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Celebrating Americana with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covering Bob Dylan

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jaime Hanna discusses the band's new album “Dirt Does Dylan” with Fabulous Flip Sides author Warren Kurtz.

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By Warren Kurtz

Dirt Does Dylan features 10 songs including father and son Jeff and Jaime Hanna sharing lead vocals on “Forever Young.”

  

GOLDMINE: Last month your dad spoke with Goldmine’s Lee Zimmerman. Now it’s your turn. Welcome to Goldmine and congratulations on Dirt Does Dylan. The songs are a perfect fit for the group.

JAIME HANNA: Thank you. I am glad that you like it. It was a lot of fun making this album. 

GM: You taught me two songs, both the A-side and the flip side of Bob Dylan’s second charting single from his 1969 album Nashville Skyline. I certainly heard the first single, “Lay Lady Lay” a lot that summer, but I did not hear the next single, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” on the radio, or the flip side “Country Pie.” I like the song structure of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” of AABBC with C being the chorus and then the bridge is reprised with the instrumental break.

JH: That was fun, and it was the first song that we cut for the album. You can hear Ross Holmes shine on the instrumental break.

GM: “Country Pie” is fun and the one most similar to the group’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken triple album collection, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

JH: The sound goes back to the group’s jug band days with the first couple of albums. It was like total old school Dirt Band, making it so fun to do. 

Dirt flip side

Fabulous Flip Side: Country Pie

A-side: Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You 

Billboard Top 100 debut: November 1, 1969

Peak position: 50

Columbia 4-45004

The sound really goes back to the group’s jug band days with the first couple albums. It was like total old school Dirt Band, making it so fun to do. – Jaime Hanna, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

   

GM: It certainly has a mix of jug band and classic historic sounds, plus you have created a fun video for it. I have Will the Circle Be Unbroken, that I bought in 1972, next to me and always felt it to be a great music lesson collection. “Keep on the Sunnyside” is a great philosophy, and the guests are so much fun. In fact, my wife Donna and I saw Earl Scruggs later that decade in concert. It was a wonderful way to learn classic songs and I think that is the same approach here with Dirt Does Dylan, making it a great introduction to listeners who may not be familiar with these songs. You mentioned Ross. Let’s talk about his fiddle or violin playing. His jazzy approach is so rare, and I love it.

JH: It is very unique. He is probably the most talented fiddle player I know, and he is my next-door neighbor in Nashville, which is kind of how this all happened. He grew up doing Texas fiddle contests but put himself out there, doing all kinds of styles. He is a master of improvisation. He is an amazing mandolin player as well.

GM: You mentioned Texas fiddle or Texas swing. Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks from California had a violinist Sid Page, which is where I learned that style of violin playing originally in the early 1970s and you don’t hear it that much, so it was a treat hearing that sound from Ross. We hear Ross play both instruments on “Girl from the North Country.”

JH: I think he recorded it originally with mandolin and then laid the fiddle part down afterward, both being cohesive in the recording. 

GM: Going back again to 1969, the year the group first released a version of Mike Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues,” Rick Nelson had his version of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” in the Top 100, rising to the Top 40 just as the new decade began. I remember hearing that on the radio and enjoying it. It wasn’t a big hit and one you don’t hear too often, so I was so pleased that this lesser-known classic was included.

JH: As a young guy in the band, I wasn’t familiar with a lot of these songs. I was born in 1972 and I didn’t hear a lot of the deep cuts. When you get into Dylan, you don’t know what era you are going to jump into. Some of the first stuff I heard was from Nashville Skyline and then Blood on the Tracks. “She Belongs to Me” is such a deep cut to me but is so groovy. 

GM: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” has some wonderful harmonies at the end recalling Peter, Paul & Mary’s classic version of this song.

JH: It is pretty much my dad and Jimmie Fadden on that recording with a little bit of myself and Bob Carpenter singing at the end. It is so sparse and really beautiful. I had heard my dad play that song for so many years. Late at night, when we were all hanging out, he would whip out that song and he would own it. I am really glad that he included it here and that it came out the way it did without overproduction.

GM: You can almost picture it sung around a campfire. It is so nice.

JH: Yes, 100 percent. Thank you.

GM: “I Shall Be Released” has Larkin Poe (Rebecca and Megan Lovell) as a guest duo. Hearing Rebecca Lovell’s lead vocal and Rebecca and Megan harmonizing is very nice.

JH: They are amazing.

GM: Larkin Poe have a song called “Mad as a Hatter” joined by Nu Deco Ensemble, and I enjoy that as well. Bringing in female voices to the group is nice and not the first time that the Dirt Band has done that, first with Linda Ronstadt on “An American Dream” and then Nicolette Larson on “Make a Little Magic” both in the pop Top 40 in 1980, a return for the group in the Top 40 for the first time since “Mr. Bojangles,” almost a decade prior.

