Ever think Phish would be within two degrees of separation from Air Supply or Hootie and the Blowfish? Thanks to John McEuen they are, but his work also puts them that much closer to Dolly Parton, The Doors, Kenny Rogers, The Doobie Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie and Bill Monroe, as well as comedians such as Steve Martin (a high school friend whom McEuen taught to play the banjo) and The Smothers Brothers and actors like Robin Williams, Clint Eastwood and Sissy Spacek.
McEuen was a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966, and stayed with the group for 21 years and over 22 albums. One of these was the critically acclaimed platinum-seller Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which included the title song that Phish has covered on a rare few occasions. Interestingly, his first break into show business occurred not as a musician but as a booker who sold out a Bob Dylan show at a Southern California high school in 1965. In the years since, McEuen has, according to his website, flown over two million miles and driven a million more, done over 11,000 interviews and over 300 television performances, produced television shows and interviewed such personalities as Malcolm Forbes and Emmylou Harris, played over 4,600 shows, and, amazingly, “only lost his luggage three times!” Of course, McEuen still writes and releases music, from his solo albums to movie scores.
McEuen’s first two Phish appearances were in a one-week span in the fall of 1996. On 11/30, he joined in on banjo for “Uncle Pen” and “The Old Home Place,” and came back on lap steel guitar for the “Amazing Grace Jam” and “Possum.” He was then part of the Vegas “Harpua” encore on 12/6. McEuen returned at Big Cypress on 12/30/99 with Chief Jim Billie – McEuen produced Billie’s then-current album. Later, he and another Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder, Jimmy Ibbotson, performed as Gopher Broke with Trey on 9/9/01 in Vermont.
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