Jeff Hanna Recalls “Bless The Broken Road”

In the winter of 2005, Rascal Flatts released “Bless The Broken Road,” which spent five weeks atop the Billboard Country Singles chart. The song also crossed over to the Top-30 on the Hot 100. But, you might not know that the song’s origins stretch back well over a decade prior to that. The track was originally recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1994. Longtime member Jeff Hanna – who co-wrote the song with Marcus Hummon and Bobby Boyd – gave CMChatLive a history of how the song came to be.

“We had come to the end of the road of our run at country radio, and we were at Capitol at the time,” Hanna recollected. “Jimmy Bowen tells us ‘Why don’t you just go make a stripped down album and get back to what you guys were doing back in the 70s.’ So, we went into the studio in Colorado, and made the Acoustic album. A few months before all this, Matraca Berg and I got married on December 5, 1993. It was actually Marcus’s wife, Becca Stevens, who married us. He sang ‘Only Love’ at our wedding. After the honeymoon, he and I got together to write, and he had this idea. I thought ‘This is so much like my life right now,’ because when she and I got married, it wasn’t the first wedding for either of us. Marcus and I started talking about how you have obstacles in your life that seem insurmountable, and you end up on the better side – and you’re better for it. That was the point of the song.”

The Acoustic album was released in the summer of 1994, and many critics pointed out that “Bless The Broken Road” was a highlight, though it wasn’t released as a single to radio, but the song continued to stir emotions in people.

“As time went on, we would get requests from people who wanted to either play it or sing it at their wedding, and they would ask if it was OK. Of course, it was. Marcus actually ended up singing it at a lot of weddings around town, which got us to thinking that the song had such an impact, we wondered if it might be a hit. Lo and behold, Melodie Crittenden recorded it, released it as a single, and it was going up the charts.” Indeed, the record was climbing the airplay list, and was just about to hit the top 40. That same week, Crittenden’s label, Asylum closed its’ doors, killing the single at radio. “It had been only out a few weeks, but as the record business back then really thought, it was a used song. It had been around town long enough that people shied away from it, even though it wasn’t a hit record – though her version was great.”

Several artists considered recording the song over the years – with Rascal Flatts being a big fan of the composition in particular. Then, it appeared that country music’s reigning duo was going to cut the tune.

Brooks and Dunn were going to record it,” Hanna stated. “They were going in the studio, and I called Mark Wright, and he said Ronnie loved it, and they were going to cut it next week. I didn’t want to jinx them, so I left it alone for a couple of weeks, and he said ‘Man, congratulations. We didn’t cut the song, but Rascal Flatts did.’ They looked at it for the first album, then the second, and by the Feels Like Today album, they were about to master it, then decided to go back and cut a couple more tracks. That was one of them.”

Then, just as the album was set to be released by Lyric Street, Hanna’s phone rang again.

“Then, we get the call that it was going to be a single. So, we go from a song that never was going to be recorded to a hit. And, it was basically a love letter to our wives – a very personal statement that people responded to. They cut a great version of it, and it was history. We wound up winning a Grammy for it, which was a bonus,” Hanna beams, saying the song still serves as a timepiece for couples all these years later. “To this day, it still gets played at weddings!”

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will be celebrating their 50th anniversary, and are planning to celebrate with a special tour.

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Author: Chuck Dauphin

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