Interview: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen Talks Solo Project, ‘Made in Brooklyn’
John McEuen is best known as one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the country-rock group he co-founded with lead singer Jeff Hanna and drummer Jimmie Fadden in 1966. But aside from his role as a multi-instrumentalist with the group, McEuen is also a solo artist, singing and performing all over the country as his schedule allows, and on Friday (Sept. 30), the 70-year-old released a new solo project, Made in Brooklyn.
Available via Amazon and iTunes, Made in Brooklyn was recorded live in a church in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a single take. The Boot recently sat down with McEuen to discuss the project, its all-star cast of players and why he felt like now was the right time to release this album, one he's always wanted to make.
How would you describe Made in Brooklyn?
I would describe it as a convergence of a bunch of people that I’ve met over the last 50 years of touring -- players that I’ve wanted to play with and record with and make an actual record with -- finally coming together. And it couldn’t have come together if I hadn’t have been in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, traveling around the country doing all these shows.
John Cowan’s been my favorite singer since I met him. Steve Martin calls me his banjo mentor -- in fact, he did that in a tweet today -- and we started playing at the same time. He’s a lifelong friend; I've known him 56 years. I’ve always wanted to record him on one of my projects. I produced his Crow album, and we won a Grammy. I was playing and arranging the music and stuff. But that was different. I wanted Steve on my project.
With so many years in the music industry, it had to have been difficult to know who to include on the album.
Well, I called the ones that I was hoping for. But, yeah, there’s only room for so many. And half of it also has to do with attitude or knowing their personalities: Are they malleable? Are they going to bring an attitude into the studio? Or will they play well with others? It would have been great to have some of the people that I’ve had record with me before, but there’s only room for so many. Jerry Douglas wasn’t available. It would have been nice to have him there one of the days.
I put this list of songs together, and [thought] "Here’s the people I want to do them. Oh, this one can’t make it, but this one can." And it had nothing to do with anything other than timing.
Do you have any plans to tour with Made in Brooklyn?
It’s getting such a response; I’ve had several of the musicians say, "When do we go out?" ... I’m going to tour, and I’m going to play. I’m going to do a lot of the music from the album with some of the people.
But it’s quite an undertaking: We have to see what the success of the album is like. And if the success is like what people are saying it could be, various reviewers, I’d say the answer is yes. But you can’t take eight people on the road cheaply. Even if you all stayed in one room in Motel 6, it’s not going to be cheap.
Are there any influences from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the record?
The Dirt Band has a way of doing a lot of things right. But I think they could be done [better] ... And that’s kind of negative sounding, but I guess the influence that I get is, give people you’re working with the platform to exhibit their ideas of what you’re asking them to do -- "Here is the song. You’re playing the fiddle. Could you make it sound a little Jewish somewhere in the middle?" And that’s about it. And live with what they come up with.
Why was this the right time to release Made in Brooklyn?
Well, it’s my 70th year of life. It’s the 50th year of the Dirt Band. And there isn’t a new Dirt Band album, really of new material; I didn’t have to take time to go learn any new songs for a Dirt Band album.
A better answer to “why now?” is “why not?” I ran into Norman Chesky, who records [for a] label that’s done over 400 records and has a manner of recording that captures acoustic instruments better than anyone. And he said he’d like me to do an album with him. Thank you for answering my midnight dreams.
Looking at my computer, on my "Things to Do" list -- when I make this album, I’m going to get John Cowan to sing "She Darked the Sun." Maybe David Bromberg will show up. All of these things. This project had been sitting there three or four years. And along comes some other people ... and then along comes a record company. How could you say no? "Hey, you want to make an album with my company?" ...
It took two years to get the timing of everybody, and this is what I do. How could I not do it?
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