McEuen makes Vaudeville debut Thursday
John McEuen and his wife Marilyn sat closely on an antique loveseat in the lobby of the historic Hotel Colorado, surrounded by generations’ worth of Christmas decorations. With a nod to the story in the famous Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song “Colorado Christmas,” the couple had fled warmer climes for the “Colorado snow” to celebrate their anniversary.
“We stayed here last year and it’s wonderful,” McEuen said, “We live in Florida, and my wife wanted to see snow.”
As a musician with over 9,500 concert appearances on his resume, McEuen also decided to use the Colorado time to play a pair of shows, including one at Glenwood’s Vaudeville Revue Theater next Thursday — a venue he’s never played before.
“I like playing wherever people come to see me. It doesn’t matter the size. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 17 — go onstage anywhere and play,” McEuen said.
It will be the award-winning multi-instrumentalist’s second show in Glenwood this year after his August date at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and he will once again bring the String Wizards with him, including former Dirt Band member Tom Cable, as well as David Starr and Tom Spehar.
“We’ll go through a lot of my favorite Dirt Band songs, music from ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ and songs from my album that came out a year and a half ago called ‘Made in Brooklyn,’” McEuen said. “I’ll bring a guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle, and we’re going to have a good time.”
McEuen is prominently featured in the Ken Burns documentary currently streaming on PBS called “Country Music,” including an episode called “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which details the making of that classic 1972 country album.
“Colorado has a connection to that album because when Earl Scruggs was playing here in 1971 I got up the nerve to ask him if he’d record with us, and he said ‘I’d be proud to,’” McEuen said. “Doc Watson was playing the same club, Tulagis in Boulder, the next week. And I said ‘Doc, we’re making an album with Earl Scruggs,’ which we weren’t yet, but he said he’d like to be there.”
McEuen’s brother William, who was the Dirt Band’s manager at the time, got Merle Travis to sign on to the project, and Scruggs brought along (Mother) Maybelle Carter and Jimmy Martin.
“Eight weeks later we recorded 34 songs in six days — all two track, so once you were done with a song, you were done, you weren’t going to do anything else to it,” McEuen said. “We recorded directly to the master.
“Some of the music seems to be timeless,” McEuen continued. “Carter family music is wonderful. It’s acoustic, and it reaches people in a real way. They’re more focused on the songs and the lyric of the song, and the melody without a bunch of stuff around it.
“I like songs that are good with just the guitar player and banjo player — you add a few things and you’re done. There’s no reason to get too complicated.”
McEuen won a Grammy award in 2009 as the producer of childhood friend, actor/comedian/banjo player Steve Martin’s album “The Crow — New Songs for the 5-String Banjo,” which won the Grammy in 2010 for Best Bluegrass Album.
“Steve Martin and I — the banjo came into our life the same day in the living room of my parents’ house with a guy that was playing it with my brother,” McEuen said. “We had just gotten our dream job, working at Disneyland in the magic shop at age 16, and in that time period, music came along.
“I ended up getting a banjo by the time I turned 18. I could learn faster than Steve, so I showed him stuff. He says I taught him how to play. And I say, OK, you can say that.”
McEuen does a monthly show called “Acoustic Traveler” on Sirius/XM radio, and he recently published his autobiography, “The Life I’ve Picked,” in which he details his perspective from a music career that has spanned six decades.
“I’m very proud of this book, and people really seem to like it because it’s not just my story; it’s their story,” McEuen said. “It’s about a bunch of people, and the music they made that passed in front of all of us, only I was on the bus — I was where I knew a lot of people wanted to be, to be able to say, ‘This is what happened when that went down,’ or, ‘I knew he shouldn’t have been doing that.’”
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