After a life filled with success and country music, a founding member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John McEuen conversed with New York Country Swag about his new book and venturing out on his own to create music that he can call all of the shots on. After looking for direction in his life in the 1960’s McEuen saw a group called The Dillards play hot Bluegrass music in Orange County, which significantly changed his life forever. He learned how to play the banjo when he was 17 years old, recruiting some young guys who were still in high school hanging around the music store and they started Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with a dream of being played on the radio. Just seven short months later, they had their first tune being played across the airwaves.
After fifty years together as a band, countless hits and an album that is now in the Library of Congress as well as the Grammy Hall of Fame as a historic recording, McEuen made the decision to part ways so he can pursue other endeavors. “It became apparent it was time to pursue what I started doing before I started the group, a solo career, and all through the years of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I also played solo or with other people but now I am able to do anything I want,” he tells us. “We created a platform together that reached the world, that was living the dream and we did that but I wanted to broaden the platform.”
“I’m playing the Grand Ole Opry tonight, this is the magic of my career, I am the luckiest guy in the room most of the time because I am on the Grand Ole Opry stage tonight and Monday I’ll be at Opry City Stage in Times Square,” he tells us. Tickets are available for his Opry City Stage show here. He is looking forward to playing some of the classic hits from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band along with past band members, Les Thompson and John Cable.
Besides creating music, McEuen decided about a dozen years ago that he wanted to write a memoir. He was always writing down stories and anecdotal notes that weren’t in any specific order until a friend convinced him he should go for it. “Steve Martin who has always been a close friend of mine and a coworker at times and a good inspiration, he told me ‘You should put these in an order where it has a beginning and an end where it doesn’t jump around’ and so I spent years doing that, a couple years editing and then a year to come up with a title,” he explained. And so on April 1st, “The Life I’ve Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journey” was released. We asked McEuen if the days leading up to the book release were at all similar to releasing a new album. “Yes and no, because when you release an album you start getting airplay, there is no airplay with a book, so I didn’t know if I was going to raise the garage door and there be nobody outside, but the week before it came out it was #1 on the Amazon bestseller for new releases list, and it’s been there for 6 weeks and that was very exciting because the word got out somehow,” he explained. “I found out there is an audience for it, it reaches into people’s lives and it’s a reflection what their life had been if they are a fan of myself or the Dirt Band or just what happened in the 70’s or 80’s or 90’s. It’s just my story it’s the story of people who went through this period.”
The book chronicles his story, the ups and downs of the music industry and what he says, the angst of wanting to be the quarterback but sometimes being too often sitting on the bench. “I’m like Forest Gump with a banjo, one day I’m standing on the White House lawn the next day, I’m in a dressing room with Eddie Van Halen and Bob Dylan,” he laughs. Looking back on his career and this life, he says writing the memoir was a good way for him to realize how fortunate he’s been.
We talked about modern country music and the fluidity of the genre, to which McEuen explained that not too much of hte new music attracts him now, however, he is a big fan of Brad Paisley and Vince Gill. “Country music, the way I define it, has edged over more towards the parameters of pop music and all that means is what is popular right now, more popular is often new things, a new type of movie, a new type of shoes for women, it’s popular trends because people can’t do the same things over and over,” he says” Things change, the one thing you can count on is things change.” With his new music, he is eager to put an edge on what he does best and is proud that his new music goes over well with his fans. “I try to base what I do on the live aspect of a performance, the stage show, and hte music that is represented will take people back to a space that they will be glad to remember.”
Grab your copy of “The Life I’ve Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journey” here and be sure to catch his performance this Monday night at Opry City Stage, tickets available here.
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