Getting down to the nitty gritty with Jeff Hanna

From crafting the classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken to hits in the 80s, Hanna has been down the long hard road.

When I catch back up with Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he’s in the midst of laundry day, dog walking.

“We’ve got about a week and a half off and then we head north."

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Hanna is one of the founding members of the band that started in the early 60s in California. Long Beach and Orange County. An early line up included future Rock And Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne. Then he left and they sold millions and played to more. 

Constant members since the early times are singer-guitarist Hanna and drummer Jimmie Fadden. Multi-instrumentalist John McEuen was with the band from 1966 to 1986 and returned during 2001 only to depart once again in November 2017. Keyboardist Bob Carpenter joined the band in 1977.  Since then and before, it has been a career of roots and country music, and the long hard road. 

“That live energy is still like nothing else. Some of these older tunes, we’ve played more than 4,000 times but when people sing them back it is still a charge,” Hanna says.

This will not be the first time the Dirt has spread around Mile Zero.

“In the late 80s and early 90s we did the Alaska Highway and took a film crew along for the journey.”

By the 80s the band had left their roots, focusing a bit more on a straight-forward country sounds. With the lineup paring down to Hanna, Fadden, McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson rejoining for recording sessions in Nashville, Tennessee, they recorded the album Let’s Go, which yielded the success “Dance Little Jean” which became a Top 10 country hit. Carpenter rejoined the band in 1983, and the next album, 1984’s Plain Dirt Fashion had the band’s first No. 1 success, “Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream)”. There were two more country No. 1’s: “Modern Day Romance” (1985) and “Fishin’ in the Dark” (1987), the latter of which became the band’s biggest-selling single, eventually being certified platinum.

He says there are plenty of acts in the here and now catching his eye.

“Little Big Town, Tim McGraw always has something to say as a writer, Miranda Lambert there is great stuff out there,” he says adding female representation in country music is lacking.

“There is a lack of it right now, I agree with what others are saying. Canada has actually done a decent job showcasing some of their great voices, they always have going back to days of Ian and Sylvia and Gordon Lightfoot.”

The young gunslingers help the Dirt on the road as well. Ross Holmes and Jamie Hanna add to the Dirt live, as long-time member John McEuen leaves the band for a second time after a 16 year run with the group.

“Being in a group can be tough, but this has been a rebuilding year. We had some early 2018 dates on the books already when John told us, but we thought we would honour the dates and see where things went.”

So far, everyone has been pleased.

“It has been super so far. Great. It has been a perfect fit - bring in some younger guns.”

Hanna expects the band to take the newfound line-up and energy into the studio in the new year.

“The new stuff is invigorating in a new way – onward, and upward as they say. We are having a blast – the studio work will reflect the live stew that is the band, and that we are cooking with these days. We are feeling confident.”

The circle in the dirt remains unbroken. 

 The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will play Mile Zero on November 10

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