‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Story Behind the Song

by Joe Rutland
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The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has had some hits, but one that even Garth Brooks has recorded stands out. The subject? Fishing at night.

“Fishin’ in the Dark,” written by songwriters Jim Photoglo and Wendy Waldman, was the group’s third No. 1 hit. It appears on their “Hold On” album, which was released in 1987.

Now a song about going fishing at night was not on Photoglo’s mind. It’s become one of those songs when performed by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that fans find themselves invested in hearing them play.

“Well, for me, just the fact that people are still listening to it after all these years,” Photoglo said in an interview. “The stories I hear from the (Nitty Gritty) Dirt Band are how their audience react, and it’s like that. It’s a lot of foot-stomping.”

Nashville Plays Role In Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Hit Song

During one of Photoglo’s first visits to Nashville from Los Angeles, which were sponsored and supported by Waldman, he came up with an idea.

“I was experimenting with this one particular chording on the guitar that only played the first and fifth tones of the chord, so you could sing either a major or a minor over it,” he said. “One morning I woke up and I turned on my tape recorder, sat up and played these two pieces of music.

“Both of them had that same chordal thing, but one of them had the minor mode and one had the major mode.”

Photoglo ended up taking that one to Waldman, which ended up being “You Can’t Run Away From Your Heart” and a hit for Lacy J. Dalton.

Once Photoglo returned back to Los Angeles, he met up with Waldman. She just finished listening to “A Prairie Home Companion” and said to him, “Let’s write a song about fishing.”

He remembered his initial reaction.

“And the first thing I thought was, ‘I want to run away screaming because I love my song.'” Photoglo said. “But she said, ‘No, fishing in the dark.’ We started messing around with it, and it just happened, you know? We did it for fun. We weren’t trying to be like any other song.”

Kenny Chesney Was Influenced By ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’

Well, the song became a hit thanks to some fortunate circumstances.

Photoglo said, “Josh Leo came from Los Angeles to Nashville at the same time Wendy and I did, and he had just gotten the job to produce the Dirt Band.

“He heard the song at a party one night,” he said. “Back in the early days, we’d all get together, and Wendy and I would cook. We all had these tiny apartments. Actually, Josh and Wendy and I all lived in the same place over on 10th Avenue (in Nashville). He went, ‘Man, the Dirt Band, this is perfect for them.’

“I was standing in the right place when they captured lightning in a bottle. People talk about the song, but that record that the Dirt Band made, it so impressed so many people,” Photoglo said. He mentions Brooks, who recorded and released the song three times.

“It’s influenced all of these up-and-coming country acts or even people like Kenny Chesney,” he said. “He used to play it in the clubs, and his live act after he became famous.”

Waldman read a list of country songs that reference “Fishin’ in the Dark” in their lyrics.

“It’s been an enormous blessing,” Photoglo said.

Here’s the Dirt Band, in one of its incarnations, singing “Fishin’ in the Dark.”

H/T: The Tennessean

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