Music

'Fishin' In The Dark': The Story Behind the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Sign of Country to Come

Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performs at The Country Music Hall of Fame 2015 Medallion Ceremony at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Laura Roberts/Invision/AP)

Although they're probably more revered now for their '70s output, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's greatest chart success came the following decade. After years of introducing listeners to the likes of "Mr. Bojangles" writer Jerry Jeff Walker and Will the Circle Be Unbroken fiddler Vassar Clements, the country-rock group enjoyed a run of commercial success that culminated with 1987's platinum single "Fishin' in the Dark."

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's lineup at the time--singer and guitarist Jeff Hanna, singer and keyboardist Bob Carpenter, drummer Jimmie Fadden, bassist Jim Ibbotson and multi-instrumentalist John McEuen--struck the perfect balance between their roots and contemporary country hits with this radio-friendly unit shifter. It's accessible enough that two very different artists in Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks didn't seem lost in neck-high bluegrass when they performed cover versions. At the same time, it's rootsy enough for fans of the band's more traditional material to not feel cheated when they drop the needle on the album its from, Hold On.

The Product of Pop Songwriters

For the band's third and final number No. 1, they turned to sources beyond their fellow Nashville rebels. While the first (Rodney Crowell's "Long Hard Road (A Sharecropper's Dream)") and second (Kix Brooks co-write "Modern Day Romance") chart-toppers were penned by country purists, this one came from more pop-oriented minds. Co-writer Wendy Waldman made a name for herself later on with Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best For Last" and other popular hits. Co-conspirator and future Nitty Gritty Dirt Band touring member  Jim Photoglo entered the Nashville scene through the world of soft rock. Without country-specific minds writing the song, as had happened on prior hits and on such inside jobs as Ibbotson's "Dance Little Jean," the group gained a new air of pop accessibility.

Read More: How the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' Saved Traditional Country Music

With a little magic from producer Josh Leo, the song became a hit for Warner Bros., knocking Rosanne Cash's equally brilliant "The Way We Make a Broken Heart" from the top spot of the country music charts in both the United States and Canada. Coincidental or not, it proved that roots- and bluegrass-influenced pop could sell records right before Diamond Rio brought a similar approach to the mainstream.

The Garth Effect?

What we'll call the Garth Effect has been kind to the song in recent memory. Brooks' version appeared on 2005's The Lost Sessions and again on the 2013 box set Blame It All on My Roots. This probably can't be quantified in any way, but it's so easy to assume that one of the biggest selling artists in popular music history helped point those million-plus downloaders to the song as it reached platinum status in 2014.

Be it the Garth Effect or the great song effect, "Fishin' in the Dark" continues to define the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's string of chart success and still gets toes a-tappin' whenever it's played at live shows. It's also become namedrop material for Luke Bryan and other current pop-country stars.

This story previously ran on May 11, 2018.

"Fishin' In the Dark" Lyrics

Lazy yellow moon comin' up tonight
Shinin' through the trees
Crickets are singin' and lightning bugs
Are floatin' on the breeze, baby get ready

Across the field where the creek turns back
By the old stump row
I'm gonna take you to a special place
That nobody knows baby get ready

You and me go fishin' in the dark
Lyin' on our backs and countin' the stars
Where the cool grass grows
Down by the river in the full moonlight
We'll be fallin' in love in the middle of the night
Just movin' slow
Stayin' the whole night through
It feels so good to be with you

Spring is almost over and the summer's come
And the days are gettin' long
Waited all winter for the time to be right
Just to take you along, baby get ready

And it don't matter if we sit forever
And the fish don't bite
Jump in the river and cool ourselves
From the heat of the night, baby get ready

You and me go fishin' in the dark
Lyin' on our backs and countin' the stars
Where the cool grass grows
Down by the river in the full moonlight
We'll be fallin in love in the middle of the night
Just movin' slow
Stayin' the whole night through
It feels so good to be with you

You and me go fishin'
(You and me go fishin in the dark)
In the dark lyin' on our backs and countin' the stars
Where the cool grass grows, down by the river
(Down by the light)
In the full moonlight we'll be fallin' in love in the middle of the night
(We'll be fallin in love)
Just movin' slow

You and me go fishin'
(You and me go fishin in the dark)
In the dark lyin' on our backs and countin' the stars
Where the cool grass grows
Down by the river in the full moonlight
(Down by the light)
We'll be fallin' in love in the middle of the night...

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'Fishin' In The Dark': The Story Behind the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Sign of Country to Come