(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various GRAMMY winners who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
It's been more than 40 years since the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released their landmark 1972 collection, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The genre-straddling, generation-spanning set introduced country and bluegrass legends such as Earl Scruggs and "Mother" Maybelle Carter to a pop music audience, inspiring a new generation of musicians along the way. One of the first "event" recordings, Will The Circle Be Unbroken spawned two additional volumes, one of which earned a GRAMMY in 1989. The original album was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1998. But Nitty Gritty Dirt Band guitarist/vocalist Jeff Hanna says that back then, they weren't looking to make history; they just wanted to play with their musical heroes.
"We were a bunch of kids," Hanna recalls. "Our band started out on the West Coast and had just recently relocated to the mountains of Colorado. The American West was much different culturally than the South in 1971. And here we were in Nashville, Tennessee, in the studio with people like Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, 'Mother' Maybelle Carter, and Roy Acuff. It was extremely fun and extremely scary, having that tape rolling with people that just played with such jaw-dropping, amazing musicianship."
In honor of its 40th anniversary, Will The Circle Be Unbroken has been remastered and reissued on 180-gram vinyl and high-definition digital. It's a permanent recording of the luminaries of traditional American music, a legacy all the more bittersweet when taking into account the majority of those who participated in the recording have since passed away.
"That record exposed a lot of folks to the music of people like Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Maybelle Carter that had never heard it," says Hanna. "And I feel like if that was the impact alone, then our job was done."
When sifting through the wealth of recordings inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, Hanna remembers some of the first recordings that inspired him, before he in turn went on to inspire others.
"That'll Be The Day"
Rock & Roll (Single)
"Buddy Holly's music was the first music that really inspired me as a kid. Buddy Holly had the whole thing going on. [He] wrote the songs, played guitar, sang great, [and] looked really cool. I loved his music right off the bat. I was probably 8 or 9 years old the first time I heard him. His voice just jumped out of the radio at me as a kid."
"All I Have To Do Is Dream"
The Everly Brothers
"What stuck in my brain about the Everly Brothers was their amazing two-part harmony. I hate to use the word 'informed' but it informed the music I played ever since I picked up a guitar. I think it was the Everly Brothers [who] got my ear attuned to great harmony and led me to great groups like the Beatles."
"Blowin' In The Wind"
"Bob Dylan was the first modern folk artist that I was drawn to. And 'Blowin' In The Wind' was an amazing song. It was one of the first great, inspiring, socially conscious compositions that I heard as a kid by somebody of my generation. And the fact that he blew the doors off radio a few years later with 'Like A Rolling Stone' [inducted into the Hall in 1998] sealed the deal for me."
Anthology Of American Folk Music
"One of the things that was really valuable for me was this kind of historical quest that a lot of kids who get into folk and roots music go through. When I found the Anthology, it really was a treasure trove of where all of this stuff came from. I discovered people like Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson and Cannon's Jug Stompers. The Carter Family had a bunch of tracks on that record, too. So that was such a big record for me. It got me personally interested in mountain music and bluegrass."
"The Band had such a huge impact on us. This album is, to me, their masterpiece. This is the record that just nailed it for me. They had these amazing songs, which all had a great story to tell, and the way that they combined rock and roll with traditional folk instruments like accordion, mandolin and fiddle, with string and electric guitar right on top, and bass drums [was inspiring]. They showed us a way to combine our love for modern rock and roll and also include the roots music that was so near and dear to us. As a footnote, we did get to record with Levon Helm, and we became lifelong friends."
(The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band won their first GRAMMY in 1989 for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol. 2. That same year they took home a Best Bluegrass Recording for "The Valley Road," a collaboration with Bruce Hornsby. Their most recent GRAMMY came in 2004 for Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Earl's Breakdown." Jeff Hanna earned a GRAMMY as a songwriter in 2005 for co-writing Rascal Flatts' "Bless The Broken Road.")
(Lisa Zhito is a Nashville-based writer covering country and contemporary Christian music.)