Thanks to John McEuen, one of the founding members of the NGDB, ( http://www.johnmceuen.com/ ) for providing the following link that allows us to eavesdrop on the historic moment when two beloved guitar masters, Doc Watson and Merle Travis, met for the first time ever, during the Will the Circle Be Unbroken sessions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNd8CqVneVg
I’ll be forever grateful to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for recording their monumental “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” album which documented an era of music era that was fast fading at the time.
Many people today do not realize the extent of which mountain music (hillbilly music) was not cool. It was frowned upon and not accepted in school music departments. It was not even respected as “real” music. A musical caste system was securely in place, and hillbilly music was looked down on by almost everybody. One was not “supposed” to like hillbilly music. If by chance you did like it, you were advised to try to rise above it. Even Johnnie Cash, who would become one of country music’s biggest stars, writes in his auto bio that he was not allowed to sing a country song at a school program (his high school commencement I think it was) in Arkansas. He had to choose a more “acceptable” song, which if memory serves me was “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.” That is a very good song which I can imagine Cash performed very well. I mention it only to point out the musical climate of these times when songs were segregated according to origin.
By the 1960s, even Nashville, where mountain music had once found favor on The Grand Ole Opry, was trying to sweep its country roots under the rug with its smoother “countrypolitan” sounds that blurred the lines between between country and pop. Part of the reason was business. A song that crossed over into the pop market made more money than a country hit. Also, the culture was changing. Country people had moved to industrialized cities and now identified more with the lyrics of “Detroit City” than “Wildwood Flower.”
So, when this band of long-haired youngsters from California came along, loving and playing the old-fashioned mountain music, they were swimming upstream against the tide in more ways than one. The popularity of their recording of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” allowed them the artistic freedom to record the “Circle” album that would eventually earn a respected and permanent place in American music history. The songs they chose and the people they chose to record them are a part of my own personal history. These are songs that my family, in the Missouri Ozarks, played and sang, with apologies to no one.