Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

When I was a young 'un, I'd go to the cut-out bins at the local discount and record stores and blow most of what spending money I had trying out interesting looking albums. In this way, I was introduced to a lot of great music that I otherwise might have missed. I was introduced to a lot of absolute crap too, but you never know until you try, and they didn't have anywhere to try
this stuff out before you bought it unless your friends already had it, which is rather limiting.

"Stars and Stripes Forever" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was one of those albums. I was not a big country fan in 1975(?) when I ran across this LP in the bargain bin. I had "Mr. Bojangles" on 45. I'd heard "House On Pooh Corner."

[digression] For some reason - probably to do with illegal substances - A. A. Milne's characters were a big hit with us reprobates back in the '70's. Cecil (his nickname) had a jacket with Disney's version of Tigger custom painted on the back. This was long before Disney had their own clothing line, so he actually had to draw Tigger onto the jacket. [/digression]

For a buck or so, I took a flyer on "Stars and Stripes Forever." If bang for the buck was my only criteria for defining the success of a purchase, this was like buying Microsoft as a startup. Through this album, I was introduced to bluegrass and a whole musical spectrum of country artists that I'd never heard and that give me so much pleasure today.

As a kid, I'd been something of a Buck Owens fan. Everyone with a TV saw the Glen Campbell Show (and consequently John Hartford) and Johnny Cash. This would have been at the tail-end of the folk era as well, so it's not like country was a totally foreign concept. This is not "country" as you'd define it today. The Dirt Band, along with The Outlaws and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils were just the bridge a young rocker like me needed to expand my horizons. These guys were long haired, hippie types like me! And the music was beyond cool...

"Stars and Stripes Forever" is not the perfect NGDB album - for that you should buy "Uncle Charlie" - but it is my personal favorite. The band had a problem with truncating some of the songs ("Jambalaya" and the title cut for instance) and there are interviews that hurt the continuity of the album somewhat even if they are interesting on the first listen. Live cuts (such as "Mr. Bojangles" and "House at Pooh Corner") are interspersed with the studio recordings but these are quibbles. Music is an intensely personal experience, but this rates as one of the three or four albums that have most influenced my musical tastes over the years.

I'll always be grateful I found this album in that bargain bin at Zayre's department store 30-odd years ago. I still have the LP with the clipped corner; it is one of the few pieces of vinyl I haven't disposed of over the years as I've replaced them with digital recordings.


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