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10Minutes: Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Imagine yourself passionately working towards a goal for over fifty years.  Think of the dedication and mastery going into perfecting a craft.  The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band began as a modest California jug band and half a century later, they have cemented themselves as a prominent pillar within Americana music.

CountryMusicPride.com was fortunate enough to have a few minutes with founding member of the Dirt Band, Jeff Hanna.

On still performing 50 years after Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s breakthrough Will The Circle be Unbroken

Jeff Hanna: “When we got started we never thought in our wildest dreams we’d be together 10 or 15 years.; let alone 50.  Yet, to reach this milestone – it’s really public for us.  We’re having as good of a time as ever, especially playing live.  It’s our favorite thing to do”.

On the possibility of another anniversary record:

“We take it a year at a time, we have ever since 1966.  Long range plans are a strange thing.  Being a working musician, you never know where your next paycheck is coming from.  We look at like – we get to play music for a living –  ‘let’s get on the bus and go do that’.  But we don’t have a five year plan.  My guess is if everybody stays healthy, we’ll be doing this again for 55 years”.

On the current dynamic of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band:

“It’s pretty good.  I always use the analogy that we’re like bothers – meaning we’re totally dysfunctional and fight all the time.  But the truth is, we don’t argue about the big stuff – it’s always about the stupid stuff like ‘Where’s the wheat bread on the bus?’  We know which buttons not to push – which is a lot harder when your younger.   As we’ve gotten older, we’ve learned to respect each others personal space and be more cognitive.  We treat everything with a great sense of humor.  I think the fact that we’ve had such a loyal fan base has a lot to do with us still standing today.  Without fans show up at concerts, buying our records – what’s the point?  We’ve got the best fans in the world”.

On a new generation of fans:

“The most significant change in terms of age was after ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ came out as a hit.  We went from a fan base that was roughly the same age as us to all of sudden, these teenagers showing up going crazy for our band.  The reach of that song has been phenomenal for our band.  Now, people who were kids when that song came out are bringing their kids to our shows.  That’s the part that we love – that ‘passing of the baton’ to their families.  I am very grateful to be a part of anyone’s family tradition – that’s really humbling”.

On the current state of bluegrass:

“I think bluegrass is bigger than ever.  The bluegrass festivals are bigger than ever – they’re huge!  There are so many young musicians coming up who are just phenomenal.  Technically, they are arguably the best musicians i’ve ever been around.  Bluegrass has always been an influence in what we do as has early country and classic rock.  What’s on the horizon for bluegrass is really positive.  Like other genres – it is expanding.  Because young musicians come in and bring in different dynamics from the other music around them”.    

On working with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash:

“About 17 years after that first ‘Circle’ record, we collectively decided we would never do a second one.  While we were on tour with the Johnny Cash show in Europe , June Carter came into our dressing room and something like “If you boys ever decide to do another ‘Circle’ record, John and I would love to take part in that”  So our whole opinion changed.  When we did Circle 3, John and June took part in that as well.  

On being in a band with Jackson Browne:

“He was the first guy I ever knew who wrote his own songs.  He was just phenomenal.   When he left our band to pursue the singer-songwriter thing full time, there was no issue about what kind of music he was playing  – that was just his calling.  He’s still a good buddy.  He also plays on Circlin’ Back’.

You can stay up to date on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band here.  Take a look at our review of ‘Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years’ here.

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