The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is an American country-folk-rock band that has existed in various forms since the original founding in California in 1966. The group's membership has had at least a dozen iterations over the years, including five years, between "Dirt, Silver & Gold" (1976) and "Let's Go" (1983), when the band performed and recorded as The Dirt Band.
The band's best-known song was a 1970 cover of Jerry Jeff Walker's folk song "Mr. Bojangles". Their greatest critical acclaim has been for a 1972 album of country and folk standards, recorded in Nashville in collaboration with more traditional country artists, entitled "Will the Circle Be Unbroken".
"Will the Circle be Unbroken" was a collaboration album recorded in 1972 by the Dirt band with traditional artists such as Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Merle Watson, Jimmy Martin, Junior Huskey, Norman Blake, and Pete Oswald Kirby (known to Grand Ole Opry fans as Bashful Brother Oswald). Vassar Clements, not widely known then, was tapped for fiddle duties which led to greater notoriety and success for him.
"Will the Circle be Unbroken" featured classic bluegrass and folk standards written by A.P Carter, Doc Watson and others. The title comes from the song of the same name but indicates what the Dirt Band was trying to achieve. The long-haired boys from California were making an effort to reach out to the older veterans of American music and unite them in a divided America. Two other editions were released, one in the 1980s and another after September 11, 2001.
In July 1974 The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was one of the headline acts at The Ozark Music Festival, at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, in Sedalia, Missouri. Some estimates have put the crowd count at 350,000 people, which would make this one of the largest music events in history.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's peak in popularity – at least on the radio — came during the mid- to late-1980s, when they charted a string of successful songs. Among the lot were three No. 1 singles: "Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper's Dream)" (1984); "Modern Day Romance" (1985); and "Fishin' in the Dark" (1987). Other successful songs were "Dance Little Jean" (1983); "I Love Only You" (1984); "High Horse" (1985); "Home Again in My Heart," "Partners, Brothers and Friends" and "Stand a Little Rain" (1986); "Fire in the Sky," "Baby's Got a Hold on Me" and "Oh What a Love" (1987); "Working Man (Nowhere to Go)" and "I've Been Lookin'" (1988); and "Down That Road Tonight" and "When it's Gone" (1989).