to you as though these groups have always existed. Mm-hmm. , you know what I mean? And they're just, they're like from, from Alpha to Omega, they have just always been, you know what I mean? And nitty gritty. Derman is one of those, They just exist and they just kind of always have, um, Uh, they're, they're part of everybody's childhood.
Yeah. And, and part of everybody play at different kinds of festivals, country festivals, classic rock festivals, folk festivals. Yes. Bluegrass Festival, Americana Festival. Absolutely. They are there. And we're gonna talk about, well, I'll save it, but Americana is an important keyword, uh, for later in the episode.
So today's secret word is America. Ah, secret word. . All right. Peewee Herman, Reference bmo. Hey, Cherry. Uh, alright. Let's dig into Mr. Bojangles a little bit. That is from the 1970 album, Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy. It was written by Jerry, Jeff Walker, which [00:05:00] is a great country name, like certain country artist and writer names just sound right?
Yeah. And Jerry, Jeff Walker is every one of those names. Sounds country. Yeah. Jerry's country. Jeff's country. Walker's Country. It really is. You put 'em all together and it's. , Why is Walker a country sounding name? Cause you're right. It is. It is. Maybe I think of like, I live near Walker County, which is in like North Georgia, which is pretty country, but that can't be the only reason.
From Texas Ranger Walker, Texas? Yeah, I guess Walker like, yeah, but just Walker though. Cause you think about like Wheeler Walker Jr. Exactly right. That's country. Absolutely. That's Dogone country. It's called like, well you know, Grandma's gotta go to the bath, Walk her over there, Walk, get her walker and walk her over there.
I so, I dunno. Uh, Mr. Bojangles went to number nine on the billboard. Hot 100 in 1971. Went to number two in Canada and New Zealand and it was the number 44 song in all of United States for 1971. Several other artists have recorded and released Mr. Bojangles as a single, but the [00:06:00] Nitty gritty dirt band version is by far the most popular, uh, and highest charting and, and probably the most, the most famous version by a long shot.
You know, you might think of like Sammy Davis Junior. Maybe if you grew up a different, you know, a little different way, there might be out of a hundred people if you said Mr. Bojangles, who, who sang Mr. Bojangles, depending on what part of the country you're in, one of those people might say Semi Davis Jr.
Yeah. Right. That's kind of the ratio that we're looking at here. Um, Yes. And the other's gonna say as Cousin Walker. Right, right. Yeah. . Yeah. Uh, the story, uh, and this is from Wikipedia. Jerry, Jeff Walker said that he was inspired to write the song after an encounter with a street performer in a New Orleans jail.
Like this is like true life. He's just writing about this guy while in jail for a public intoxication. In 1965, he met a homeless man who called himself Mr. Bojangles to conceal his true identity from the police. Mr. Bojangles had been arrested as part of a police sweep of indigent people that was carried out following a high profile murder.
So somebody got [00:07:00] killed, they start rounding up homeless people to see if any of them did it. The two men and others in the cell chatted about all manner of things. But when most Mr. Bojangles told a story about his dog, the mood in the room turned heavy. Someone else in the she cell asked for something to lighten the mood.
And Mr. Bojangles obliged with a tap dance like this was a real, I think it's much funnier just reading it than it comes across in song. In the song. Right, Absolutely. I can see very clearly in my mind a specific actor whose name I do not know. Well, I see it as Ernest t Bass from Andy Griffith show.
That's not, that's not too far from what I'm seeing. Yes. Okay. Um, I'm seeing a guy who played, if you have young kids, he played Mr. Noodle's. Brother, Mr. Noodle, Uh, I don't know if that means any, but on Sesame Street he was Mr. Noodles. And then there's Mr. Noodle's brother, Mr. Noodle, this, That's the guy I'm thinking of these.
The other Mr. Noodle. Um, anyway, and so here's the quote from Jerry, Jeff Walker, and here it came, just sort of tumbling out one straight shot down the length of the, that yellow pad on a night when the rest of the country [00:08:00] was listening to The Beatles. I was writing a six eight Walt about an old man in Hope.
It was a love song in a lot of ways. Mr. Bojangles is a composite. He's a little bit of several people I met for only moments of a passing life. He's all those I met once and will never see again and will never forget. Pretty poetic. Uh, the Mr. Bojangles Moser came as a reference to a black entertainer named Bill Bojangles Robinson.
Okay, so this is who, when the guy says, I'm Mr. Bojangles, right? That's what he's, he won't tell the cops look like, What's your name? And he's. Uh, you know, he gives them the Ron Tater salad white approach, right? Yeah. Uh, so he's like, I'm Mr. Bojangles. Uh, he is referring to a black entertainer named Bill Bojangles Robinson, who was a singer, dancer and actor and was reportedly the highest paid African American entertainer of the first half of the 19 hundreds.
Wow. Well, now if they do a biopic, well we can't do it now cuz he's passed, but Gregory Hines could have so played Mr. Bojangles. Absolutely. Yeah. Do the tap dance thing. Yeah. He danced with Shirley Temple in the thirties [00:09:00] and the 1943 musical Stormy Weather is actually based on his early life. Oh wow. I didn't know that.
He was one of the first black performers to perform in the United States without blackface makeup, and he performed vaudeville shows by himself at the time, which wasn't really done then. Uh, black performers were expected to pair off when they performed for some reason, which I don't know, but is almost certainly very, very racist.
Uh, so on the album cut of Mr. Bojangles, there's actually a, a kind of a lead in which is an interview with, uh, Uncle Charlie of the album title. Um, it's called Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy. And there's a, uh, there's a little interview and I'll play you a little bit of it. Probably won't play the whole thing, but here is the Uncle Charlie interview.
This is if you're on a, if you're on an lp, I don't know. This is track 12 before Mr. Bojangles, which is track 13. Here's a little, the actual Uncle Charlie, uh, born in Kaufman County, Texas. That is in, uh, 11th of [00:10:00] September 18, 9 86. Come to California in 19 six. That would be John McEwen on banjo that you're hearing in your right ear.
Wonder Too Old for World War ii. One good thing that I've always been proud of. I was the youngest in the family and the rest was all married, didn't I? No. He's telling little stories. Right? Okay. And then you get the, uh, the appearance of his dog, Teddy, who he sort of cajoles to sing with him. At the end, he's like, My dog sings, you know?
And he's like, so he's like, Come on, sing with me Teddy. And he is trying to get him to sing. So here's Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy, you'll sing. Teddy. Come here, come on, come on now. Come on back. You know, sit down. Sit down. And this is on an album, ladies. Yeah. Here, I want you to sing. Sing these folks song.
Sing the old Rugged Cross. Listen chord with this now. His dog a [00:11:00] Christian. Yo. No, no thank,
and that's how it, that's the legit lead in to Mr. Boings Harmonic part was not on a hill far away if he wanted him to sing. Yeah. Uh, let's see A little more, uh, from song facts.com. According to, to a, a friend of Jerry, Jeff Walker, uh, Jerry, Jeff was known for a time as Mr. Blow Jangles because of his raging cocaine habit.
It's Todd quotes Jerry, Jeff as saying, A line of cocaine will make a new man out of you, and he'll want some too. That's funny that that line reads like a perfectly written nor McDonald duck. Right. Let me see if I can do that as nor McDonald. You ready? Uhhuh. Uh, according to a friend of, uh, Jerry, Jeff Walker, uh, Jerry, Jeff was known for a [00:12:00] time as Mr.
