Life's been good to John McEuen.
Growing up in Southern California in the '60s, McEuen developed a love for the banjo in his teens. While he says he learned early on he couldn't be just a banjo player, he owes his many successes to his passion for the banjo and the various paths down which the instrument led him.
McEuen has been busy since leaving the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band last year. He's got a beautiful new album, Made in Brooklyn, and a memoir, Life I've Picked: A Banjo Player's Nitty Gritty Journey.
In addition to playing several instruments, McEuen is also a noted record producer and manager. He tells Q104.3's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke that he learned early on how he could make a living in music off stage.
McEuen recalls being approached by a friend about producing a Bob Dylan concert in Southern California in the mid-'60s before Dylan was Dylan. McEuen thought it would be a good investment and wisely convinced his dad to loan him some money towards the venture. Not only was the show a success, but McEuen said it proved he shouldn't give up performing himself.
"I could see the stage door open," McEuen recalls. "I saw [Dylan] get out of the limo with a harp rack on and a guitar on, walk to center stage, play for 75 minutes, and he left with $5,000. I went, 'That's a good job!'"
With the renewed belief in his chances as a performer, and the lesson in multifacetedness he got from putting on a successful concert. McEuen adopted a hustler mentality that's served him well over his career. He estimates he played more than 8,000 shows with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before leaving the group last fall, plus another 3,000 or so solo shows, which he often performed during the Dirt Band's off nights.
"When the band started, I was the only one old enough to rent a car, so I became road manager...I was 21; we were on the road," he says. "It was fun keeping it all together. We showed up at the Cheyenne Frontier Days once and the equipment hadn't made it. [Jeff Hanna and Jimmy Fadden] are like, 'Oh, I guess we're gonna have to cancel.' I said, 'Look, we don't have to cancel I've already called two music stores; we'll have gear on stage. We're playing this show.' ...On four hours notice, I got drums, bass, guitar."
Check out the full interview above, including McEuen and guitarist Matt Cartsonis' two-man rendition of "Dirty Life and Times" from the Made in Brooklyn album.
Get all of McEuen's tour dates here.
Here's video of McEuen performing a solo medley on his banjo: