Inside the Music | Will The Circle Be Unbroken | New Country & The Neo-Traditionalists

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band started out in 1966 as a student jug band in Los Angeles, and in an early incarnation it included a teenage Jackson Browne. Among the group’s founder members was singer and guitarist Jeff Hanna. Both Hanna and multi-instrumentalist Jimmie Fadden are still Dirt Band members 40 years on.

The extremely ambitious Will The Circle Be Unbroken project was conceived by NGDB manager, William E. ‘Bill’ McEuen, who was the brother of another band member – banjo man and iconoclast John McEuen. It resulted in the original 38-track, three-LP set in 1972.

An All-Star Album

The band at the time of Will The Circle Be Unbroken (also the title of a classic neo-religious country song) was completed by another multi-instrumentalist founder member, Les Thompson, and by Jimmy Ibbotson, who played guitar, keyboards, drums and accordion as well as contributed vocals. Before Bill McEuen’s brainwave, the band was at a crossroads in commercial terms. Their 1970 LP, Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy, had restored them to the US chart, from which they had been absent for three years. Uncle Charlie had contained three US hit singles, including ‘Mr. Bojangles’, their first Top 10 hit, but the band’s next LP, All The Good Times, performed far less well commercially, and only included one minor hit single.

Bill McEuen, who was finding that the big wheels at United Artists were taking little notice of his future plans for the band, got the idea for an all-star album after the great Earl Scruggs had complimented John McEuen on his performance of an Uncle Charlie song, ‘Randy Lynn Rag’, which was written by Scruggs. McEuen asked him if he would record with the band. Scruggs agreed. Bolstered by the positive response, the band asked Doc Watson if he would consider playing with them. Watson also agreed, and from there the list of luminary figures grew – Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter and Merle Travis. They recorded for six days, and the best 38 tracks were released as a magnificently packaged triple LP. It was a huge success, surpassing the heights achieved by Uncle Charlie, and becoming the band’s first gold album. Gold status depends on the retail value of an album’s sales, and since this was a triple LP, its price was at least double that of a single LP.

Volumes Two And Three

In 1989, the Dirt Band – now comprising Hanna, Fadden, Ibbotson and keyboard man Bob Carpenter – decided to repeat the process – with Volume Two not only using Acuff and Earl Scruggs, but also Johnny Cash, The ByrdsRoger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, original Eagle Bernie Leadon, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, John Denver, Hiatt and Prine, Ricky Skaggs and several others. This gave the band their first US Top 100 album in nearly a decade.

In 2002 – by which time John McEuen had rejoined – the band decided to attempt the...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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