by Robert Bell
The question of who was the first country rock band is a subject of intense debate among guys who don't have girlfriends and spend too much time at the record store. Was it Gram Parsons' International Submarine Band or The Byrds circa "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" or Michael Nesmith's post-Monkees outfit The First National Band? Though they weren't the first, the case could be made that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was the truest country rock band. Take a listen to 1972's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," an album littered with top-tier country guests like Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson. Now that's country. Or a rock band playing country. Or something. Anyway, what's not up for debate is that the band is one of the longest running of the first wave of such acts. Although the years have seen some lineup changes, the core trio of founders Jeff Hanna and Jimmie Fadden and longtime member John McEuen remains.