The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Listen – Buy For Me the Rain – MP3
Listen – I’ll Search the Sky- MP3
I hope everyone has been digging on ‘The Party’, and if you haven’t yet given it a listen, you ought to give it a try. I can assure you that as soon as I find the time, there will be more like it coming up. I have the 45s pulled out for new garage punk, freakbeat and psyche podcasts. I just need to get them all digi-ma-tized and mix-o-fied for your delectation.
So…it’s been a week, and I can’t very well leave you hanging for that long without packing something tasty for my return.
If you’ve heard of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, in all likelihood it’s probably due to their most famous record, their cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr. Bojangles’, or from their return to prominence as a country band in the 1980’s.
Naturally – as is often the case hereabouts, especially when referencing an unlikely sounding candidate like the NGDB – there is of course a hidden chapter in their past; so, in the words of a mythical TV bluesman, “Want to hear it? Here it is!”
I had no idea about the early years of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band until many years ago, when someone (maybe a primitive version of the E channel) was rebroadcasting truncated episodes of either ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’ or ‘Laugh In’ (I can’t remember which). It was in one such episode that they included a short, basically anti-war film that used as its soundtrack a perfectly wonderful song that I had never heard before. Of course I started looking for it instantly, and a relatively short time later (as this was some time before they had all the tubes screwed into the interwebs) I found out that the song was ‘Buy for Me the Rain’ and the singers thereof were the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Well….I started digging, and some time in the course of the next few years I found OG copies of their first three albums, ‘The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’ (1967), ‘Ricochet’ (later in 1967) and ‘Rare Junk’ (1968). Once I gave them all a spin or two I realized that I had come across a lost treasure of sorts.
Though these albums contain many tunes that betray the NGDB’s jug band origins, they also included a number of absolutely stellar examples of mid-60’s Californiana, mixing equal parts Sunshine Pop, country rock and Beatle-esque touches of nascent psychedelia to create some beautiful pop music.
The NGDB was originally formed in 1965, with one of its founding members being a teenaged Jackson Browne, who – though he would leave the band before they recorded a note – would contribute several excellent songs to their records including ‘Shadow Dream Song’ and ‘These Days’ (a song that Browne would record with his then girlfriend Nico in 1967). After Browne was replaced by John McCuen, the NGDB was signed to Liberty records and released their self-titled debut in early 1967. During this period the members of the NGDB were sharing a house with members of an up and coming group called the Hourglass. A few years later, two brothers from that group (who just happened to be named Duane and Gregg) would form the Allman Brothers band.
The vaguely baroque ‘Buy for Me the Rain’ appeared on that album. Opening with harpsichord and strings (the string chart is my favorite part of the record) ‘Buy for Me the Rain’, though only a very minor hit, remains one of my fave records of the era.
‘Search the Sky’, with its Beatle-y rhythm, harpsichord and fantastic harmony vocals appeared on their second LP ‘Ricochet’. ‘Search the Sky’ is another perfect example of the kind of sounds emanating from LA at the time. Certainly there are tons of records with a similar sound created by much more obscure bands (one I’ll post I the next few weeks) , but few are as perfectly executed as those by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
A year after these LPs, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band would appear in the film ‘Paint Your Wagon’, providing the film with its musical high note, which was unfortunately insufficient to make up for singing by Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin.
Interestingly enough, the 2008 edition of the NGDB includes three key members of their 1967 line up, Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden and John McCuen.
While the original LPs aren’t terribly rare (I haven’t seen many copies in the field, but when I do they aren’t too pricey) there’s a great reissue of the first UK LP by the NGDB that combines the best tracks from ‘Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’ and ‘Ricochet’ entitled ‘Pure Dirt’.
I’ll be back later in the week.
I hope you dig the sounds.