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,
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
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
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
~ 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.
~ And In The End The Life Death of John Lennon, Upcoming
Broadway play by Alexander Marshall
Producer, Original Music ~ Manassas: End of Innocence, 45
minute documentary playing at Manassas Battlefield Park, Virginia
music ~ Love From Ground Zero, Movie
Score ~ The Good Old Boys, made for TV movie starring Tommy
Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek
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
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
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
"Words and Music"
Column - February 3, 2006 column