While talking with John McEuen, founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I mention that I saw NGDB in 1971 when their hit single "Mr. Bojangles" was fresh on the charts (#9). I was 11 and it was not only my first concert, but my first date. The (very) young lady and I were there to see the headliner, her favorite singer: teen idol Bobby Sherman. "Yeah, that was an odd pairing," says McEuen. "We were getting booed offstage; the Sherman fans were so intense. Finally, we began saying, after almost every song, 'Are you all here to see Bobby Sherman?' Then we'd let the resounding high-pitched thunder die down and say something like, 'Well, here's one of his favorite songs.'
He describes NGDB fading into the background even while opening for about two dozen Doors concerts, including one where Jim Morrison almost didn't perform. Drunk? Stoned? MIA? "It was because his mother was in the audience...he refused to leave the dressing room until she was out of the building. What a nice boy. Maybe he knew how silly some of his attention-getting antics were and knew she would tell him so."
McEuen played on nearly all Nitty Gritty Dirt Band singles and albums that made the Billboard charts, writing much of the group's material and nursing an on-and-off solo career. He'll perform May 7 at Acoustic Music San Diego in Normal Heights, with proceeds donated to Home of Guiding Hands, which operates community group homes for individuals with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, and other neurological disabilities.
WHAT'S IN YOUR CD PLAYER?
1. Tony Furtado, These Chains ("Innovative, melodic.")
2. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Flatt & Scruggs: The Original Sound ("The best bluegrass.")
3. Britney Spears, In the Zone ("My wife likes to dance. Very well recorded, too. And boy, they can both dance well.")
4. Hanna-McEuen, Something Like a Broken Heart ("My son's record, with his cousin Jaime.")
FIVE GREAT MOVIES?
1. Citizen Kane
3. Maria Full of Grace
4. Toy Story
5. As Good as It Gets
HARDEST SONGS TO PLAY LIVE?
1. "Turkey in the Straw," writer unknown. "I play it in an old-fashioned style called frailing from the 1880s. It's really fast and the second half is hard reaches. It's like aerobic banjo, but I usually nail it."
2. Opus 36, Muzio Clementi. "Written for the harpsichord in the 1700s, [it's] technically difficult for banjo. I have only played it perfect about four times in my life -- fortunately one was on a recording -- although the 'mistakes' would not usually be noticed by the audience."
FIRST INSTRUMENT OWNED?
"I had a $95 Harmony guitar that I bought at 17 years old so I could learn songs my brother was playing. After six months the only songs I knew were ones he showed me, so I got a banjo on my 18th birthday -- he didn't have one. My dad warned me that I was 'going down the wrong road' but gave me the banjo as a present."
THREE THINGS YOU MISS LEAST ABOUT THE '70s?
1. "I'm glad so many people have quit the drug thing."
2. "Overdrawing my checking account."
3. "The Vietnam War. It's time for the American government to apologize to the veterans for not being taken care of after their service by taking care of them better, and for the rest of us to welcome all servicemen home. Whether you agree with what they went to do or not, they are Americans, they are home, and they went through more than we know. And this possibly includes Jane Fonda."
FAVORITE FAN ENCOUNTER?
"I ran into Tom Hanks at Eric Idle's birthday party last month. As Eric introduced me, [Tom Hanks] said, 'Oh, I know you -- Nitty Gritty, the Circle album.' He continued to name a bunch of facts about NGDB recordings, including things I said between songs. Then he said, 'Everyone listened to the Dirt Band in the '70s. I did.' He was very cordial."