Wizard John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,
estimates that he has performed in excess of 5,000 stage shows and 300 television
shows, traveled around the world, flown more than two million air miles and driven
at least a million land miles, during a career that has now spanned 40 years.
Few people who have seen John in concert, playing banjo, fiddle, guitar,
mandolin, etc., need an explanation as to why he is called a string wizard. His
mastery of acoustic string instruments seems almost magical at times. He has also
been called an instrumental poet with a long list of outstanding accomplishments
that include original musical compositions, and scoring movie and television specials.
Making music is John's joy, his passion. He is good enough to perform
with symphonies but not too good to take a solo turn at a small club nowhere in
particular, or sit beside a campfire in the Everglades picking with friends, the
latter of which I was fortunate enough to witness a few years ago at Billie Swamp
in Florida. He also has an intelligent and wry sense of humor, with a liberal
dash of slapstick, as countless fans who have witnessed him jumping off the drum
riser at a concert and running around the stage with his guitar on fire, will
McEuen, center, flanked by son Nathan on the left and son Jonothan on the right
Photo Courtesy of John McEuen
first met John in the 1980s when I interviewed the NGDB at Billy Bob's Texas in
Fort Worth. John couldn't sit
down for an interview before the show, He had a worried expression on his brow,
as he paced back and forth in the dressing room, warming up his fingers playing
runs on his banjo. Did I mind waiting until after the show? His luggage had taken
a different plane than the one he arrived on and he was waiting for someone to
deliver his suitcase to him before show time. He couldn't go on without his "tenny
Lamas," a special combination tennis shoe/cowboy boot made for him by the Tony
Lama boot company. |
His tenny Lama's arrived in time and a much more relaxed
musician greeted me backstage after the show, John was happy to explain how he
and his beloved tennis shoes with the cowboy boot tops became estranged that day.
The band had played a gig in the San Francisco the night before and they
were at the airport early that morning, awaiting a flight to Dallas/Fort
Worth. But it was delayed by fog. John lived in Colorado at that time but
he and his wife had been visiting friends in Los Angeles the day before and his
wife was still in LA.
He kept hearing an announcement about a commuter
flight departing for LA and he pictured his wife sleeping peacefully, so near
and yet so far away. He checked flights and found he could fly to LA, stay a few
hours and take another flight to Texas. He yelled
"see you in Fort Worth" to the rest of the NGDB members and jumped on the commuter
to LA. His wife, who had every right to expect that John was flying somewhere
over New Mexico by now, was awakened by the sound of her sweetheart playing his
banjo outside her door. If memory serves me well, the song was "Dream."
I just love a romantic story, don't you?
who attend NGDB concerts often marvel at the speed with which John's fingers race
across the strings of his vintage banjo or guitar. What they may not know is that
his mind races along at a similar speed. It is hard for those of us whose minds
travel at average speeds to keep up his accomplishments. Below is a partial list
of some of his adventures: |
Host/Performer ~ Acoustic Traveler Show, XM Satellite Radio, The Village,
Channel 15, John feels his CD, Acoustic Traveller, on the Vanguard label,
is possibly the best thing he has done so far. Most of the songs on the recording
are his own original compositions. "
Producer ~ And In The End The Life Death of John Lennon, Upcoming Broadway
play by Alexander Marshall
" Associate Producer, Original Music ~ Manassas: End of Innocence, 45 minute
documentary playing at Manassas Battlefield Park, Virginia"
Original music ~ Love From Ground Zero, Movie
" Musical Score ~ The Good Old Boys, made for TV movie starring Tommy Lee
Jones and Sissy Spacek
" Producer, Director, Writer ~ John McEuen and Friends A Night in the Ozarks
-- AUSTIN CITY LIMITS, PBS starring The Dillards. A 90 minute video documentary
which captures the Dillards in a reunion 1991. Shot on film with live music, (Mike
Denecke engineered) in a Salem Missouri farmhouse.
" Musical Score ~ The Wild West, 10 hour mini-series, featuring music from
the 1850s- to1900, winner of Western Heritage Award from the Cowboy Hall of Fame
Score ~ Braving Alaska, National Geographic Society television special
Arranger ~ Alligator Tales, and Seminole Fire, by Chief Jim Billie,
two CDs of true stories and songs are based on Billie's life and impressions of
living in his Everglades homeland on the Big Cypress reservation in southern Florida.
These were never before recorded legends of the Seminole nation.
" Host and Originator ~ Deadwood Jam, an annual music festival held in
the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the historic town made famous by Wild Bill
Hickock, was conceived by John in 1990. "
Paul Williams I'm Going Back There Someday…DVD featuring Willie Nelson,
Melissa Manchester and John McEuen