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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 2.5

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.

“Come on, Teddy”, I heard my son, Connor, say the other day to his little ol' dachshund dog, who's getting on in years. Teddy's breath don't stink near as bad as it used to and he's got a howl that can wake the dead; but, he don't croon near as well as Uncle Charlie's dog, Teddy, did back in 1970, when I first laid hands on a copy of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's album, Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy.

The first track on the second side of the album, “Jesse James / Uncle Charlie Interview”, features Uncle Charlie, a relative of the wife of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member, John McEuen. At the end of the interview, Teddy gets up to sing a few notes, leading into one of the band's most-memorable songs, “Mr. Bojangles”, written by Mr. Jerry Jeff Walker.

In fact, the entire record was full of songs written by soon-to-be-discovered songwriters. Former Monkee, Michael Nesmith, penned “Some of Shelly's Blues” and the beautiful love song, “Propinquity”, which Merriam or Webster one, defines as 'the state of being close to someone'.

Kenny Loggins wrote or co-wrote four songs on the album—“Prodigal's Return”, “Yukon Railroad”, “Santa Rosa”, and “House at Pooh Corner”. Randy Newman contributed with “Livin' Without You”; and, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band paid homage to their near and distant musical heroes with Earl Scruggs's “Randy Lynn Rag”, Buddy Holly's “Rave On”, and a snippet of “Swanee River” by Stephen Foster.

Since the band's inception in Long Beach, California in 1966, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has undergone over a dozen lineup changes through the years. The two members who have been there from the beginning are guitarist-lead singer Jeff Hanna and drummer Jimmie Fadden.

L-R: Les Thompson, Jackson Browne, Ralph Barr, Jimmie Fadden, Bruce Kunkel, and Jeff Hanna. 1966
L-R: Les Thompson, Jackson Browne, Ralph Barr, Jimmie Fadden, Bruce Kunkel, and Jeff Hanna. 1966

The first contingent of the band also included a young, 18-year-old songwriter by the name of Jackson Browne, who left after only a few months to pursue his dream as a successful singer-songwriter. Good career move, I'd say. He was replaced by the multi-instrumentalist, John McEuen on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and steel guitar.

McEuen's older brother, William, became their manager, and later, producer, guiding them to a recording contract with Liberty Records and a couple of landmark recordings, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume One and Volume Two, with country and bluegrass legends, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, and Vassar Clements.

The McEuen brother, William, went on to manage and produce a few films for a budding California comedian, Steve Martin, who learned to play the banjo with the help of the other McEuen brother, John.

In the late70s, the group shortened its name to The Dirt Band and scored a hit single, “American Dream”, featuring Linda Ronstadt on shared vocals. Keyboardist Bob Carpenter, husband of Gram Parsons's ex-wife, Gretchen, was added to the group in 1979.

By the early 80s, they took back their original name and proceeded to release hit after hit, with “Make A Little Magic”, “Modern Day Romance”, and “Fishin' in the Dark”, all hitting the pop and country charts. In late 1986, former Burrito Brother and Eagle, Bernie Leadon, joined up for a brief two-year stint.

L-R: Bob Carpenter, Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, and John McKuen. 2015
L-R: Bob Carpenter, Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, and John McKuen. 2015

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band celebrated their 50th anniversary in September of 2015 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, with special guests John Prine, Vince Gill, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Jackson Browne.

Through a career of personnel changes, hit records, worldwide tours, and a brief name change, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have constantly bridged the gap between country, bluegrass, and Rock & Roll music. To a man, all those changes could be a little confusing. To a Bush named H. W., it was downright difficult.

At a country music awards show in '92, the former President referred to them as the “Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird”! Uh...not quite, George. But, call 'em what you will, I'm sure you probably loved 'em as much as I did.

7th Annual Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival

March 17-18, 2017

Okefenokee Fairgrounds

Waycross, Georgia Advance Weekend Passes:


Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin

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