A founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band returns to his roots in Long Beach on January 29. John McEuen started with the folk rock/country band in 1966. However, he’s bringing a couple of his other musician friends, Craig Eastman and Matt Cartsonis, for a trio at Grace First Presbyterian Church — highlighting his 50 years in music and turning 70 years old in December 2015.

emilyBy Emily Thornton

He said he was excited about the show.  “It’s vibrant, the three of us,” McEuen said. “More than the Dirt Band. We never know what’s (music) going to show up.”

NGDB began in Long Beach in 1966, with Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Ralph Barr, Les Thompson, Bruce Kunkel and Jackson Browne. McEuen joined the group the same year (after being in the Willmore City Moonshiners).

The band has had several member changes through the years, but McEuen is one of the long-timers.

“Thompson said, ‘We’re putting the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (together). Why don’t you come be a part of it?,’” McEuen said of how he joined the group.

McEuen said he wasn’t sure why he or NGDB hadn’t returned to Long Beach since the 1960s, when they hung out in McCabe’s Guitar Shop. But, he said their music is more popular east of California, and more so east of the Mississippi River.

“L.A. is a tough market,” McEuen said.

He said he tours 120 cities per year, which include his own shows and with NGDB. McEuen’s gearing up for his 50th anniversary tour, starting in late March. The tour hasn’t booked all its shows yet, he said, and he hoped to add another visit to Long Beach.

NGDB’s early years began simply.

“It (McCabe’s) had a coffee table,” McEuen said. “We musicians would sit around and try to be musicians… Nobody knew what they were doing.”

The shop has since closed, but McEuen said that was the place to hang out when he was attending California State University, Long Beach. He also said he’d often skip class to be there.

When he ran into bluegrass group, The Dillards, things changed.

“I followed them around like a puppy,” McEuen said. “That was my epiphany moment… I told my trigonometry teacher I was tired of being a math major.”

Soon after, McEuen said he quit school to pursue music full-time.

McEuen’s work with NGDB includes a remake of “Mr. Bojangles,” originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1968. NGDB’s 1970 version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2010 as an important historical recording. Other hit songs of the band include “Fishin’ in the Dark,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Rocky Top” and “Colorado Christmas.”

McEuen has many other musical highlights, including making more than 40 albums, six solo, earning four platinum and five gold recognitions; an Emmy nomination; Country Music, Association and Academy of Country Music, and International Bluegrass Music awards.

He’ll perform in Long Beach with Cartsonis, who sings like he is from Kentucky — with a high bluegrass, lonesome sound — McEuen said.

“(Cartsonis) is a funny guy with funny songs, all accompanied by his hot licks on mandola and guitar,” McEuen said in a statement. “We have done hundreds of shows together.”

McEuen crossed paths with Eastman in 2005 in a Southern California club, according to a release. McEuen used Eastman’s fiddle and other musical talents when producing the Grammy-winning album, “The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo.”

McEuen, Eastman and Cartsonis will perform at 8 p.m. on Jan. 29 at Grace First Presbyterian Church, 3955 Studebaker Rd.

Tickets are $20 and available online at www.gracefirst.org/concert-series through Jan. 25, or at the door. Free parking is available in the church’s lot or on the street.

For more information, visit www.gracefirst.org/concert-series.


SOURCE:  http://www.gazettes.com/entertainment/long-beach-gets-a-bit-nitty-gritty-next-week/article_96d5ecf0-ba1e-11e5-861f-437266fba56e.html

By Vicki Dean for the Herald-Tribune

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