Blow, Jangles. because of his raging cocaine habit. . That's good. Or I pay Norm. Great job. I feel, I feel like I used to do a better norm. That's good. It's been a very long time. Pauses. It's the done. It's the, its, Yeah. You do the lot of pauses and, uh, That was good. Yeah. Mr. Uh, Yeah, Mr. Blow Jangles because of his raging cocaine habit.
Anyway. All right. Larger than normal hat . All right. Uh, little musical analysis. This feels more like, I'm gonna make a reference all the way back to season one. Okay. But this, this feels more like a true Walt to me than, for example, piano. We talked in the Piano Man episode all those many years ago, uh, about how I don't consider Piano Man a waltz.
I consider Piano Man a a six, eight thing. Um, this feels to me more like a legit waltz in three eight or, or a three four. It's got more of that, [00:13:00] um, P p p, right? That, that it actually feels like. Now on the chorus, we do get the kind of satisfying change in feel when we hit the refrain. I'm gonna call it the chorus.
I dunno if that's actually what it is, but the Mr. Boj angles, we'll call it the chorus. We get a true like, Boom. Right. And it feels very satisfy all the other parts, our verses Yeah. It's
boom. Mm-hmm. , Mr. Dangles. And it gets that, you know, that feel and is really going from uh, you know, a major feel to a minor feel on, you know, course that chord. So it's kind of a double change in, in thing, but it's so good every time. Um, so, but overall this song feels to me more like a legit waltz than like say Piano Man does.
Um, chord wise, it's really simple. It's got that, you know, let's see, you know, 1, 7, 6. [00:14:00] Five, four for the verses, you know, five,
you know. Um, and then it, it's mostly part, you know, for the most part simple, it goes to the four jump. So high three, which is three major 3, 6, 5. Really, I think they're going to a straight two major there, which is interesting cuz it sets up the five chords. So like, let me, I, I know I'm just talking a bunch of credits.
What key is this in D? So I think it's in, I think it's in G. G, Yeah. Okay. I see what you're saying in we're going.
Five, four. Soft. G. It's G so high. So it's five two major touch. Five. Yeah. So that, that major two is what you would call a secondary dominant, [00:15:00] which, so the dominant, what they call the dominant cadence is the strongest cadence. It's the strongest way to lead your ear from, from one cord to the next cord. Um, and a secondary dominant.
So the one that we all know is five, one, Right? Your ear goes five, you know what's coming, Bama, Right? So that secondary dominant is when you're trying to set up a secondary cord, which is what they're, they're going eventually to the five, they use the two major. To set up the five, even though it's out of key.
Mm-hmm. , so it's, so it's boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Right. You know that five is coming next. Um, and so it really sets up, it goes from the major two, which sets up the major five, which sets up the one mm-hmm. . Yeah. So, uh, but that's, yeah, that's called secondary dominant. Um, Okay. Then you have the chorus, which is just so.
Verbose , right? It's [00:16:00] got exactly three words in it. Okay. Mr. Boj Angles, Mr. Bos, Mr. Boj Angles. Dance. Dance, right? Okay. So it's got me thinking about, you know, other songs with extremely few words in the chorus. And so I, I challenged you to, to come up with a few. Um, and so I'm gonna play my list. Actually, you play your list first.
Okay? Why don't we do that? You play yours first and then I'll play mine so I don't step on your toes. Since I issued the challenge. Uh, okay, here we go. J.P, short chorus in no particular order. Here's this one. This little Diddy. Oh, solid. This would be okay. Sam. Dave. So man, this the soul man. Yeah. Is that the Blues Brothers version?
No, it's their version. Oh. Their chorus would be, Oh wow. I'm nailed that accidentally. Good call. So that's it. So that's, I like that there's number one. Okay. Uh, number two. Um, I'll jump down to this one cuz I love this song. Yes. This is one of [00:17:00] mine. Okay, cool. Yeah. This is Jet by, uh, McCarney McCartney Wings from Band on the Run.
I love this song. One of my favorite McCartney King. I love it too.
We'll hear the beginning because it's basically gonna have the chos. Yeah. Pretty much when it comes in.
That's it. That's your woos.
Okay. Number three.
Yes. This also, I have this, the king composing. Oh, we've got two that we have the same. Here's this course. Okay, go. All right, I'm gonna do this one for fun and then I'm gonna get fun with my last three. Okay. I really enjoyed my last three, so, Oh, how did I miss this? Oh man, how did I, not finale, but I'm [00:18:00] Panama by van.
So you wanna hear chorus or Yeah, go for it. For the uninitiated
short course. Okay. Uh, man, I don't know which one of these are the next. My last three are my favorite. Okay. All right. So here we go with this one. Of course. Okay. That almost doesn't count, but yes. So that's tequila. Anyway, it's this song and then they just say, tequila. These are gonna be open for interpretation.
Okay. Yes, I have this one. I was so excited about it. Bad. I was happy that I can't believe you stole it. Okay, so play it. Yeah, I wanna talk. I wanna talk to Brad Roberts. Let's do, let's do Brad anyway. Oh, I guess that one's this girl. And here's our chorus, ladies and gentlemen.
[00:19:00] Dude, that album is so good. I love that album so much. Okay. And this is my favorite one. I do a fair, I do a fair bread, Robert. Okay. Okay. Okay. Because I call this the chorus. Okay. Open for interpretation. Yeah, that's the chorus, right? That's what they do in the middle. I don't really, I wouldn't call it the chorus, but I'll give it to you.
I mean, what do they do in the middle? I would think if there is a chorus to this song, it's gonna be the,
I think that's just like the intro or the refrain or something. Well, last one's up for debate. all. Okay, cool. Y'all let us know. Okay. I'm gonna throw few at you, so I'll throw back to him and see. I don't know, you kind of gutted my list a little bit, but I, I picked quite a, I picked several to choose from.
So, uh, let's see what I got. I gave my, I gave my list a, um, An a, a clever name. Okay. Um, my [00:20:00] name for, for everybody who gets the reference, uh, the name of my playlist is Why Waste Time Say Lot Word When Few Word Do Trick. Okay. That's from the office. That's from Kevin. I don't know if you, do you watch? Oh, I love the office.
I watched the majority of season seven going to and coming from California. Okay. All right. So dude, so many. That's my, so many. That's my Kevin Malone reference. Why waste time Say lot word when few word do trick? Uh, number one on my list was Mm. Okay. Uh, let's see. Okay. This is a, I shoot. You did really short.
You did a great job. Okay, I'll go with this one. Let's start here. 1, 2, 3. Oh, that's right. That's a one word or two words. If you call it, it's actually two words listed. It's hey, space. Yeah. So that's good. All right. Uh, here's my next one. You can't touch this. Ah, yes, it's good. How about this one? I'm [00:21:00] excited about this one, just cuz this song puts me in a place,
you know, it starts with the chorus.
You'll know it when the voice comes in. I mean, you'll know because it's the hook also. But
come on, Annie Lennox, he's awesome. We love you. We're gonna get her. So let's come on. Let's come on. Alright. Uh, how about this?
I don't know this. Yeah, you, I'm, Oh, okay. There it
to the chorus.
Another single word, chorus that be lithium. [00:22:00] Lithium. And, uh, let's, I'll close out with this one then. Try and keep him short.
Do you know this one off the top? Yeah. Another one word chorus. This is the one I love by Reem. Let's go. Uh,
the, uh, That's good. I like that one, one with that same rhyme scheme that I almost had on my list, but I wasn't sure if it included in the chorus. Is desire by you two cause it Oh yeah. Yay. Yeah. I think is the chorus. Yeah. It's that one word. Just that part, but it's, it ends verses so I didn't know how to Yeah, it's, I don't know where to put it, but if you're gonna call it a course Yeah.
