John McEuen wouldn’t just let his sons beat him at ping pong – they had to earn the victory. And it was a good day on both sides of the table when they were able to win. John related the story in explaining how he brought up his sons, Jonathan and Nathan, and fostered their musical talents early on. Of John’s six children, Jonathan and Nathan are the ones who pursued music professionally like their father, a multi-instrumentalist and longtime member of the country-rock outfit Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
“It’s in them to do this, and I don’t know what makes that happen, but they liked what they saw, they liked the response, and they worked really hard at being good at it,” John said, later adding, “When Jonathan plays a guitar solo, he knows I wish I could do that and I can’t. … And Nathan sings great and writes great.”
Both showcased their musical abilities on stage with their father at an early age.
“I told them early on, you can come out on stage and do something if you can actually do something [but] … you’ve got to come out and nail it,” John said.
Jonathan first shared the stage with John during a Dirt Band show when he was 6 years old. John had offered him $5 to go out and sing a song with him for an audience of thousands. When John asked the crowd if they’d like another, his son, through sniffles caused by tears of joy, asked “do I get another $5?” John recalled with a laugh.
Nathan, too, was performing for an audience as a child. During one of John’s solo gigs, a 9-year-old Nathan was invited to come on stage and sing a Christmas song he had written.
“People went nuts,” John said. “And it wasn’t because he was a kid, it’s because the song was so darn cute, and he did it so well.”
Jonathan and Nathan have now been in the music business for 20 and 15 years, respectively. Jonathan has been a guitarist from the country duo Hanna–McEuen and a backing musician for many performers like Dwight Yoakam and Dave Mason, and Nathan is a solo singer-songwriter and guitarist who has performed with or opened for several acts, like Willie Nelson and Steve Martin (joining The Steve Martin Band to play on the Season 8 finale of “American Idol”).
The two have been performing as of late as The McEuen Brothers, and will be opening for their father’s Dirt Band at its Sunday show at The Birchmere.
John looks forward to his sons opening for the Dirt Band, and thinks it will be a treat for his band’s fans, as well.
“They’ll be seeing the influence of the music they like on a couple of musically gifted guys who grew up under that umbrella,” John said.
John will play a few songs with his sons at The Birchmere, and he’ll be at his sons’ gig the following night at Jammin’ Java. Their most recent project, however, brought all three musicians together on one album.
The McEuen Sessions – For All The Good will be available for download March 19, and the album comes out April 3. The record is a collection of Americana tracks drawing upon each of their musical skills and styles. It features their renditions of American music classics and songs by friends of the musicians, but also tracks they’ve penned themselves. The blended sounds of the brothers singing makes up the voice of the album, and the three trade duties on several different instruments.
Both brothers have collaborated separately with their father on some recorded tracks, but this album marks the first time the three have come together for an album.
“It just seemed like they had become adults, and they were taking the idea seriously,” John said of the trio embarking upon a joint recording project at his sons’ suggestion. He later added, “They appreciate the fact that when you go into the studio, you can actually make something, and you can make it as good as you want to try.”
John plans to continue with this new musical venture with his sons, and hopes the group can record a television special about The McEuen Sessions to let TV audiences see what this family act has been able to create.
“We’re trying to carve a space where we can go out and play a certain number of shows every year with the three of us, and have it be an unusual event, which it is,” John said.