John McEuen shares the nitty gritty of ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ Aug. 12 at the Aud

John McEuen shares the nitty gritty of ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ Aug. 12 at the Aud

At a time when every movie is a remake and cover songs sometimes out-chart the originals, it’s not unheard of for an artist to revisit the past. For John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, there’s no need to recapture it.

Just 51 years after the recording of the iconic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” he’s invited his friends to come listen and share in an intimate concert starting at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at The Auditorium in Eureka Springs.

The show “tells the story of the early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band leading up to the making of ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken.’ And I use photographs — about 150 photos and some 8-millimeter footage — of the early Dirt Band and the sessions and recording sessions of the ‘Circle’ album,” McEuen explains during a recent What’s Up! podcast.

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” the seventh studio album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, features Roy Acuff, “Mother” Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs, Merle Travis, Pete “Oswald” Kirby, Norman Blake, Jimmy Martin and others.

McEuen tells us that the record company didn’t think the album would sell upon its 1972 release.

“It did incredible, but it didn’t get charted because they only made 25,000 units,” McEuen remembers. “To make the record and print them, it took a month to get 25,000 units made. And they sent out the 25,000 units, and they sold out in the first day.”

He says that the release had to keep selling out before the record companies would finally print more.

“It took a couple of years for it to sell enough to be gold because the fulfillment of the orders was so time-consuming. It wasn’t just like ‘press record and then stick in the sleeve.’ You know, it was a real artful package,” he explains.

Still, the album went gold, and that was a first for the matriarch of the Carter Family.

“I got to take Maybelle Carter her first gold record,” beams McEuen. “She said, ‘I didn’t know that many people even heard these old songs,’” he chuckles. “Then a few years later, it became platinum, then multi-platinum.”

McEuen says that the ambitious album that he and his brother pitched to the record companies back in the 1970s still charts well even to this day. The guys knew they were on to something, though, and documented the entire session.

He says that the recording process went so quickly that they didn’t have time to worry about having such enormous talent in the room.

“We got over the worrying after about the first three hours when we realized that these people were all fans of each other,” he says.

“I was the only banjo player other than Earl Scruggs,” McEuen admits with a sheepish laugh. “I’m playing with the people that we were looking up to for so many years.”

Between takes, you can even hear the legendary guests talking back and forth with one another, and they sound like they are having a blast.

“Doc Watson had never met Merle Travis before, and they were really happy to meet,” McEuen adds. “You’ll see that happen at the concert. I have that cut with video and the sound.”

From beginning to end, he says that the three-record set took about six days to record.

“It just was amazing. It happened so fast. And I’ve been talking about it for 50 years,” he concludes.

Joining him for the special event are Les Thompson (another founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), John Cable (former NGDB member), and Matt Cartsonis. They will also be joined by Rodney Dillard, another early influence on the band.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens because whenever I play with Rodney, it always comes out wonderful. And it’s always different,” McEuen laughs. “I’ve been doing it 55 years, and he’s been doing it 65 years or something like that. That’s really a miracle. I don’t believe it unless I say it! But you get out there in front of those people and feel like you’re 25 years old again!”

Listen to a full interview with tales from the making of this album and how McEuen met the one and only Earl Scruggs at



John McEuen & The Circle Band:

‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12

WHERE — The Auditiorium, 36 S. Main St., Eureka Springs

COST — $40-$50


Categories: Music