JH: My dad heard Rodney Crowell’s “Voila, An American Dream” with Emmylou Harris singing harmony on it and he thought the female harmony sounded so amazing and said so to the band. They said, “Well, you know Linda Ronstadt.” He said, “Yeah. She’s not going to do this.” He called her, invited her to the studio, asked her if she wanted to sing on the song and she just threw it down.

GM: I know Linda Ronstadt has said that she felt more comfortable singing harmonies than lead. I missed my chance meeting Nicolette Larson. I set up a meet and greet session at Peaches Records & Tapes in 1978 while I was finishing college but had to be at school that day. The guys said she was sweet and petite.

JH: I just met her one time at a festival which was a benefit in Santa Fe. I met her and Kenny Edwards that day.

GM: “The Times They Are A-Changin’” includes Rosanne Cash among the guest vocalists and it is so good hearing her on the verse, reaching out to politicians.

JH: Yes, the verse that she sang is truly haunting, giving me goosebumps thinking about it. The song was so profound when it was originally released. Everyone did an amazing job, Rosanne, Jason Isbell, Steve Earle, and The War and The Treaty.

GM: It is quite an entourage. Congratulations again on the new album, which also includes “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” which I first learned on The Concert for Bangladesh album and your record ends with a fun version of the first Bob Dylan composition I bought as a kid, “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).” Now let’s go back again to the year you were born, 1972. A couple Nitty Gritty Dirt Band albums included songs receiving airplay, Will the Circle Be Unbroken and early in the year, from All the Good Times, I heard the single “Baltimore.” I thought it could have been a hit.

JH: I totally agree. It is so undiscovered and I was reacquainting myself with the song for today’s interview and found so many cool elements. I talked to my dad about it, and he told me that this was the first song he played lead guitar on. All the harmonies are from my dad and Les Thompson, like The Bee Gees. It is really rockin’. I appreciate you bringing this one up as it is such a little-known Jim Ibbotson composition. 

GM: My daughter Brianna is about a decade younger than you. When she was two, I would play some lively songs for her. Katrina & The Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” was a big hit with her in 1985 and so was Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “High Horse,” which I had on 45.

JH: The difference between those two songs makes me laugh, both from the same era. You also let me know that you enjoyed the flip side of “High Horse” which was “Must Be Love.” My dad co-wrote that one with Bob Carpenter and his soon-to-be wife at the time Gretchen Parsons, Gram Parsons’ widow. When I saw the songwriter listing, I asked Bob if it was an unfinished Gram song and that is when I learned that it was Gretchen who is the Parsons listed in the Carpenter/Hanna/Parsons songwriting credits. I haven’t been able to get this great song out of my head for the last week-and-a-half, since you reached out to me on it. Both songs are on the album Plain Dirt Cowboy.

GM: I picked up a vinyl copy of that album at the local record store due to your recommendation. In addition to “High Horse” and “Must Be Love” on side one, in between those songs, my wife Donna and I were surprised when we heard “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” My family are big Meat Loaf fans, with Donna and I seeing him on the Bat Out of Hell tour in 1978, the year I would spend Saturday nights with his record label president Steve Popovich of Cleveland International Records telling him how many copies of the album sold that week while “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and other songs from the album were on the radio.

JH: Yeah, that was the first version of the song I had heard from my dad’s album, well before I knew who Meat Loaf was or heard his music. They did some really cool covers back in those days.

GM: Now let’s talk about what I would call next generation Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the duo Hanna-McEuen with your 2005 country Top 40 hit “Something Like a Broken Heart” which features strong electric guitar and a very solid vocal from you.

JH: That was my cousin Jonathan McEuen and myself. We had a record deal that came about from doing the song “” I had written songs for EMI for almost eleven years at the time. That one I co-wrote with a good friend Alan Miller and Robert Reynolds, who was formerly with The Mavericks. I am happy with the way it came out. It was the first release, and it was doing well but then the classic labels mergers situation happened, and it got lost in the promotion shuffle, but I am still proud of that record.

GM: You have quite a touring schedule this summer supporting the new album and playing the hits. My fellow Goldmine writer Steven Casto, who just wrote an extensive article on The Left Banke, who debuted in the mid-1960s like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, will be seeing you in Marietta, Ohio July 21.

JH: It has been really fun to incorporate the new songs. It keeps us all on our toes, with new and old classics. It is sounding really good, and the tour dates are on our website. Thank you for this interview. It was an honor talking with you. I’m a Goldmine fan.

   

Related Links:

Goldmine Shop has Dirt Does Dylan

Goldmine 2022 interview with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Jeff Hanna

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Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides now in its eighth year

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