It's almost like, Is this just the last line of the verse, or is, Or is it the course? It feels like its own sort of set apart thing. Yeah. Yeah. So that's great. So I'll, I'll just to keep it ramming. Yeah, I'll do that one. Okay. Job. Shall we meet the band from Mr. Bojangles? Let's meet him. Hey, let's meet the man.
It's time to [00:23:00] meet the man. Hey mama, let's meet the man. Lets all meet the.
All right, we're gonna meet the band, uh, that played on Mr. Bojangles. Um, and actually, I'll, I'll just bounce through some band stuff to segue us into the next one we'll talk about. Okay. Um, on electric base mandolin, electric guitar and vocals, Les Thompson. Um, I'm not gonna go too deep on all of these people because I wanna talk about two bands.
Um, as kind of a segue on lead acoustic and electric guitar, some harmonica, a little bit of washtub base, some vocals, um, and drums, but not credited on the Lp. Jimi Fadden, Um, on Jimi, Fallon Jimi Fadden on rhythm, acoustic and electric guitars. Yes, there's lots of guitars, um, drums, some more wash boards and percussion and vocals.
Jeff Hannah. Um, rhythm acoustic guitar, lead electric, electric piano, the drums that high hat that you're hearing, so well, , Um, some accord and some vocals. Jimi Abson and on banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, Uh, John [00:24:00] McEwen. So, um, so yeah, killer band on that, on that track lot. They play a lot of different parts, um, and they bounce around instruments throughout their shows, throughout their albums.
So, yeah. And next time you listen to, next time you listen to Mr. Bojangles or just go back to the beginning and you could listen, listen to the mandolin part. Mandolin players. I don't understand how they do it, cuz like, first of all, you've got in, in bluegrass and stuff like this. You've got like mandolin players who can set the world on fire with solos, right?
Ricky's. Ricky's got good Lord, okay? But then another thing that mandolin players have to do all the time is this thing where they're strumming really fast chords, a couple strings, and on a mandolin that's, if you're trimming two notes, you're really trimming like four strings, right? They're all doubled and so it has this automatic kind of cho sound, but they're doing this light
and they're having to do it quietly, but so fast that it creates this like constant chord, you know, thing. Mandolin players, y'all have an insane job. Like to [00:25:00] play a mandolin really. It's freaking impossible. The fronts are tiny. It's like if you had to run in place on your tiptoes on carpet and there's, and there's freaking hardball eggs underneath and it's like, don't break em.
I don't know that analogy. Why is that the perfect analogy? I know, but it makes sense. That's right. That worries. Good call. I like that. Rob. Um, the next song we're gonna talk about, um, so I'll tell you the band and then we can talk about it. Okay. If that makes sense. So that we can keep it rolling. Um, if you're done on Bojangles for Yeah, absolutely.
Okay. The next song we're gonna talk about is Fishing in the Dark. Yes. From the Hold on album. Um, John did not play on this track, but he did play on the album. Yeah. Um, and I'm sure he is played it a thousand times. And, and this song is, is a, is a monster. So, People that play on this. Jimi Fadden on drums, harmonica, jaw harp, background vocals.
Jeff Han again on vocals and guitar. Jimi, Batson, again on vocals, electric bass, some guitars, a mandolin. Bob Carpenter on vocals and keyboard. Um, and then John played on this album, um, and he played, uh, mandolin on a song called Tennessee and Acoustic guitar [00:26:00] on a song called, Oh What Love. Um, and another one called Dancing to the Beat of a Broken Heart, but, um, Play A Little Bit Efficient in the Dark, um, from the Hold on album that.
Dude, that acoustic just does something to me. Oh, I know. Come on.
Lazy babe. I love that. Yes. Shining through the trees. Cricket sauce, sang in, in Lightning. Bug are floating on and breathe. This is the most country song, you know what I mean? Lyrics sound. Yeah. Cross the field. The cricket turns back by the old, the freaking crick. I, There are no socks in this song. None.
Nobody knows, baby. Get ready. Oh. [00:27:00] You and me fishing in the counting the stars where the cool grass
stay the whole night through feels so good to be with you. Then just back to that bear. Okay. What, geez, what food is in the cooler? Oh man. What food In the cooler drink. What now you're talking about like not food that you've caught. Cause obviously you're catching there's, There's food cooler and there's fish cooler.
Okay. Okay. So you're putting the fish in the cooler. Yeah. When you're fish in the dark, what are you eating? What are you pulling in? It's probably some kind of white bread. Definitely. Ham sandwich. Yeah. You know, sardines maybe. What? Sardines love fricking sardines. Are [00:28:00] you serious? Sardines are amazing.
You're the only person I've ever heard. Just, they're awesome. Just offer the fact that they like sardine the Ritz crackers. Goodness gracious. Really freaking love sardines. Okay, now I'm gonna have a try. They're great. They are great. You can get 'em either in water, you can get 'em in mustard sauce.
Goodness. Great. It's in mustard sauce. Dude. Get some sardines. Go to what we're doing on our lunch break. We're gonna go eat some now, the, and uh, what are we drinking? Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper for sure. Fur fishing, Trip pepper. You know, if you were, if you were in the right part of the country back in the early eighties, you could get the Dr.
Pepper gum that had, Oh my goodness. You remember that? That had the stuff in the middle of it exploded in your mouth? Yes. It had like Dr. Pepper. I knew what was going there, and it just kept going. It had like Dr. Pepper's syrup in the middle of the gum, man. Yes, dude. Thank you for that. Right. It had these, it had a really unique texture and flavor and even a feel to it.
It had a Oh, that's good. Like they felt kind of powdery on [00:29:00] the outside. They had like, Oh yes. Anyway, it was Dr. Pepper gum. Oh, good. And, uh, yeah, Dr. Pepper gum. And then if they had it, I, I must be thinking of one specific spot that me and my dad would stop. Cause I, because Dr. Pepper gum goes hand in hand for me with a coconut.
Hoo. Okay. That they would have coconut hoo. At this little place in the country where we would debate or whatever. Um, we had a gas station called the Mr. Zip. Yeah. Did you have a Mr. Zipper? Yeah, we did. Yeah. And they had the coolers with the glass bottles, like you slid open the, the door and Yeah. Oh yeah.
The old school, like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. From the bottom. Yeah. Good stuff for sure. So yes, that's definitely what you're, when you're going fishing in the dark, go, Okay, so do this, y'all, listen, go back and just listen to that much of that song again. Just go back two minutes and just listen to how many things are going on without the song feeling busy.
Exactly right. Harmonica, slips. Harmonica. There's obviously multiple acoustic happening on, there's, uh, banjo. There's the electric [00:30:00] guitar. No, no, no. Like, and it's all the freaking country as like, and bass is hitting note. Note. That's right. Note. That's thumb note. Thumb note. It's like boom, boom, boom. That's right.
It's hitting like almost staccato quarter notes bolt and the drums come in with a single snare hit. Like, Here I come. Yep. With a little reverse snare, like Yeah. Right. It's got the little reverse coming into it. It's just everything about this song is so tasteful. Yeah. Like, so completely tasteful.
Absolutely. Three part harmony. Gorgeous. And it's so freaking country. Mm-hmm. , like just unbelievably country. Uh, that is from the 1987 album, hold on. Written by Wendy Waldman and Jim Fatto, I hope I'm pronouncing that name correctly. It is, uh, P h o t o G L O. Um, It's just Jim. It's just Jim. Yeah. Jimi. Uh, Wendy Waldman co-wrote the number one hit Save The Best For Last by Vanessa Williams.
