The day after the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played a Fourth of July celebration show in Nashville, drummer Jimmie Fadden returned to his “rock ‘n’ roll” life in Florida, throwing dirty clothes in the laundry room, checking the mailbox for letters and looking around the house for stray lizards and bugs.
“The usual exciting stuff,” he said with a laugh.
At 69 years old, Fadden said his lifestyle has slowed since the early years of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Gone are the days of heavy tours and constant studio recording sessions for him and fellow bandmates Jeff Hanna, John McEuen and Bob Carpenter. Instead, the group moves at its own pace these days and performs concerts sporadically throughout the year.
The band, through its many forms, reached its 50-year milestone in May. Fadden said there’s a fair amount of satisfaction having managed to “survive all these years and still be pretty much intact and have an audience” that still finds joy in the music.
And it helps that Fadden and company aren’t burned out, either. Performing fewer shows, he added, has helped in that regard.
“We don’t work all year long,” said Fadden. “We have time to ourselves. We each do something here or there outside of the band – some of us more so than others. We have a life outside of the band and I think that’s what allows us to appreciate it as much as we do.”
When Fadden isn’t performing Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hits like “Fishin’ in the Dark” and the group’s Jerry Jeff Walker cover “Mr. Bojangles,” he’s delving into different music projects like Suitcase Full of Blues, a six-year-old acoustic blues trio that mainly plays shows around his hometown.
These welcomed distractions give the guys some time apart before the next weekend of shows, while yearning fans keep them motivated.
“For some reason, we as a group have been fortunate enough to record some songs that were meaningful to people,” said Fadden. “It might have been the soundtrack of their lives.
“I can’t tell you the number of times people come up to us after the show and say, ‘I watched your show in 1971, met my wife there, got married the next year and we played your music for our kids and they grew up listening to it, and now they’re going to have kids.’”
That’s not too difficult to believe when the band has been making music for more than 50 years. What is surprising to Fadden is the “college kids” listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – no doubt a trait they picked up from their parents listening to the music.
“They’ll sing all the words and we’ll be astounded,” Fadden recalled.
The energy and enthusiasm from fans – both young and old – may help drive Fadden’s motivation, but that doesn’t stop age from getting in the way every now and again. Although he will be the last one in the band to reach the 70-year mark, he’s already feeling the aches and inconveniences.
Fadden is anticipating what he’s going to feel like after the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Canadian tour in October.
“By the time that’s over we’re going to be a little tired,” he said with a laugh. “When you get to be a certain age, I think you learn a little more about what you can do and what you want to do and try to manage that somehow. Some years we do more [shows], some years we do less. That’s all I know.”
Old joints and tendons start to feel like they’re falling apart, Fadden added. The work hurts sometimes; Fadden said a bad rotator cuff causes the drummer to play hurt every so often, but he doesn’t notice it while he’s playing – or at least he tries not to let it show.
“Playing kind of takes your mind off of it for a period of time,” he said. “You’re not aware of it for the most part. When you get back to your room or the bus after the show, you’re like, ‘AHHH! Anybody got any Tylenol PM?’ But it just kinda comes with the territory. We live with it.”
Fifty years of performing music ought to a leave thick callus for Fadden at this point. The added benefit is knowing the pain of aging is numb beneath all those stage lights and the white noise of a cheering crowd. And he knows there’s always going to be time for rest. It’s inevitable.
But dirty laundry and checking for lizards comes first.