In the late 60’s radio was different. FM was just beginning to be embraced. Not only was the signal more enriched and in stereo, but the new stations were less regimented and not as targeted as they are today. So called “rock” stations might pair Led Zeppelin right next to Tom Rush or The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The host – or DJ – actually made most of the musical choices.
Musicians themselves were freer to follow their dreams as well. John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – a very popular “folk-rock” band at the time – knew that Nashville was changing. The traditional country music stars were beginning to be passed over for more glamorized younger singers. John feared that younger fans might not ever discover Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Roy Acuff, or Mother Maybelle Carter. He also knew that he might be able to use the newfound freedom of FM radio and borrow on his own group’s popularity to make a difference.
John McEuen, Jeff Hanna & the rest of the band thought it might be cool to include these early stars on a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album. Most of them lived in Nashville, or not far from it. Once Doc and Earl Scruggs agreed, they figured others would follow. John and his brother went to the label and pitched the idea. To hear what happened next is a fascinating story.
John approached me at the Bliss Festival in Michigan this summer and we sat down and talked about “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” 40 years ago. John brought a guitar and played a couple tunes, and we also talked about his latest album with his two sons.