How about that? You don't think, you wouldn't think the same person. She's dark [00:31:00] and save Best for last. Yeah. Uh, you know, Miss America, right? That's not she's wearing socks for sure. Absolutely. Or, or like slippers. Like not, she's either wearing socks or she's wearing like, some elegant shoe that you don't, you just don't wear socks with, you know?
Um, the difference in Feet smells in those songs just in general. , Yes. Um, , let's edit that out. There's somebody that's freaking like, Nah, dude, you know, if whatever man, if feet smells, I, let's just leave it. Uh, okay. Um, , that's really funny. Uh, she, uh, Wendy Waldman has also working with a bunch of other artists and she has a successful recording career of her own.
Um, Here's the country as sentence you will hear today. Okay. Okay. This is from her bio around that. Around this time, Wendy also received the coveted Wrangler Award from the Cowboy Hall of Fame for her song Corn, Water and Wood , which was co-written by Carol Elliot and recorded by Michael Martin [00:32:00] Murphy.
Oh my goodness. And just reeks of country. That's the doggone country is corn. What's the song called? Uh, Corn Water and Wood. The Wrangler Award. The Wrangler Award. The Daum Wrangler Jeans Award. Do y'all remember what season? I can't remember. I sang the Wrangler Butt song. You remember that? Drive me Nuts.
Nuts. Crazy about the jeans. You're aware And wr there butts. So yeah. Uh, okay. And then we've got Jim Fatto, who had a couple of top 40 hits in the eighties, uh, on his own. We were meant to be lovers and, uh, full in love with you. See, if you remember full in Love with you. Great to love the way it feels.
Expect that key part coming in like that. Let's skip to the chorus. You, you already know the melody to the chorus, don't you? Like you don't have to hear it now. I'll say again. The music's doing it [00:33:00] when you said goodbye. I didn't. I love this man. Yeah. Michael McDonald with you.
Um, he also wrote Cuts for Faith Hill, Oak Ridge Boys, tons of other country artists. Uh, he had another, another number one, uh, that he wrote, uh, with Honeymoon, uh, I'm sorry, Hometown Honeymoon by Alabama. You remember that one? Um, and he actually became, Jim did a full-time member of the Dirt Band since 2016.
Okay. So he's now actually just a, a full-fledged part. He's to play his song. Yeah. Um, and so this is, by the way, my also also my spot to say that the current Nitty gritty dirt band lineup includes Ross Holmes, who's a former fiddler for both Mumford and Sons and Bruce Horns in the Noisemakers. Oh, okay.
There we go. So he left, uh, he, when he left Mumford and Sons, he joined the noisemakers. He left the noisemakers to join the nitty gritty Dirt man. Um, so that's pretty sweet. Fishing in the Dark went to number one on the US Billboard, Hot Country [00:34:00] songs, uh, chart. And it was number four for the entire year of 1987.
It was the, uh, it went to number one in Canada on the RPM Country tracks chart. I couldn't find the proper list for 1987 to see what three songs charted ahead of this in the us but there's an album by Billboard, uh, of the top country songs of 1987, and I think we can probably get a pretty good idea of what three songs, um, came up on top at the end of the year, you know, above this.
So let's, let's see if we can figure out. I'll give you, I'll give you my guesses. I'll read 'em off and you, you tell me. Okay. This is the Billboard Top Country Hits album. All right. You've got, this is just in order forever and ever. Amen. Randy Travis. Yeah, that's gonna beat it. That's gonna be, that's probably the top song of that year.
Um, somewhere tonight, Highway 1 0 1, Probably not Fishing in the Dark. Okay. The way we Make a Broken Heart, Roseanne Cash. Okay. Uh, you friend of the show, right? Right. Uh, you again, The Forrester sisters. I don't know. [00:35:00] Okay. You again, Uh, by, oh no, I'm sorry. I just said that, uh, one sounds like there's two songs called You again,
Uh, You again, again. You again. You again, Again. Yeah. Uh, One Friend by Dan Seals. I don't think so. Yeah. Okay. She's too good to be true by exile. You love some exile? I do love me some exile, but I don't think so. I think it's Randy so far. This is a song that you don't know, but I guarantee you this one was up there.
This the Weekend by Steve Warner. Okay. Yeah, we talked about that before. Um, incredible song, and I know, I know. Uh, that, and then, uh, let's see. Can't stop my heart from Loving You by the o somebody's, I literally can't read it. It's like the kins or somebody o arrears. I can't . It's blurred on this thing, so I can't tell who it's, um, and the actual album is not, not out there.
Um, and then the last one is Born To Boogie by Hank Williams, Jr. Maybe. Yeah, maybe. Definitely. That probably was. That's, we're gonna guess Those are our three. So we're going Forever, Everyday Men. Yeah. The Weekend, The Born To Boogie. I'm Born to Boogie. That would be our guess if, uh, Mr. Board, if you wanna call us and [00:36:00] correct us by, if the arrears had the number one song of the year.
So, sorry, everyone. Yeah, that's right. Uh, let's see. It did Platinum Sales and Physical. This will be Efficient In the Dark. Uh, well over a million downloads in the download era as well. And, uh, I just wanna say this, this will be my last, my last tidbit. And then, uh, maybe we can stump the Genius or something.
But I just wanna say, uh, Phish in the Dark is d. You could easily like trip on the trail down to the creek. You know, Lord knows you could hook yourself when you're baiting or casting. You don't know what kind of critters are gonna be out there late. I highly advise again, it, you know, . He Thanks Walker.
Yeah. All right. Uh, alright. I, I'm feeling, I'm feeling ready to be stumped. Okay, let's do it. Let's do a little Stu the genius. Stump the genius. Stop the genius. Stop the genius. It's time to stop the genius. Take your part. I take your part. All right guys. Uh, we're gonna play name that banjo, um, is what we're gonna play today.
Okay? Name banjo. So I'm gonna, I'm gonna give you, uh, I want you to write down or type down five names. So I'm gonna help, I'm gonna help [00:37:00] you here, okay? Because banjo sounds like banjo, but I think you're gonna name these. So the people you were gonna have on this list, Earl Scruggs. Okay. Rascal Flats. Okay.
The Darlings. Okay. Conway Twitty. Okay. And New Grass Revival. Okay, so you're just gonna keep a mental note. You got all five of those. Let me read 'em back to you. Earl Scrubs SCRs. Rascal Flats. Yeah. Darlings. Conway Twitty. Yeah. New Grass Revival. Okay. There's your hints. I'm gonna tell you what my computer thinks I typed in.
Okay. Earl Scruff. Uh, okay. Rascal the Marlins. Uh, and then the rest is fine. No Conway Twitter con . That's on my computer way. Twitter corrected me to, but I think I can, I'm gonna make it happen. Okay. Here's number one. Okay. We know the song. I'm gonna let you get a little vocal to help you. Okay. Very little vocal.
That's gonna be real scrub. Okay? You keep the notes. I I'm gonna give you all five. Oh, you're gonna gimme all five? I'll all five. And that way you can just [00:38:00] put who you think was where. Okay. All right. So that was number one. Okay. Here's number two.
Okay. Here's number three. Not Garth, right?
okay while you get there. And number five
is, is there on this, I'll give you a little vocal. I thought I had it settled and then now I don't. I'll run back you one more time too.
