100 Greatest Men: #86. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

They’ve been around in various incarnations for more than four decades, but the common thread has always been a deep respect for, and desire to preserve, the history of country music.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has gone through several personnel changes since they started as a California country-rock band in 1966.  At one point, they even changed their name to the Dirt Band.

But the constants have been guitarist Jeff Hanna and drummer Jimmie Fadden. Though he left the band in 1986, later returning in 2001, John McEuen’s instrumental prowess have also been key to most of the band’s finest moments.

“Mr. Bojangles” was their biggest pop hit, reaching the top ten in 1970 and exposing their sound to a wider audience.  But they soon turned to their country music roots, which led them to make what is arguably the most historically significant album in the genre’s history: 1972’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Recorded in Nashville, it gathered the forefathers (and mothers) of the genre and captured them performing their classic songs and sharing the stories that surrounded their creation.  It was so successful that it later spawned a highly successful sequel in 1989, which won a Grammy and the CMA for Album of the Year.

In between those two bookends, the band scored a hit with Linda Ronstadt in 1979 called “An American Dream.”  A string of fifteen consecutive top ten country hits followed, highlighted by a trio of #1 singles that included the modern classic, “Fishin’ in the Dark.”

In recent years, they’ve continued to record roots music, ensuring their legacy as the band that pushed country instrumentation forward by looking back.

Essential Singles:

  • Mr. Bojangles, 1970
  • An American Dream, 1979
  • Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream), 1984
  • Modern Day Romance, 1985
  • Fishin’ in the Dark, 1987

Essential Albums:

  • Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, 1970
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken, 1972
  • Stars & Stripes Forever, 1974
  • Hold On, 1987
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume Two, 1989

Next: #85. Marty Stuart

Previous: #87. Billy Walker

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. Interesting read, Kevin. I’ve always enjoyed the band hits such as “Fishin’ In the Dark” and “Oh What a Love,” but I’ll have to dig back into some of their earlier work as well

  2. Actually, the NGDB began life as The Illegitimate Jug Band in ’66 in Long Beach, so named because they were a jug band minus a jug blower; and for a brief time at the start, a very young Jackson Browne was a member. And not that too many would remember, but they also appeared in the 1969 film musical PAINT YOUR WAGON with (are you ready for this?) Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin! (YIPE!!!)

  3. The only NGDB songs I can recall ever hearing on the radio were “Mister Bojangles” and “Dance Little Jean”. The first time I heard “Fishin in the Dark” was by the song’s co-writer Wendy Waldman in a show she did with Danny “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” O’Keefe, about 4 years ago. Her co-writer, Jim Photoglo, usually sings it at his shows.

    My sister-in-law loaned me her copy of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” a few months ago (along with a dozen early Delbert McClinton albums). The 1972 Circle album is on 3 LP’s. Two of the LP sleeves have articles about the project, one by Chet Flippo for Rolling Stone and the other in the Tennessean by Jack Hurst. The latter article said that bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe reportedly refused to be a part of the project.

  4. Circle 3 actually is a better album than Circle 2, although neither can compare with the first album. Here in Central Florida a lot of the NGDB tracks received airplay, including some album tracks

    I might rank them a little higher

  5. The 2nd Will The Circle album is just flawless, and the other 2 aren’t far behind it. My favorite single of theirs, “Modern Day Romance” was co-written by Kix Brooks. Always really liked the Ronstadt duet too.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.