NGDB doesn’t have to fish for Cana­dian fans

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Frank PEE­BLES Ci­ti­zen staff fpee­bles@pgc­i­t­i­

They have been here be­fore, but just like no two Nitty Gritty Dirt Band al­bums are ever alike, no two Nitty Gritty Dirt Band con­certs are ever alike. Plus, the treat of the NGDB ap­pear­ance on the CN Cen­tre stage tonight is that this show is all on their own terms. They were here in the 1990s at the Salmon Val­ley Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, so they had to fit into an om­nibus sched­ule of acts. They were here again in 2001 open­ing for Alabama, so they were con­fined by the first time-slot ahead of the main act.

Tonight, they are the main cheese. Co-founder Jeff Hanna said they get to pour some things on a lit­tle thicker when they play in th­ese parts. Canada has al­ways been one of this band’s best friends. They recorded their 16-song live al­bum Live Two Five on the north side of the bor­der for a rea­son. As mas­sive as NGDB is in their home coun­try, Cana­di­ans had an affin­ity for their style and ma­te­rial al­most from day one.

“We’re grate­ful for that. Our Cana­dian fans are among our best. We’re al­ways stoked about com­ing back up north,” he told The Ci­ti­zen.

“There were a cou­ple of records that were game chang­ers for us,” he added, as he won­dered out loud about why Canada and NGDB were so con­nected. He re­mem­bered their Plain Dirt Fash­ion al­bum in par­tic­u­lar that had a cou­ple of songs on it “that were not sin­gles in the States and in fact weren’t sin­gles in Canada ei­ther but they got played a lot on (Cana­dian) ra­dio. One was Face on the Cut­ting Room Floor and the other was Cadillac Ranch. Those be­came th­ese kind of un­der­ground hits in Canada and peo­ple still re­spond to them like they were huge.”

Fishin’ In The Dark was also a mega-hit in Canada, and while it was in­deed a No. 1 song on the U.S. coun­try chart as well, it failed to even crack the Top 100 main­stream list in the States. Yet to­day it stands as a de­fin­i­tive song from that era and many non­coun­try fans con­sider it one of the few from the genre they ad­mit to lik­ing. It has be­come a stan­dard. An au­to­matic favourite. And he points at Cana­dian fans for get­ting it right away.

That was when Canada was just get­ting into the coun­try mu­sic broad­cast­ing game, and Hanna said he liked watch­ing the CMT Canada chan­nel bet­ter than the Amer­i­can ver­sion be­cause “I al­ways felt it was a lit­tle hip­per. We’d see them play­ing Blue Rodeo and kd lang a lot, Prairie Oys­ter – I love that band – so there was some­thing to me just a lit­tle cooler about CMT Canada.”

The Cana­dian at­ti­tude about coun­try mu­sic – which is only too happy to in­clude the sounds of Corb Lund and Colter Wall and White­horse and Lindi Ortega – has al­ways been aligned with the Cal­i­for­nia coun­try sound that spawned NGDB. Hanna and co-founder Jim­mie Fad­den started the group in the thrust of the jug-bands that plugged in and in­vented folk-rock in the mid/late 1960s. Jack­son Browne was an of­fi­cial mem­ber of their band in the ear­li­est days. They played the same venues as John Ham­mond and Merle Travis and Cream. That was a scene in­fused with Canada – Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Co­hen, Kate & Anna McGar­rigle – Hanna listed all th­ese as in­flu­en­tial play­ers for him and the nitty-grit­ties back in that mo­ment.

It was a place and a time that be­gat The Ea­gles, Linda Ron­stadt, Cre­dence Clearwater Re­vival, The Grate­ful Dead (Hanna de­tects a lot of this band’s in­flu­ence on to­day’s new but un­der­ground coun­try acts), The Birds and Gram Par­sons among many oth­ers. Th­ese bands leaned on coun­try but rarely felt the em­brace of main­stream Nash­ville.

There was one group that stood above all the oth­ers, for Hanna per­son­ally and within the NGDB, and it, too, was densely pop­u­lated by Cana­di­ans.

“The Band, I mean sheesh. The Band was our Bea­tles,” he said. “They were the shit, for us, and they are still the shit. Amaz­ing. Ev­ery one of them in that band.”

He felt an awe and priv­i­lege at be­ing able to even­tu­ally be friends with Levon Helm of The Band, along with some oth­ers from that sto­ried group, and af­ter the hun­dreds of col­lab­o­ra­tions the NGDB has done over the years – en­tire al­bums worth – that bash­ful­ness has ex­tra power.

Just how in­flu­en­tial was The Band on Hanna? He points to his son, now a mem­ber of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. “Jaime is named af­ter Rob­bie Robert­son (whose full name is Jaime Royal Robert­son). He was one of my heroes. I don’t re­ally know him; I’ve only met him a cou­ple of times.”

Hanna in­tends to get down to all this nitty gritty one day in book form, when he gets some time off the road.

“I can tell a story. I’ve got a tale to tell, for sure, but it’s hard. It’s like writ­ing a song. I hate the part where I have to ac­tu­ally take out my pen and com­mit some­thing to the page, but I do have in­ten­tions of do­ing that.”

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and open­ing act Nice Horse play tonight at CN Cen­tre.

Hanna said he liked watch­ing the CMT Canada chan­nel bet­ter than the Amer­i­can ver­sion be­cause “I al­ways felt it was a lit­tle hip­per.”


Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band per­forms at the CMA Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Nash­ville, Tenn., in June 2016. Hanna and his band­mates will be on stage tonight at CN Cen­tre.


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