Okay. So here we go. That'll help. Wow. That'll help you there on that one. Okay. Okay, here we go. One. [00:39:00] All right. I'm just gonna guess as we go now. Okay. Okay. I'm gonna guess, is that the darlings? That is not the darlings, so that's gonna help you. Number two, was that Conway Twitty? That was Conway Twi. Freaking a, I heard his voice and then I knew that's gonna be Rascal Flats.
That's Rascal Flats. Okay. Number three. Okay, so now I'm gonna say this is the darlings. That is not the darlings crap. That is new grass revival. Dang it. That's what I put down and then I changed it. Number four. Dang it. That's gross. That's Earl's. That's good. And clap strokes. So, but that means this has to be the, this is the, this is Dooley.
All you, Andy Griffith fans out there dogone it, AI holler. Trying to make a dollar. I'm not so steeped in Andy Griffith. Gimme a swallow in a pay. So there you go. Name that band, Joe. Okay, let me see how we [00:40:00] did. I think you got three. Is that literally the lyric? Give me a swallow and I'll pay you back someday.
Yeah, there you go. Fair enough. Go get it y'all. Um, so I think we're gonna give you 60%. On that. Ooh, that feels generous, but okay. I think we're going 60. Um, cuz I know we missed too, but, uh, you, you pivoted and recovered. I pivoted. Yeah, I did. I, So there we go. I boot and Riley name that banjo. How'd y'all do out there?
Somebody out there definitely got all five for sure. They just heard, they didn't even need the, the vocal? No. They heard the, the banjo hook. They were in. That's right. They sure did. Name that banjo. Name that banjo. I got one more note, a little bit of a note kind of tied in Banjo, kind of tied in. John McEwen.
Okay. Um, on King Tut, um, John played on this, uh, Steve Martin song. King Tut. Yeah. He gave his life for Tourism . So one of my favorite, uh, Steve Martin sketches is the one that he, when he does this live, um, in concert, He comes out, they bring him an electric guitar, like he's gonna play one solo and he plays one [00:41:00] chord.
Yeah. And hands it right back to, and the person he hands it back to is Henry Winkler from Oh really? From Cheers. The Fs. Yeah. That's funny though. It's really neat. So anyway, from a happy days. Yeah. You said cheers. Oh gosh. Happy days. Yeah. What the heck was, I think it is, You're gonna get hate mail. Yeah. I meant happy days, obviously.
I know the difference on that. Yeah. Okay. Well from the Water Boy there, the . That's right. Uh, okay. So yeah, I'll do a little, a little more on John McEwen since you're talking about him. Um, because he also, um, he produced the 2009 Steve Martin album, The Crow New Songs for the Five String Banjo, which won the best Bluegrass album, Grammy in 2010.
So, uh, produced by John McEwen. He's got seven solo albums and he's produced 10 more, uh, at least 10. , He hosted Acoustic Traveler on Sirius XM for at least nine seasons. I'm not sure if that's still going or not, um, because I don't, I'm not a serious XM guy. Um, but he was a founding member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, uh, and one of the most steadfast.
Uh, there have been, you know, with any group that's been around for 50 plus [00:42:00] years, there's been a lot of lineup changes. Um, but, um, he, but he's been there for a long time. Gone for a little while, and then back for a long time, and then gone since 2017 in, uh, in the, to be completely, uh, accurate, we'll say in the very initial couple months of the band, there was one guy who proceeded him.
You may have heard of him. His name is Jackson Brown , and he's done. Okay. Um, John was with the band. That young man has a bright future. That's right, that's right. Uh, but John McEwen was with the band from essentially it's formation, it's inception in 1966 to 1986. He returned in 2001 and then departed from the band in 2017.
Due to some like business stuff he didn't appreciate and growing demand for his own solo shows, he recorded 34 albums with nitty gritty dirt. That's amazing. How about that? Um, okay. Then the last thing we're gonna talk about today. Is the album called Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Uh, and it's a [00:43:00] landmark album.
It is celebrating, uh, 50 years since its release, and it is the album about which John McEwen has written a book. Um, and so let's play a little bit of it. If you grew up in the south at all, you probably know the song itself, Will the Circle be Unbroken? Which Nitty gritty Dirt band didn't write by any means, but you know, the song and their version of it is, is one of the most popular versions of it for.
And if you grew up going to church in the south, if you're old enough, this is what church sounded like. Like if, if you grew up in our tradition, Appalachia Church, this is it. I was standing by.[00:44:00]
In the sky board in the sky, and this is pretty indicative of the whole album. First of all, this, this album is huge. I, I mean, it's got, uh, what, 20? No. Gosh, I don't know. There's 17 songs on side one and, uh, 25 on side two. So it's like a two, two album, you know, Huge thing. Um, and it featured. , a collision of classic and then modern country artists and players, right?
Bridging these generational gaps, easing the way into a new generation of like country rock and helping the past and present to kind of play nice with each other, show each other some [00:45:00] honor and respect, and make some great loose fun music in the process. Uh, it featured everyone from Earl and Randy Scruggs to Roy, Ak Mother May Bell Carter, Merle Travis, and Vassar Clements.
Uh, it was the original Gaither Homecoming, if you know what a Gaither Homecoming is. Yeah, Right. If, if you, you know, it was basically that, right? Let's put all these people in a room, put up some microphones. We're not gonna rehearse a lot. We don't have time. We're just gonna cut this thing and see what happens, right?
All songs were cut straight to tape from the first or second take. Like it was that kind of environment. That's perfect. Love that. That's a J.P gather. Yeah. So they're not like Exactly. Yeah. So they're not like, they're not even like cutting to multi-track, just going straight to the two inch tape uhhuh.
Right. So they're like, we're gonna get the mix up front and then go straight to tape. Yeah. Um, it is Platinum Plus, I mean, it's a huge album. It spawned two sequels, uh, one of which one Two Grammys and an album of the year cma. And, um, our guest today, John McEwen, has in fact written the book on the [00:46:00] subject.
His book, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, The Making of a Landmark album, uh, dropped on August 1st and he answers every question about what is considered to be the first Americana album. Um, the Books Forward is written by No Less than Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who named an episode of their country music documentary, Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
It also includes a ton of photos by William McEwen John's brother, including more than 40 that have never been published. That's awesome. A couple more great notes on that album. The record label wasn't sure it would sell, uh, but they shelled out the $22,000 to make the whole thing happen. Wonder what, what $22,000 is like in today's money.
Yeah, right. I know. So for 22 Grand, this group of folk rock newcomers and Bluegrass legend tracked 36 songs in a week's time. Got it. Mixed, mastered and press. That's amazing. Unbelievable. And it's, and it's this landmark album. Yeah. It's great. One of those, you know, so like, take me back to that era, please.
[00:47:00] Right. You can do all you mean where you can put record a whole album? Yeah. You can record a whole album in a week. You don't need all the fanciness. Like, let's do that. Let's just get together. And I mean, seriously, you, you listen, John, call up 50 of your best friends. Yeah. And we'll come sit in. Exactly.
Yes. And that's literally what it is. They're just like sitting around. You've got people like talking over the like, Listen, I think this is the first track. There's just like people talking and stuff. The Grand Ole Opry song. That's good. Okay. Pick your solid, John. Yeah, right. Picked one for 15 years, ain't you?
This really, Earl ever did do this. like this, The album starts. That's awesome. You know, it's just very like, Let me tell you what they didn't do. They didn't get in and obsess over vocal parts. Yeah. They're like, you know what I mean? Okay. Who's singing the third and who's singing the fifth? Right. They're just everybody.
They did these songs that everybody knew. Yeah. And they just get in a room. Everybody just find your part and go and go. You know what I mean? I love it. I love it so much. Yeah. So that, that's fantastic. Uh, alright. That's got it for me. Unless you [00:48:00] have anything else you need to add. I think I'm good. This has been fun.
