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Nitty Gritty Dirt Band continues 50th anniversary celebration
Fifty years ago, Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden,. a young Jackson Browne and others got together in Long Beach, Calif., to play country rock together as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
It's still going half a century later, after 19 members and an extensive catalog of albums, including a pair of lauded "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" collections. The NGDB recorded the definitive version of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles," and it also topped the country charts with "Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper's Dream) and "Fishin' In the Dark." And on its latest set, "Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Friends," recorded during September 2015 in Nashville, is an all-star set celebrating the group's golden anniversary.
Another 50 years may be a bit much to expect, but the Detroit-born Hanna tells us he's confident there's a little more Dirt still for his group to kick up in the future...
Hanna 69, says the NGDB's musical fusion is what helped the group become built to last as it has. "When we started we were into folk music, that was our thing," he recalls. "There were a lot of other influences, though. With our older siblings we were hearing early rock 'n' roll. It was our earworms. And in '69 we shifted from kind of jug band music to California country-rock. And then we came back to Nashville and made a shift into country. And now it's what they call Americana. So there was enough change that somewhere along the line I think we realized we can probably do this awhile."
The group has spent more than a year celebrating its 50th, which has buoyed it through the rigors of touring. "This year's been a blast. It's really been fun," Hanna notes. "The hardest thing about it is the obvious things -- getting no sleep and eating crappy food. That's the road part, and it's harder than when you're in your 30s -- like when you're pushing 70. But that being said, when you hit the stage for a couple of hours, it's a drug, a really good drug. Maybe a better word is a tonic."
Alongside the public celebrations of the 50th anniversary, the NGDB has taken a few opportunities to have some private commemorations, too. "We've clinked a few, sure," Hanna says. "It's been kind of ongoing. I think there's been so much work involved -- good work, like being on the road this year. We've hit the road a lot harder this year than we have for the last couple, for obvious reasons. When mid-November rolls around we're gonna shut it down for the year and then we'll have a chance to go, 'Yeah, man...' and think about what happened."
Hanna says the NGDB is working on new music, "sort of in an amorphous sense. We've been so busy on the road and everything we haven't had a whole lot of time to start thinking about what's next. we have a bunch of tunes and we've talked about that already. I think everybody wants to put their feet up for awhile over the holidays and think about things, and then we'll see what we want to do. When you're a veteran act a lot of people don't want to hear your new music, but I still love writing new stuff."
Hannah moved from Detroit with his family when he was eight years old, but he maintains a rooting interest for the Tigers. "The one major league baseball game I went to when I was a kid was when we lived in Arizona," he says. "We took a family trip on the Super Chief Santa Fe from Phoenix to Detroit, which was great for an eight-year-old kid. My dad took me to a Tigers/Red Sox game and I got to see Ted Williams play for he Red Sox. Charlie Gehringer was in the stands, so I got his autograph. It kinda turned me into a Red Sox fan, but I'm still a Tigers fan, too."
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13.
SoundBoard in the Motor City Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Blvd., Detroit.
Tickets are $25-$40.
Call 313-309-4700 or visit motorcitycasino.com.
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