Obituary

William E. McEuen, Producer and Manager for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Steve Martin, Dies at 79

William "Bill" McEuen
Aaron McEuen

William "Bill" McEuen

William ("Bill") Eugene McEuen, a record producer and manager best known for his work with Steve Martin and country rockers the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, died on Thursday (Sept. 24) at age 79.

"It is with tremendous sorrow that I share news that my brother William Bill Eugene McEuen (aka Bill) has passed away in Kona, Hawaii – a place he loved," revealed McEuen's brother and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founding member John McEuen on Facebook.

McEuen managed the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and produced several albums for them, including their commercial breakthrough Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy and the sprawling, landmark 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which enlisted a collection of country and bluegrass legends including Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Merle Travis, “Mother” Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff and Jimmy Martin. The latter album became notable for introducing these older performers to a younger generation and reviving their careers; it now holds a place in the Library of Congress and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Later in his career, McEuen would become a key force in the rise of comedian Steve Martin, producing four of Martin’s comedy albums -- including the platinum Let’s Get Small in 1977 and the double-platinum A Wild and Crazy Guy in 1978 -- as well as the novelty single “King Tut,” which peaked at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100. During this period, McEuen and Martin also established the recording studio Aspen Recording Society and production company Aspen Film Society, through the latter of which McEuen would produce or executive produce such films as Martin's big screen breakthrough The Jerk and the 1985 hit Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Also a songwriter and guitarist, as a teenager McEuen served as a “musical mentor” to his younger brother John, teaching him how to play guitar and later shepherding the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band through their most successful period. His creative contributions included co-writing the song “Dismal Swamp,” a cut off the group’s self-titled 1967 debut album. He was also the dealmaker behind the band’s State Department-sponsored 1977 tour of the Soviet Union, where they would play a total of 28 shows, and garnered Grammy nominations for designing the album packages to Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy and Symphonian Dream.

McEueun worked with several other acts over the course of his career, including Starwood, LeRoux, comedians Robert Schimmel and Steven Wright, The Sunshine Company and Allman Brothers Band precursor The Hourglass.

In addition to his brother John, McEuen is survived by his wife and business partner Alice McEuen.

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