And uh, y'all hang around to the end after the interview and we'll, we'll, we'll give the farewells That's right. But y'all are gonna enjoy John. Oh yeah. We're gonna get down to the nitty gritty. Hey there. We with John there in just a second. But first stop what you're doing. Grab your phone and go to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Follow us at Great Song Podcast, join the Facebook group, great songs and the great people who love them greatly. And if you wanna go the extra mile, if you wanna help us produce the show and become a Patreon producer, you can do that at patreon.com/great Song Pod. And when you choose to support the show at any level, you will get every kind of way possible for us to say thank you.
Bonus episodes. Uh, literally we have a, a weekly second show called the catch Up that we do during the season, um, that happens every weekend that the only place to get it is on Patreon. And, um, we do all kinds of extended shows ad free. Lots of bonus things. We've given away albums. It's just any way that we can say thank you will do that, [00:49:00] uh, when you choose to support the show on Patreon.
So go to patreon.com/ Great, Song Podcast. We're gonna go talk to John McEwen. Ben Jo, legend of the universe first, and we'll be back to tuck you in at the end. This is the Great Song Podcast. Ladies and gentlemen, as promised, we are here with John McEwen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, member of the American Banjo Hall of Fame, man, musician, extraordinary.
John, thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us today on the Great Song Podcast. No problem. Thank you. Excellent. Um, let's start here. I, I have this question In researching the dirt band, um, they, they come up in sort of a lot of different sub genres of music and, uh, one of them is, is, is country.
And personally, I've never actually thought of Nitty gritty dirt band as a country band. In your mind, how do you categorize the Dirt band? What do you say we're a blank band? [00:50:00] Well, what I liked about it was it was folk rock country and folk. Country rock. Country rock. You know, I, I had trouble categorizing it, but, uh, , I'll leave that to other people.
Sure, sure. Other, of course, other than saying it's rock country, country. If there's, if there's one thing the internet is good at, it is categorizing things, that's for sure. There's no, no shortage of that on the internet, so we, we'll leave that to the internet. Um, let me, I'm gonna ask you a few banjo questions because you're, I believe you are the first, uh, banjo exceptionalist that we have, uh, uh, spoken to on the program.
So I want to ask you some banjo stuff, if that's all right. Sure. Um, can you tell our audience and us, uh, cuz neither one of us are banjo players. I've, I've played one, but I'm not by any means of banjo player. Uh, can you tell our audience the difference between playing a four [00:51:00] string banjo and a five string and what might lead a player to sort of prefer one over the other
Well, the five string has one more string. Sure. That's one, one difference. All right. The four, the four string was used in early 1920s and 1930s music and, you know, rag time and things like that. And the five string came along and. Was adopted into traditional country, Appalachian and things of that nature.
And it involves many more tunings. I use 14 different tunings for Wow. Songs. Songs that I play. And do you keep different banjos tuned to those tunings, or do you try to tune on the fly for the most part? Well, it, you tune it when you need it to. Whatever you wanna use it. A minor tuning, a tuning cun, uh, you know, depends on, on what you, uh, what the [00:52:00] song is.
With the dirt, I use probably six different, six different ones. Okay. Wow. What, uh, I mean, I assume you started very early. Was banjo your first, the first thing you sort of picked up and got good at, or did you start with something else first? When I was 17, my brother was playing guitar. And he showed me some things for about six months, but I couldn't do anything he couldn't do.
And I heard a group called the Dillards when I was 17 and a half, and that changed my life. I wanted to be like Doug Dillard, the banjo player. And for those of y'all that don't know who the Dillards are, that's the darlings from Andy Griffith, if I'm correct on that. Is that correct? Yeah, they were the before that,
Yeah, they were the, were the darling. And I saw that group and I was 17. [00:53:00] Had to get a man in love. Love immediately. And did you, did you find that that came, um, excelling in, that came more naturally to you than the guitar? I didn't excelling, I just.
There was no, I've had dreams of being the grand old opre, uh, girl scr someday, and, and they all came true. That's awesome. That's awesome. So you're born in Oakland, Correct? In 64. Are you an Oakland Ace fan? Are you a sports fan at all? Not really. Uh, the first thing I learned to say was, Get me outta here,
And I started playing and I just wanted to be in a group. I wanted to be accepted. I was a, I started out as a dork and [00:54:00] cool. And then, then I started playing the banjo and worked my way up to Nerds, , and That's great. And I did that for a couple years, playing with a bunch of people around Southern California folk clubs and just sitting in and, Oh, hey, you wanna go on and play this with us?
Okay, I will. You know, I was 18, 19 years old, and then in 1966, Les Thompson called me and said, Hey, uh, we're getting a group together at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Long Beach. You wanna be part of it? I said, Sure. What's it called? There's Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. And I said, Well, if they can learn Dismal Swamp, one of my, one of my tunes.
I taught it to 'em. And we'd all known each other hanging around the music store. Everybody was like, Molest was 17. And we'd had a bluegrass group a year before called the Wilmore City Moon Shiners. But that lasted about 12 shows and, [00:55:00] and, uh, We went different ways. And then the dirt band came along and he called and I joined and taught him Dismal Swamp.
And I played the Canyon Banjo and Fiddle contest and I won Nice. Only contest I ever entered. And that was 1966. And I figured, well, I got a group now maybe I can get on the radio. We gotta practice. And I got everybody practicing and my car was the car we drove around in and, and I got my brother to manage us.
And eight months later we had our first radio record and we wondered what took so long. Eight months. Eight, but whole months we only knew 16 songs. We recorded 12 of them. And. Put out the album and had buy for me the rain on it, written by some folk music friends. And, uh, featuring my five string banjo as part of the, [00:56:00] part of the song.
And I figured, well, maybe my dad will understand that I'm, that I'm doing this for real. And he did. What a, what kind of car were you driving around then? Do you remember what kind of car it was? a Chevy two Nova SuperSport. There we, there we go. Little, little red car that would hold all the band equipment and in me.
Now the band equipment then was ju Band stuff, you know, watch base and guitars, banjos, mandolins and harmonics accordion. And that's what we were for the first couple years. Just basically an acoustic jug band, no electric instruments. And when my brother started managing, he. What would you do if I got you a set of drums and he said I'd throw 'em in the ocean
But when we did Paint Your Wagon, the movie, The Paramount movie in 1968, that was a different thing cuz the music from Big [00:57:00] Pink had just come out. And Jeff and I listened to that intently and when we came back from Paint Your Wagon after four months on the set to get our three and a half minutes of screen time, well we broke up.
Uh, No kidding. And, and uh, that was it. Well, what was it like being on set with, uh, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood for that long, uh, for your hand me down that Can of Beans Moment ? Well that was the song we did Hand Me Down that Can of Beans. And when we were getting ready to shoot that actual song, Lee Marvin was the first time we met him, came stumbling up to the stage.
And said, Do you boys know when they raised the flag over Ewood, Gema ? And, and it's like, Oh no. If we don't answer this right, we're gonna get busted. We're gonna get fired. This ex-marine guy and uh, uh, I don't know, 19 [00:58:00] five, but uh, I think it was, you know, he goes, No, the song. And he says, Gimme a g chord. You start singing.
