By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
To casual listeners, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is known for two things: “Mr. Bojangles” and Jackson Browne.
The song was a commercial success and Browne branched off into a hall-of-fame rock career.
But true fans of the band, and of country rock, know how important the band is.
“Those that have done their homework know that it’s not a stretch to say the band was one of the main forces that invented country rock,” wrote Nancy Durham, of Relix magazine. “It served as the training grounds for not just Browne but musical guideposts for everyone from the Eagles to Alabama and Brad Paisley.”
The legendary band, with its current lineup of Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter and John McEuen, will play at Downstream Casino tonight.
The band is touring in support of its newest album, 2009’s “Speed of Life.”
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got its start when Hanna and guitarist Bruce Kunkel performed around Southern California as the New Coast Two. They added several players, including Browne, and dove into that area’s folk rock scene, performing in pinstripe suits and cowboy boots, according to the book “Jackson Browne, His Life and Music” by Mark Bego.
The band’s first two albums were released in 1967 Ñ the beginning of a career that spawned 31 albums and countless collaborations. While “Mr. Bojangles” was the band’s biggest crossover hit, the band scored numerous No. 1 hits on country charts in the U.S. and Canada, including “Fishin’ in the Dark,” “Long Hard Road” and “Modern Day Romance.”
But the band’s influence stretched further than their commercial success. CMT said that the band’s albums were often critical successes only.
“Younger contemporaries of the Byrds, they played an almost equally important role in the transformation from folk-rock into country-rock,” wrote CMT in a bio about the band. “They were an influence on such bands as the Eagles and Alabama.”
The band has earned several Grammy and CMA awards and nominations.
Want to go?
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will, like Mr. Bojangles, dance. Band members will also play many of their significant, influential songs at 8 p.m. today at Downstream Casino’s Pavilion.