The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Daytrotter Session - May 12, 2011
Long before the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was recognized for championing country and bluegrass music with their monumental album
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
, they were creating records that defied categorization and giving eclectic performances that reflected the hippie culture of the times. In the late 1960s, when hard rock and psychedelic music reigned supreme, the group was taking pop, jugband, country, folk, bluegrass, Cajun and a healthy dose of comedy and blending it into a mix uniquely American and all their own. Every member was a multi-instrumentalist and they could easily have been a top-notch rock band, but their embrace of acoustic instrumentation and their broad musical vision left radio programmers bewildered and they remained relegated to obscurity.
The albums Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released between 1967 and 1969 received little attention, but their big break finally occurred in 1970, with the release of
Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy
. The album became a surprise hit, helped by their catchy cover of Jerry Jeff Walkers's "Mr. Bojangles," which shot up the singles charts, giving them greater exposure than ever before. This album, too, was an eclectic mix, but for the first time they left the pop and overtly humorous elements behind. Instead, they achieved a delicate balance between rock, folk, country and bluegrass that was both infectious and immediately accessible. Fiddles, banjos, mandolins, harmonicas and accordions were all present, in addition to guitar, bass and drums, but it was clearly the extraordinary musicianship and choice of great material from relatively unknown songwriters that made this album so compelling. This was sing-a-long feel-good music of the highest caliber and it remains the early lineup of the band's crowning achievement.