When they raised the flag over he Wow. And he was a nice guy. He was the Sylvester Stallone of his day. Yeah, that's good. And um, he was a nice drunk guy. And, and, uh, Clint Eastland was the opposite. He was Mr. Clean. Mr. Nice, Mr. Good. He'd been a TV star now. He was, now he was headed to being a movie star and he did it quite well.
well, yeah. I've, I've about him. After. Paint your wagon though, the four months together. Baker, Oregon kind of, uh, war on the guys, and a couple of them we didn't get along with. And, and Jeff just broke the group up. And that was, we disbanded. Six months later though, we were in a club. Jeff and I, watching Poco, they were still called Pogo [00:59:00]because Walt Kelly hadn't sued them yet.
The the Pogo cartoon. And he sued him and then he changed the name to Poco. And, uh, but Jeff and I were watching the band play and really killing it. They were great and he, we said that each other, Let's get the band back together and you get fatten and I'll go find less. And we need, we need a singing drummer.
And we did that to make our fifth album Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy, we found Jimi Evanson. And we had less Thompson Jimi, Fadden, Jeff and Me, and we made Uncle Charlie and it had three hits on it. Yeah. It was our fifth. Yeah, it was our fifth album. That's the first four. Eh, not so, not so much. But, uh, one.
How'd y'all decide to cover, uh, Jerry, Jeff Walkers? Mr. Bojangles on that. What, How did that jump out? Obviously, I think y'all have the most [01:00:00] popular version. Um, how did y'all land? How did y'all land on that cover? Jeff came into rehearsal one day. We actually rehearsed to do this album. We rehearsed six days a week, eight and 10 hours a day, man.
For four months. For four months. And. He came in one day and said, I heard a song on the radio last night that I think it'd be perfect for me. I only heard half of it, but it's about a guy that dances with a dead dog. There's a what? That sounds interesting. And Jimi Evanson says, I've got that in my record collection in the trunk of my car.
Dodge Dodge. He'd driven all the way from Phil to getting the music business in LA and he made it and in Dodge Dart . And we went out. We went out to his car and under the spares tire was 1 45. His entire record collection. . That's awesome. Had one single that somebody had given him saying, This could be important to your life.
[01:01:00] What in the world? That's crazy. And uh, One of the guys took it in. Uh, Jeff took it in to the record player that didn't have speakers, but he had to listen to the needle and taught it to us and we learned it and we, and did it in club the next week and just killed people were for it and we it on the album some of Shelly's Blues and House of p Kenny Logs.
First recording. Yeah, his first recording he ever had of his material. We did four of his songs and Jimi Evanson as the new guy was in this newly nitty gritty dirt band after six months off and he brought a new energy in life and songs and played the drums of bass and piano and it was just a wonderful thing.
And the group came together and we tried to figure out what to do and we did it. That's cool. [01:02:00] What's it like, uh, to have the crowd sing back the Mr. Bojangle's part at the end in large crowd settings? Is that still, uh, captivating or was that still, uh, captivating up till the, till the, the last run with, with Nitty earman, it is still captivating to this day to think that that song represents not just the piece of music that you hear on the radio, but it reflects the time that the people heard it, what was going on in their lives, and you're taking people back.
It's taking 'em back to a pleasant time, hopefully with a lot of Vietnam veterans back to a, a very special time. We found out months later, after we started talking to Vietnam veterans because in the seventies you just didn't know what to say to weren't, weren't veterans and they. They went over and killed people and we didn't, but they went through hell.
They went through it. The [01:03:00] Vietnam veteran needs to be welcomed home, and I welcome them home and say, I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you got out of there. And I had several veterans, we've had several veterans over the years. Say, I heard Boles while I was over there, or I heard Boles when I got back. And it really put me in a good space.
It really made me feel like I was home. It made me, you know, it, it captured Jerry, Jeff Walker, who wrote the song, captured a real, real vibe of good, a good part of Americana of America. That's great. And, and, uh, we put it out and it made it to the top 10. It was on the chart for 36 weeks, and most records were on the chart for 10 and 12 weeks, maybe 14.
But, uh, Boles would, it was on the country chart, the easy listening chart, the pop chart, you know, [01:04:00] it was just going all around. And,
and we did, we did up to two cities a year. One year. And, uh, that means playing in the 200 cities. Sure. And in between there's a day off here, a day off there. So we were on the road quite a bit. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I, uh, and speaking of travel and tour and the seventies, um, I read in your book, uh, the Life I've picked a banjo player's nitty gritty journey.
In the book, you talk about the 1977 tour of the Soviet Union, where, if I read correctly, you were the first American group to tour the Soviet Union. Um, you That's right. You wanna talk about that time? Well, we did 28 sold out shows. We were the first American band to represent all of America. And we took a female singer with us, Jan Garrett, because we wanted to represent part of American music [01:05:00] that had women in it.
And, and that was exciting cuz she did a great job, sang a couple songs and sang harmonies on things. And, and, uh, well they had agreed to bring over an American group, uh, the cultural affairs department had the Soviet Unions sign an agreement that we'll bring over the SHO Ballet, we'll bring over String Quartet and Coral Group, but you Russia have to bring over a band, not not a star guy with a group of musicians, but a democratic band.
And, and they did. That's cool. That's, Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. I, uh, you talked to your buddies with Steve Martin. Um, you've known him since high school. Uh, talk about your, how you, how you met Steve and give us a good Steve story and maybe putting together the band for King Tut. Talk on that a little bit.
I met Steve in Disneyland, [01:06:00] which was my new go-to place after my family moved to Southern California. That's where I started my freshman year in high school. I was going to Disneyland that summer and hanging around the magic shop, and I liked doing magic. I mean, this is a guy that went from dork to nerd that, that was doing magic.
And because when you did tricks for people and you could fool 'em, they didn't think anything other than, Wow. How did that happen? , And, and you could, you could. Break through that social barrier that was up if you were a nerdy guy, , and if you fooled some other guy or girl. And I liked doing magic tricks.
It was fun. And Steve was trying to get a job and then Magic Shop as I was finally in our senior years. We were hanging around in senior year, well it was the summer [01:07:00] before senior year and we both got the jobs at 16 years old working in the Disneyland Magic Shop. That's, that's cool. It was really great because we spent three years doing that and it was a perfect training ground.
Every time you'd do a show, cuz you'd had people in the store and you'd, you'd do tricks and 20 minutes later you'd say, so. You stand there and hey, how much is that nickels to times, Where can I get that swim golly deck, the deck of cards that makes it look like they're all the same and they change. And I had the record sales of, of golly decks.
I sold, I had 52 sales one day. It was perfect for one day, Man, that's awesome. And well it was, it was a 15 hour day, so I had a better chance. That was the thing. That's where I learned that working was not work. If you love the work, [01:08:00] and I love the work, and I would put in, oh, 60 hours a week, usually one week I did 92 hours.
I got the biggest check I'd ever seen.
Steve and I got to know each other that summer and we went to high school. We, he ended up in the same high school senior year. And we played chess. Every lunch score was 85 to 87. And I, I don't know, we never can remember who was ahead , but the only things we talked about were check, check mate, and adjusting, and you wanna play another one?
Okay. That was a good time. High school lunch, , But we played chess at, at work too. We, I'd call up the man's, I'd call up the magic shop in Fantasy Land and say, King Pond, The King Pond fool. Oh, that's cool. . And [01:09:00] I'd hang up and he had a board up there and he'd call back and say, Queen's Bishop to Queen Bishop seven, you know, and, and it would be, you're identifying the squares on the board that way.
And, uh, we did that off and on. And then we started going to Frontier Land to hear bluegrass. It was booked in the park and. We would, Well, one group we particularly liked was the Mad Mountain Ramblers, and that was a group composed of David Linley, Richard Green, Chris Darrow, and a couple other guys. Now, David Linley went off to gain fame by being Jackson Brown backup guy for years.
