A half-century ago, a loose-knit community of young musicians working in Southern California were tinkering with new musical hybrids, experiments that led to the folk-rock sound of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, the country rock of Linda Ronstadt and the Flying Burrito Brothers and an even rootsier blend of old-time jug-band music and rock favored by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
This year, the Dirt Band is marking its 50th anniversary, with the core quartet of Jeff Hanna, John McEuen, Jimmie Fadden and Bob Carpenter still actively touring and recording.
The Times is premiering a new performance video the Dirt Band shot recently during a star-studded 50th-anniversary concert at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, known as “the mother church of country music.”
The Ryman was an apt setting as it was the Dirt Band’s watershed 1972 triple album, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It’s a work that helped knock down barriers then separating the traditional country and rock music communities, setting the stage for the eventual emergence of what came to be known as Americana music.
For the show, the Dirt Band was joined by numerous musicians the group had worked with over five decades, including Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Rodney Crowell, Jimmy Ibbotson and one other singer-songwriter who emerged at the same time and even had a stint as a member of the Dirt Band, Jackson Browne.
“In an evening filled with highlights,” Hanna told The Times, “one of the moments that stands out for us was reuniting with our old pal, Jackson Browne, and playing his classic ‘These Days,’ which he wrote during his tenure with our band, and dusting off the old jug-band nugget, ‘Truthful Parson Brown,’ which we performed with Jackson in the band's early days playing clubs like The Paradox and Golden Bear in Southern California.”
Introducing the 1920s-era song, Browne told the packed Ryman audience that he learned it from his father — incorrectly as he discovered when Googled the song to check the lyrics the night before he performed it with his former bandmates.
“My dad didn’t teach me the right words at all,” Browne explained with a wry smile. “It’s a family trait: You know half the song, you make up the rest as you go along.”
The song celebrates a preacher known for invoking the power of music in his sermons (“He had a most peculiar way, of preachin' on the Sabbath Day/On an organ soft and low he would sing and play”).
Browne and the Dirt Band members were complemented by Nashville roots-music stars including Dobro player Jerry Douglas, fiddler Sam Bush and bassist Byron House on that number, which will be part of a new CD and DVD the band is releasing on Sept. 30, “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Friends – Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years.”
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