The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played their first gig in 1966 in Southern California as a jug band and by 1969 had become a cornerstone of the burgeoning country-rock community. Their career breakthrough came in 1970 with the release of the record Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy and the single “Mr. Bojangles,” a folksy Top 10 pop hit that remains a staple of their live show. During a tour stop in Nashville around that time, Earl Scruggs and his family came backstage to say hello. That introduction led to a friendship and some of the connections the band needed to record Will the Circle Be Unbroken. That three-disc album brought Nitty Gritty Dirt Band together with a number of country, folk, and bluegrass legends. Heroes like Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin, Merle Travis, and Doc Watson joined the scruffy, young band to record country music standards such as “I Saw the Light” and “Keep on the Sunnyside.” The acclaimed project is considered a landmark recording in American music.
At the peak of their country career, the band toured Europe with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, who hinted that they’d love to appear on a sequel to Will the Circle Be Unbroken, if the band ever decided to make one. That gesture convinced the band to get back in the studio to record another all-star album. Circle Volume II featured Johnny and June, as well as Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby, John Denver, Ricky Skaggs, New Grass Revival, and many other marquee names – not to mention encore performances by Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, and Earl Scruggs. Released in 1989, the album won three Grammys and a CMA Award for Album of the Year.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took a moment to acknowledge their incredible history by filming a 50th anniversary concert event at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Guests for that Circlin’ Back special included early Dirt Band member Jackson Browne, Sam Bush, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Byron House, Jerry Jeff Walker, and longtime Dirt Band member Jimmy Ibbotson. The concert aired as a nation-wide PBS Pledge special in 2016 and won a regional Emmy for Special Event Coverage.
Today, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band consists of Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter, for years known as “the new guy,” and Jim Photoglo, a friend of the band whose credits include co-writing “Fishin’ in the Dark”, as well as touring and recording with Carole King, Dan Fogelberg, and Vince Gill. Newest members Jaime Hanna and Ross Holmes also bring years of experience to the band. Hanna toured and recorded with The Mavericks and Gary Allan, while Holmes toured and recorded with Mumford & Sons and Bruce Hornsby.
“The energy these days is so up — and our fans have responded in a really great way,” Hanna says. “As a fan of other bands, I know how complicated it can be when members come and go. You can either embrace that or you don’t. Our fans are really gracious and I appreciate that. It’s been a really good run and there’s a lot of daylight ahead of us.”
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