Richard Green is an incredible fiddle player, and Chris Darrow ended up in the dirt band many years later. I didn't know them then. We didn't know anybody. And uh, it just moved along like that. And I'd played banjo and [01:10:00] showed Steve something and he'd take it. He'd learn half of it didn't go off on his own.
And, and, uh, I was 18, I was 19, and then at 20 I started playing with a nitty gritty band that was forming. And whereas I call myself an original member, There's a couple of people that, you weren't an original member. Jackson Brown was. Jackson Brown was in the group. Oh, Jackson played in the band. He did five or six shows and he basically had a group of guys that were backing him up, but he didn't wanna do that.
Jackson and I have a chuckle over the fact that that, Oh, they like to say Jackson was in the early dirt band, although he doesn't put it in his website or a bio, but it's a friendly relationship. Jackson, I was in the dressing room of the paradox where I first saw the Dillard and the was playing there.
This is a year later, [01:11:00] and Jackson came in and said, Hey John, listen to this song. He was 17 years old and he says, Listen to this song. Well, I've been out walking these days. I don't do too much talking these days. You know the song these days. Well, Greg Allman ended up recording it. The dirt band recorded it.
And anyway, I said, Where'd you get the song? He says, I just finished it. Uh, you mean you wrote the words too ? And it was the first time I realized we could write words and music of our own and he went out and played it that night. And uh, that was the night I officially joined The Dirt Man. I think it was, it was about a couple weeks after that banjo contest in 66 and August 12th.
Actually around noon, they were at my house in Garden Grove and we said, Let's start playing. And in September my brother started [01:12:00] managing and, and in February, the following February, that first single by from me, the Rain came out on Liberty Records. And that's how that got underway. And it did what? It could do for the next few years.
Broke up at Paint Your Wagon After, Paint Your Wagon, and, uh, got back together for the Uncle Charlie album. And I'm kind of, kind of going back to put it all in chronological order and, and then started doing things. And then in 71 we played Nashville for the first time. You know how exciting that was? , I mean, this was when people didn't know about towns.
You didn't have the internet. You had to, to Mcal and find it on the map or had to find you. You couldn't find things. You know, I knew the grand old Opry [01:13:00] was in Nashville. I thought it was still going, but I wasn't sure. But I found out it was, and my brother and I, before the dirt band started, We made a trip to Nashville to see the grand old operate and we got there, it was sold out.
I couldn't get in and I went to the north Windows in the back. They were all up because it was a hot August night. And standing on stage was Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs. That's awesome. And Lester goes to the mic and says, Earl and I wanna bring out Mama May Bell Carter to do the Wildwood. Man. That's awesome.
And, and she came out in the room exploded. This is 1965 and May Bell, who had been a nurse in, in Nashville after her music career kind dwindled was the only job she could get. She'd been a nurse for several years and Scrubs [01:14:00]saved her from that, bringing her out on the stage and quit nursing and. It was only, well, I said to my brother, Someday I've gotta record or meet or something.
Those people, I've been listening to Earl Scr since I started along with Doug Dillard and, um, it just, it was just a pivotal moment in my life standing there watching her do that and watching them and, and here six years later, we were in the studio with May and Doc and Merl and Merl Travis and Merl Scruggs and all that.
Making well, the Circle Be Unbroken, which was the album that followed Uncle Charlie. You mentioned a lot of names, like you are the name King, uh, and even in your book you talk about, you mentioned Earl Scruggs, even Greg Alman, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, John Denver, Bill Monroe, Heck, even Phish and [01:15:00] Primus.
You've got like connections to people all across the place. Uh, a lot of, a lot of those connections are, are things that I did on my own, but Phish didn't call the dirt band. They called me. I was glad of that. Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. And, and, uh, a lot of them are things with the dirt band, like going to Russia and, and, uh, having Linda Rosta record with us.
That was. Was a good dirt band thing. Yeah. She did several songs. Yeah. You got some great compliments from Garth and Linda Ronstadt in the book. It's awesome. Um, your latest project made in Brooklyn. Um, you've actually got Steve Martin on banjo on the Warren Zon tune and, uh, Martha Redone, John Carter Cash son Johnny and June.
Um, I really like the instrumentals, Brooklyn Crossing and Jules theme, who I'm guessing that's Jung on violin, cuz I know he's, he's on there too. Skip board on base. Talk a little bit about the new project. Uh, the newest one that I've, that I've heard from. . Well, that project made in Brooklyn came out a few years ago.
It was all [01:16:00] recorded with one microphone. Microphone. I did not know that. I'm very, Some people say, Ah, we've got a worth of microphones. Well, this microphone is worth a hundred thousand on its own. And you'd gather around it and you'd have to space yourself. The engineer would listen and say, Oh, we need to move the drums back.
We need to move the, your guitar has to come in. Uh, you get over here. It was like setting up on a clock face. One guy would play it noon, one at four, one at nine, one at seven, you know, And the background singers had to be in the background. The lead singer had to be up close to the mic. And, uh, it's the best sounding record I think I've ever made.
It sounds like you actually there it. . My daughter, she called me and says, Dad, I wish you would've told me about this record. I put it on and I thought somebody came in. I thought somebody else was a, Because it [01:17:00] sounds like surround sound without having surround speakers. That's crazy. It's, yeah, because of they know how to use that microphone.
Chesky Records. Chesky Records is known to make fine records and uh, they, they really did it. Right. One last question that we ask everybody, John, so you're on tour and you go into a gas station. What is your gas station snack? Food of choice and while you're thinking of your gas station snack food, I'll tell you mine, I'd get a Three Musketeers bar.
Uh, cuz when I was growing up, my mom would say, You could have any candy bar you want. And that's the most ounces. What is your gas station snack? Food of choice. I like peanut butter. Cookies. Nut butter. Okay, there we go. Great choice. All that's an underrated choice. I drive a Tesla, so I don't go into gas stations as much as I used.
True. Well played. Nice. Nice drop there. That's good, John. Well, you're, uh, you've been great. I know you're, uh, around the Nashville area. I live in Hendersonville. Rob [01:18:00] lives in Chattanooga, so we're Nashville hands. Oh, we'll, uh, we'll get together and have some peanut butter cookies sometime. We'll, we'll catch up.
All well with the dirt band. I played 50 years. At the end of the 50th year, I stepped off the bus and said, I gotta go do my own thing, guys. And it's good. They're off playing and I'm off playing and we drummers . . That's good. That's good. We keep doing your thing, John. Keep rocking out. Keep killing the banjo among other things.
And, uh, and we'll catch you soon. You've been a lot of. Well, thank you. Like I said to my mom, thanks for having me, . That's great. Well played. That's great. Thanks so much, John. Have a great rest of the day. Okay. Okay, I'll talk to you later. Thanks. We'll see you. Cheers. This is the Great Song Podcast, and that was John McEwen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and so much else.
Banjo, Master of the Universe. First. First, [01:19:00] I think I said legend the first time. Whatever. He's, he's master too universe. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So anyway, uh, thanks so much to John for hanging out with us and, uh, man, what an incredible time we're having here in season 10. And we are not finished yet, far from it, so don't worry.
Stop crying. Stop crying. I'll, I'll turn the, Do you want ice cream or not? Stop crying. Okay. All good. I might have some, I might, I may need to talk to my therapist about that. Uh, alright, we'll see you guys again next week on The Great, Song Podcast, with another great song. Until then, I'm Rob. I'm J.P. Go listen to some music.