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Dirt Band sings for 'Workin' Man'

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Fifteen years after the Nitty Gritty Dirt band had a country hit with "Workin' Man," the band has rereleased the record, hoping it will prompt fans to put some pressure on Washington about the nation's continuing unemployment problem.

Dirt Band founding member John McEuen is hoping that President George W. Bush will hear the song too, and perhaps be moved by it the way his father, former President George H.W. Bush, was inspired by another Dirt Band lyric during his administration.

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"When George Bush Sr. was in the White House," said McEuen in an interview with United Press International, "he took a lyric from our hit 'Stand a Little Rain' to put on his desk: 'If you're ever going to see a rainbow, you have to stand a little rain.'"

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Written by Dirt Band member Jimmie Fadden, "Workin' Man" is the lament of a man who has lost his farm and cannot find work.

"I am broke but not broken/And I am not alone/Cause there's a lot of folks/With nowhere to go," the song goes. "Are they ever gonna understand?/You can't leave a workin' man/With nowhere to go."

McEuen said the song "speaks to the heart of sombody who is or knows somebody who is unemployed -- which is pretty easy these days." He said the Dirt Band restored "Workin' Man" to its playlist this summer in response to audience requests, and gets a strong reaction whenever they play it.

"We get a standing ovation in the middle of the show," said McEuen.

As a result, the band decided to rerelease "Workin' Man" to radio stations. It went out last Tuesday, and McEuen said the response so far has been fairly positive.

"I've had e-mails from 20 or 30 stations saying, 'We're on it, we love it, it's a great idea,'" he said.

On the other hand, McEuen knows that the usual response by U.S. radio music programmers is cautious.

"Typically, they tell you, 'We'll have to test it, we'll give it a try,' and you hear from them three or four or five weeks later," he said. "But I don't like to think typically. I tell them if they play the song they'll get requests."

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McEuen also wondered whether stations and station groups that operate in an increasingly corporate environment will have the flexibility to add a record that doesn't come with a correspondingly corporate promotion campaign. The Dirt Band --best known for hits like "Mr. Bojangles" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" -- has not had a record deal with a major label for seven years.

"We can't call up Warner Bros. and say, 'Hey, you want to put out a single?'" said McEuen.

Rather, the band contacted a company that distributes singles for the record companies, and used its own data base to get the record to radio stations and follow up with a personal appeal to programmers. There is a strong likelihood that many of those programmers don't have much of a history with the Dirt Band.

"We're over 45 years old, so we do not get played," said McEuen. "That doesn't bother us. We're kind of in the Jimmy Buffettt side of country. We don't need the airplay, in the sense that it's going to break the band, or we need our first hit. We've had 25 of them. We've had a good run. I hope I don't eat these words later."

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McEuen said that, although things are going well for the band, he and his mates think they have an opportunity with "Workin' Man" to help address America's unemployment situation. But he sounded uncomfortable about taking on what will inevitably be characterized as a political issue.

"Anything can be political, depending on how far you want to discuss it," he said. "But (the elder) Bush had the words of a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on his desk. I think the out-of-work people in America have stood enough rain, and maybe George Bush will find the words inspirational, the way his father did. Is that political?"

Certainly, "Workin' Man" is not your typical Dirt Band song.

"It's one of the few times the Dirt Band has made a statement, a socially conscious type of statement, rather than a song about 'let's kiss on the beach' or 'it's tough to be on the road,'" said McEuen. "The other songs are fine and it's nice to transport people to a safe and warm, fuzzy place. It's an additional good feeling to make people feel good about themselves even when they're having difficulty."

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