Click to listen

Click to listen

Oct. 2: A 1950s ditty celebrating a decades-strong “gang of fellers from down at Nashville” kicked off an ambitious triple album released on this date in 1972. It combined country rock’s The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a stellar cast of aging hillbilly luminaries.

Bruce Eder’s review on describes it best:

With all due respect to the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, it took the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with this album [Will The Circle Be Unbroken] to come up with a merger of rock and country music that worked for both sides and everyone involved.

The opening number, “The Grand Ole Opry Song,” set the tone for the album, showing that this band — for all of their origins in rock and popular music — was willing to meet country music on its terms, rather than as a vehicle for embellishment as rock music.

Do yourself a favor — read the entire piece.

Meanwhile, consider the irony that vocalist on “The Grand Ole Opry Song” was a man who longed — no, ached — to belong to the cast of the venerable country radio revue. But he was never invited.

Jimmy Martin, the King of Bluegrass

Jimmy Martin, the King of Bluegrass

Jimmy Martin, although “the King of Bluegrass,” wasn’t quite as luminous as the biggest names in the Dirt Band’s supporting cast: Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Mother Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis. But he was a character, a trait that was evident to the listener.

Here, he reprises his 1956 Decca recording of a song written by underrated bluegrass artist Hylo Brown. It name-checks a host of Grand Ole Opry stars from that time and days past: Uncle Dave Macon, Hank Williams, “Stringbean, Hank Snow and fiddlin’ Chubby Wise,” and more.

They say Martin recorded the song originally to boost his ultimately futile bid to join the Opry. (It couldn’t have helped that it went unreleased for more than three years.)

In his obituary of Martin on CMT’s Web site, Edward Morris tells the story of Jimmy Martin and the Opry:

Martin’s great goal in life — even as he routinely disparaged the notion — was to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He seemed close to the goal by the early ’60s, but he never made it. Certainly, he received no help from his old boss, [Bill] Monroe, who was so jealous of the type of music he created that he lobbied to keep other bluegrass acts, particularly Flatt & Scruggs, off the Opry.

… But Martin was also brash, loud and opinionated, not traits the conservative and well-mannered Opry held dear. “I think Jimmy is his own worst enemy,” [Martin’s longtime banjoist J.D.] Crowe once said. “He’s made a lot of mistakes, and he’s alienated a lot of people — people who could have helped him had he let them.”

Marty Stuart concurred: “He didn’t have sense enough to tone it down — thank God. … When he hits the stage, it’s like cannons going off. … I think he’s uncontrollable.”

Will The Circle Be Unbroken peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard country album chart and pierced the Top 70 on the pop album chart. (Click here to see who was in the studio when during the recording sessions in 1971.) It became a gold record in 1973, giving many of its country collaborators their first such award. By the time it sold a million copies and went platinum, 24 years had passed — and most of those legendary artists had died.

Jimmy Martin’s time came in 2005, when he lost his long struggle with bladder cancer.

— Kevin Paulk, 3 Chords a Day