Chicago Review Press 9781613738955. Paperback, index, color photos, 328 pp., $18.99. (Chicago Review Press, 814 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610, www.chicagoreviewpress.com.)
This autobiography has received topnotch ratings from many reviewers. Readers of this magazine may already know of McEuen’s many credentials: founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, initiator for the Will The Circle Be Unbrokenalbum, and a musical beginning with fellow banjoist/actor/comedian Steve Martin. John reports, “This is a story that shows how unpredictable the path of music can be, how much fun it can be, how important it is to work with others, how difficult at times it can be, but if you love it…well…everything’s ok!”
The book brings out many little-known aspects of his life in a humorous and pithy style. Readers will learn of his teenage start at Disneyland’s Main Street Magic Shop, his relationship with The Dillards, the recruitment of Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs for the Circlealbum, and affectionately being called “those dirty boys” by Maybelle Carter, as well as the honor of personally presenting to her a copy of the gold record with her name inscribed. One particularly interesting part is an elaborate description of NGDB’s 1977 tour of the Soviet Union, including 28 sold-out shows as the first American band to be featured. McEuen got an up-close taste of what living in that country was like.
Life on the road is also covered throughout the book, with John serving in roles beyond being a musician, including manager, driver, reservation agent, and flight consultant. He marvels sometimes at the range of folks he’s met, including those he recorded and shared the stage with—Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Phish, Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell, and his brother Bill. His personal life is also revealed in several aspects, including a marriage/family split as well as the difficulty in working with several NGDB artists over their many years. Despite these dynamics, McEuen comes across as a lovable and likeable person who has a positive attitude as he’s traveled the world in his musical career.
If you want an excellent overview of the life of a significant road musician, songwriter, movie extra, producer, radio host, magician, husband, father, and one who succeeded in the entertainment business without being seduced into the drug culture, this book should be in your library.BW