One of the first Western rock bands to visit the USSR - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the Land of the Soviets: what it was like

We tell the story of how an American group managed to build a bridge between Soviet and American citizens during the Cold War.

How the American Nitty Gritty Dirt Band managed to perform in the USSR during the Cold War period

Founded in California in 1966, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is a country, folk and rock band. Some of its popular songs include "Mr. Bojangles", "Modern Day Romance" and "Fishin` in the Dark". She has also collaborated with the likes of celebrities country scene, like Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson. In 1976, she did a historic tour of the to the Soviet Unionbecoming the first American country band to perform there.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

In 1966. in Long Beach, California, singers and guitarists Jeff Hanna and Bruce Kankel put together their own jug band. Thus was born the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. They were joined by. join other musicians such as Ralph Barr, Dave Hanna, Les Thompson, Glen Grosklose and Jackson Browne.

When the latter left, he was replaced by John McEwan, who wielded a variety of stringed instruments. The band played folk rock and dressed in suits and boots. Their debut album, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, was released in 1967 and contained a cover of Steve Noonan's "Buy for Me the Rain". In 1969, they recorded their most famous hit "Mr Bojangles", written by Jerry Jeff Walker.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band goes to the USSR

Thanks to an invitation from the American Council on cultural exchange Nitty Gritty Dirt Band visited the USSR. They were the first American country band to perform in the Soviet Union. They gave concerts in Riga, Yerevan and Moscow, and also starred in the TV show "Around the World." Their music liked to Soviet audiences who appreciated their skills and energy. They also socialised with local musicians and shared their experiences. Their tour was chronicled in documentary film "Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in Russia". It shows their concerts, rehearsals, meetings with local musicians and ordinary people. It also reflects their impressions and the emotions of the trip. The film was released on VHS in 1981 and on DVD in 2007. Below is an excerpt from the film that you can watch:

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has been a huge success, with their concerts and TV shows seen by over 145 million audiences. They were among the first American groups to break the Cold War barrier and show the Soviets a different face of American culture.

Reaction of the Soviet public

Soviet audiences were thrilled from the performance of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in Yerevan. They did not sit in their seats, but danced and applauded. The American correspondent of the NYT shared impressions:

"Out of nowhere abruptly. popped out a long-haired young man in jeans and a denim jacket and started climbing on the stage without stopping to dance. He was dragged away from the speakers and microphones, and then the police officers kicked out him into the street. The audience laughed at this spectacle."

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in rehearsal
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in rehearsal

The American journalist continued narrate about the show:

"The atmosphere here was much more wildthan in Tbilisi, or than was expected in Riga, Leningrad and Moscow. This was due to the fact that the concerts were held outdoors in a 4,000-seat bicycle stadium, where everyone felt more at home. liberties. And also because Armenia was not like other countries."

And this is the opinion of one of those who could attend concert:

"Nostalgic feeling. The only American band I've ever heard alivewhen they came on tour to the USSR. I remember being particularly impressed quality of sound, an order of magnitude better than our VIAs."

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the album cover
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the album cover

After they came back from the Soviet Union, they were continued their music career and have released many more albums and singles. According to the AllMusic website, from 1977 to 2022, they released 28 studio albums, 5 compilation albums, 3 live albums and 1 Christmas album. They released a lot of records that got successsuch as "Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two" (1989), "Live Two Five" (1991), "Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Three" (2002) and "Circlin' Back: Celebrating 50 Years" (2016). Their newest album, "Dirt Does Dylan" (2022), is dedicated to the work of the Bob Dylan.

They also worked together with other well-known executors country music artists such as Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Bruce Hornsby. Musicians have deservedly received many honours and recognition for his work, including two awards Grammys and a US Academy of Country Music Award for Album of the Year. They also continued to perform internationally and to participate in the charitable projects. For example, in 2022, they released a new album, Dirt Does Dylan, featuring songs by Bob Dylan.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band these days.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band these days.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band musicians recall their concerts in the USSR as one of the most unforgettable experiences in their lives. They say they were very touched by the warmth and hospitality Soviet people who accepted them as friends. They are also proud of the fact that they were able to show another side of American culture and music that was unknown to most Soviet citizens. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band believes that their music helped build a bridges between two countries that were in a state of cold war. Rather not even between countries, but between people.


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