John McEuen

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John McEuen
John McEuen at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City.png
McEuen after a show at Knuckleheads Saloon, Kansas City, Missouri, July 18, 2012
Background information
Born (1945-12-19) December 19, 1945 (age 72)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Genres Country, folk, folk-rock, bluegrass
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, producer
Instruments Banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, piano, accordion, vocals
Years active 1965–present
Labels Chesky, Warner Bros., Vanguard, Cedar Glen, Planetary, Aix, Rural Rhythm
Associated acts Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin

John McEuen (born December 19, 1945), is an American folk musician and founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.


Nitty Gritty Dirt Band[edit]

McEuen was born in Oakland, California. After seeing the Dillards perform in 1964, he began playing banjo when he was 17. Eventually he took an interest in fiddle and mandolin.[1]

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's roots were in a duo formed by two high school friends, Jeff Hanna and Bruce Kunkel, during the early 1960s in southern California. In college, they met musicians Jackson Browne, Ralph Barr, Jimmie Fadden, and Les Thompson and formed the folk-rock group the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966. Les called on his previous band mate from their first group, Willmore City Moonshiners, and John McEuen came in to the now formed band when Browne departed after 5 shows in search of a solo career. John got his brother Bill to manage, and their career got under way. In 1967, the band released its first album, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, on Liberty Records, with a minor hit in "Buy for Me the Rain".[2]

By contrast, they had no hits from their next three albums until their cover version of "Mr. Bojangles" by Jerry Jeff Walker. Bill McEuen suggested the band go to Nashville to record, which they did in 1971. Bill and John McEuen came up with the idea of recording an album of traditional bluegrass and country music, different from the electric folk-rock they had been playing in Long Beach, California. John had asked banjoist and new friend Earl Scruggs if he would record with the band in June 1971. A week later he asked Doc Watson the same question - both enthusiastically said yes. The result was a triple album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1973), that featured guest appearances by country musicians Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, and Maybelle Carter. The album received critical and popular praise and was certified gold. In 1977, they toured the Soviet Union, the first American band to do so.[1]

Steve Martin[edit]

John McEuen has known Steve Martin since high school, when he would give Martin occasional lessons on the banjo. In 1978, he was asked by Martin to provide the backing band for a comic, novelty song called King Tut. With Martin on vocals, the Dirt Band recorded the song under the alias the Toot Uncommons.[1]

John McEuen produced and played on Martin's album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo (Rounder, 2009). The album was #1 for 7 months and won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.[1]

Solo work[edit]

In 1986, after twenty years with the Dirt Band, McEuen departed to pursue a solo career. From 1991–1997, he released four albums for Vanguard Records. He composed music for movies and television. He appeared as a guest on albums with several and Michael Martin Murphey. He returned to the Dirt Band in 2001.[1] John departed the band once again in late 2017.[3]

During his career, he has performed and recorded with Alison Krauss, The Allman Brothers Band, America, Arlo Guthrie, Asleep at the Wheel, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, Jerry Garcia, John Denver, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Mark O'Connor, The Marshall Tucker Band, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Phish, Steve Goodman, Steve Vai, Vassar Clements, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.

McEuen published an autobiography in 2018 titled "The Life I've Picked - A Banjo Player's Nitty Gritty Journey". [4]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Grammy Award, Best Bluegrass Album, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo by Steve Martin, 2009
  • Emmy Award nomination, The Wild West, Braving Alaska
  • Inducted into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame, 2017 [5]
  • Independent Music Award for Best Americana Album, "Made in Brooklyn" [6]



Year Album US Country Label
1985 John McEuen 49 Warner Bros.
1991 String Wizards Vanguard
1993 String Wizards II
1996 Acoustic Traveller
1997 String Wizard's Picks
1999 Round Trip: Live in L.A. Cedar Glen
2000 Stories and Songs Planetary
2002 Nitty Gritty Surround Aix
2007 Vanguard Visionaries Vanguard
2012 The McEuen Sessions: For All the Good Mesa Blue
2016 Made in Brooklyn Chesky


Year Single US Country Album
1985 "Blue Days Black Nights" 81 John McEuen


  1. ^ a b c d e Deming, Mark. "John McEuen | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Eder, Bruce. "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  3. ^ "Bluegrass today". November 13, 2017. 
  4. ^ "The Life I've Picked". Retrieved 13 September 2018. 
  5. ^ "American Banjo Museum". American Banjo Museum. Retrieved 21 November 2017. 
  6. ^

External links[edit]