Since co-founding the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966, John McEuen has played many times in all the states of the USA and in about 12 countries including USSR, Japan and across Europe – the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was the first American band to go to the Soviet Union. In all, McEuen reckons that he has played “over 10,000 shows.”
In the preface to his recently published memoirs, The Life I’ve Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journey, he reflects, “I didn’t think I would get here from there.” There being Orange County, California.
In his 50 years of show-business and travel he has collected many stories. However, it took the pestering, over a six-year period, of high school chum the comedian, film star and banjo player Steve Martin, for McEuen to pull together “a bunch of stories” to make a book. Martin persisted, “You need an editor.” So, a 1,000-word story became a 300-word story and McEuen did what Martin and many interviewers had suggested over the years.
The stories that McEuen had put together over a 12-year period and road-tested, were sorted into a timeline a couple of years ago, giving a candid behind-the-scenes glimpse of his life with its successes – including his part in the making of the iconic 1972 best-selling three-LP set Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and the Grammy Award in 2010 for his work as the producer of Steve Martin’s The Crow CD – and failures; one low point being the breakup of his family in the 1980s.
As a story-teller McEuen stands comfortably in the same high category as The Dillards’ Mitch Jayne. Is it more than coincident that The Dillards were a massive influence on the 17-year-old McEuen? So much so that he immediately determined to play the banjo.
As further food for thought, McEuen has a fascination with Mark Twain having a little post-it note taped to his wall with a quote from Twain. It says, “Sorry I wrote such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
McEuen has worked with a wide range of musicians; everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Willie Nelson to Johnny Cash to the Allman Brothers to Bob Dylan to Dolly Parton to, of course, Steve Martin, will thrill every fan of folk, rock ‘n’ roll and country music alike.
All of this points to what should be a good read.
The Life I’ve Picked is published by the Chicago Review Press.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press Us (1 April 2018)
Product Dimensions: 6 inches x 9 inches
E-book editions are available
The Life I’ve Picked can be purchased at regular bookshops as well as from online outlets.
McEuen will not be carrying any with him on the road, but I am sure that he will sign a copy if you get the chance to ask him to do so.