There and back again
Notes from the road with Jonathan McEuen
By Michel Cicero 05/24/2012
Jonathan McEuen knows a little about the road. The son of John McEuen (whose Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is still touring some four decades since its first gig) and a busy musician himself, most of Jonathan’s life has been dictated by tour itineraries.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
En route to the Voice of America radio broadcast. “It was good to see the Dirt Band guys. Mostly uncles and fathers of brothers and cousins of mine are in that band. They played great to a sold out house of 500. My brother and I opened the show. “The Weight” by Levon Helm and The Band received a standing ovation. Everyone played and sang together at the end. It was a moment to remember for sure.”
“If you don’t get out there and come back and essentially ‘tour,’ nobody knows who you are,” he says. “We gig because that’s what we do, but when we gig exclusively in [Ventura County] and don’t go abroad to spread the good work, no one really knows about us.”
It’s an ethic he’d like to impart to other locals. “I’m trying to encourage some of the great artists and musical talent in this community to tour more, out of the area. It beats having to live in Nashville and tour out of there, which can be brutal.”
Jonathan with Steve Martin at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio Calif., April 28. Martin and father John have been friends for decades. They performed magic together at Disneyland back in the day.
Immersed in music since early childhood, Jonathan and his brother Nathan consequently began playing and performing as youngsters — sometimes to their chagrin — yielding memories like being scolded at age 14 by The Band’s Levon Helm for playing incorrectly. While the brothers have performed with their dad nearly 1,000 times, it was only recently that they finally recorded together.
Completed during six days in March, The McEuen Sessions — For All The Good is a family album by people who love each other as much as they love American music. Deeply expressive of their bluegrass and folk roots, it’s a record that’s been a long time coming.
“We played everywhere we could. In the park, radio stations, T.V., Yahoo . . . sometimes even after a show at some club down the street. Spreadin' the love.”
The trio has been travelling in support of the record since March, performing in the country’s greatest venues, including the Grand Ole Opry House, alongside a who’s who of country music stars. Jonathan will perform a slew of homecoming dates from May 24 to 28 to officially celebrate the recording among local friends. “VC is a great place to tour from because you get to come back home to VC, and it’s such a nice place to be from,” muses Jonathan, who was kind enough to share some of his best memories from this most recent adventure.
John McEuen with Earl Scruggs shortly before his passing. Jonathan: “One of the most poignant stops on the trip was Nashville, of course. I felt honored to be in the same town as Earl when he passed. We were invited by his son Gary to attend the Earl Scruggs memorial at The Ryman Auditorium. The best show/ funeral I've ever attended. Earl put the FUN back in funeral.”
Nathan had to go through some metal detectors to get inside the Voice of America Radio building in Washington, D.C.
Home of the "Possum Drop” where they drop a possum into a fryer at midnight on New Year’s Eve, Brasstown, NC, is also home to the world renowned “Folk School”. “Good, clean livin,’ ” says Jonathan.
Jonathan’s tour bus was built in 1954 by GMC and Greyhound for artists Lucille Ball, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. It was donated by Green Art People in Ventura after being saved from going to auction in part by Peace Thru Music. Supposedly John F. Kennedy used this bus during his presidential campaign in the sixties. Nathan's bus was lent to him by singer-songwriter Fred Schmitt (Jonathan produced his record Heartland.) It’s a 1998 "Star Coach.”
Jonathan McEuen will perform May 24 at Big Buddha Lounge, 7-10 p.m.; May 26 at The Hub, 9 p.m.; May 27,9 p.m. at The Tavern featuring three stages with special guests Sideshow Preachers, Dan Grimm, Hippie Mark, Rachel Sedacca and many more. Paid entry includes The McEuen Sessions CD; May 28 at Nutmeg’s Ojai House, 3 p.m.