The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Remaster The Circle
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was due to take the stage in less than an hour, but its front man and founder, Jeff Hanna, was visibly relaxed as he sat on the couch back stage at the Birchmere Music Hall, just outside of Washington, D.C.
Multi-instrumentalist John McEuen, the man, who Steve Martin credits with teaching him the banjo when they were teens, casually strums a guitar as drummer and founding member Jimmie Fadden and multi-instrumentalist Bob Carpenter chat amiably.
The repose is in marked contrast to the electric buzz in the nearly capacity audience that gathered to help celebrate the band’s tour behind the release of its remastered classic album Will the Circle Be Unbroken. When the Dirt Band recorded the album with guests including Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and other traditional country artists, it broke down generational barriers around music and set the group apart from The Byrds and other musically similar groups.
Subsequent Circle albums in 1989 and 2002 were well received but the original recording that peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Country Album’s chart was the trendsetter.
Hanna took time to talk about why re-releasing the remastered album is still important to fans, his memories of the original recording sessions, and just why the Circle may yet continue.
It had to be incredible to work on remastering such a classic work as Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The thought process had to be something like a flipbook, where you flashed on memories of Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, and the other guests.
Jeff: Well it’s incredible to hear something like that front to back that you did that many years ago, that you have such a fondness for. It’s something that you don’t pop in and listen to every day. So to go back and listen and relive that was just an incredible experience for us. When you talk about remastering, so you know, essentially the concept was to give people an opportunity to get their hands on the original record in its original format. So it’s a three disc, 180-gram, which is high- grade vinyl with all the original artwork attached, including some photos that haven’t been published, in a poster insert with some new liner notes, too.
And the images that flashed through your mind as you worked on it?
Well, they were like slides — it was just incredible. That’s one of the things going back to the packaging on this record. Bill McEuen, John’s brother who was our manager at the time, also produced Will the Circle be Unbroken and shot all those photographs. He and Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean by the way, got the whole packaging together. Dean is a super talented guy and a great graphic artist. It took them a better part of the year to edit all of this audio content — that was also Bill, by the way — and then all the artwork and the beautiful packaging.
Just to put a fine point on it, why was it important to release vinyl as well as a CD?
One thing I love about this record is that I miss the tactile experience I had growing up with vinyl records. When you open it up, especially the gatefolds, the photos and pictures are gorgeous and large. One of those albums for me, and I can still see it, was the second Band album, just titled The Band. There are pictures of them in Sammy Davis, Jr.’s pool house where they recorded the music. And I remember just staring at those photographs when I was listening to the music and how great it was. It was kind of like the anti-video because you could tell your own story by looking at the pictures and filling in the blanks with the music you were hearing.
Another great thing about vinyl albums, too, is that you can get all to read a lot about the album with credits and other points.
Well, you can get all of that information on your laptop or iPhone or iPad, too, which I think is great. But there’s something about paper, you know? And the ritual, listening to Side One, taking a break, flipping it over, listening to Side Two. And there’s the anticipation of waiting for the record to be released by one of your favorite artists. Or somebody calling you and saying ‘Come over to the house! You have to hear this new record!’”
There are a lot of people that still love that, and also love to hear the crackle you get when you play vinyl.
The biggest part of the vinyl market is not people my age. It’s people in their 20s and 30s. There are people who would argue that vinyl isn’t as good [as digital] and there are people who say that it sounds much better. It’s subjective.
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