Interview by Scott Preston
Photos by Aaron Williams
Del McCoury has had a long career in bluegrass. Although originally hired as banjo player, he sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar for Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in the 1960s, with whom he first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. McCoury briefly appeared with the Golden State Boys before taking a series of day jobs in construction and logging, while continuing to work as an amateur musician in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In the 1980s his sons began performing with him. Fiddler Tad Marks and bass player Mike Brantley joined McCoury’s group in early 1990s. McCoury’s group toured widely throughout the US. They relocated to Nashville, Tennessee as they began to attract attention. Fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Mike Bub joined in 1992. Alan Bartram joined the band as bassist in 2005. McCoury became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in October 2003.
Del McCoury has won 31 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, including Entertainer of the Year four consecutive times (nine total). McCoury has also won IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year four times. In 2004 he was nominated for the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award for It’s Just The Night, and in 2006 he won his first Grammy Award, in the same category, for The Company We Keep.
Cincy Groove: How did the 1st annual DelFest go this year?
Del McCoury: It was great. They had some really bad weather for about a month before we go there. We also became partners with the people that put on the High Sierra Festival out in California to help us with Delfest. They have had a successful festival out in CA for about 17 years now. Anyway the day that the stage was brought in , it actually sunk down in the mud. The day I got here it only rained a little. The first day of the festival the sun came out as bright as can be, and stayed that way the whole weekend. We were really surprised with the turnout being the first year of the festival. We were looking to lose a lot of money the first time around. We actually came real close to breaking even, so we did pretty well. Another good thing is that the city of Cumberland, MD now knows us and we know them. Its great that the town is behind us 100 percent. They also have an old steam locomotive train that still runs. They are going to run the train next year on a stretch of track that runs from Cumberland out to the festival site. They are also going to build a platform so people can get on and off the train. We wanted to make it good for the town as well as us. The person who keeps track of how much money comes in to the town said that May this year during Delfest was their best month for restaurants, motels, gas stations. We had a great lineup, but somebody I really want to get to play next year is Allison Krauss.
Cincy Groove: Have you worked with Allison Krauss before?
Del McCoury: I have, T Bone Burnett called me (producer for the Krauss/Plant cd) and asked if I would come and sing a part on one of the songs. Its the only trio song on the record. I sing the middle part between Allison and Robert. It worked out real well.
Cincy Groove: I see that your latest record “Moneyland” just came out.
Del McCoury: We have been doing the songs I did on the record out on the road. We weren’t able to put everything we wanted on the record, probably 3-4 songs. We also had a lot of guests on the cd. The record was recorded about 2 years ago and we just released it a few months ago.
I also have another record that I did after Moneyland that will be coming out soon as well called 50/50. We haven’t come up with a another name yet for the cd. The reason we are calling it that is that I have been in the music business about 50 years they tell me, I can’t remember back that far (laughing). So we decided to go into the studio and cut 50 songs for 50 years. We ended up getting it all recorded this past spring. We did 10 of my songs from each decade, the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s.
Cincy Groove: Whats it like to be able to play with your 2 sons?
Del McCoury: It’s great. We know each other so well we really don’t have to rehearse that much. The only time we really do rehearse is when we record. Of course its the same way with the other guys as well. Jason has been with me since he was 19. He has probably been here almost half his life now (laughing).
Cincy Groove: Did you have a good time hosting the IBMA awards this year?
Del McCoury: I was excited about doing that. One thing is that its hard for me to get on stage without a guitar, so I held on to that podium real tight. I was a little worried about it but it was a lot of fun.
Cincy Groove: How did you end up playing with bands such as Phish and String Cheese Incident?
Del McCoury: Well, from what I can figure a lot of those guys came to my shows before they were even in a band. Then once they started playing they wanted me to come and play with them. It really helped us because it opened up a lot of doors. It let us spread our music around to more people. Phish recorded one of my songs that they released on a live album. After they released it, they called me up and wanted to come and play their festival up in New York. We were absolutely amazed that there were about 77,000 people there. We never play in front of that many people, our bluegrass festivals we play aren’t that big. We got there and met the guys, and Trey asked me what we could play together and I said I have no idea. He asked me if I knew “Blue and Lonesome”. That songs goes back to Bill Monroe and Hank Williams. That’s hardcore bluegrass and Trey evidently studied it.
Cincy Groove: I understand you also played a tribute show to Jerry Lee Lewis at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Del McCoury: We did, I actually think that its the first time they did a tribute show for someone who was still alive. They had a box seat for him over to the right side of the stage, and he ended up walking in and sitting in the front row right in the middle. He surprised them all with that. I opened for Jerry Lee a few times in the 60’s and he liked our music. I did a couple of his songs, “Made Milwaukee Famous” and “End of the Road” I believe. After the show I met him and he said he really enjoyed it.
Cincy Groove: Was there a defining moment that made you want to become a musician?
Del McCoury: yes there was, my older brother, Grover Cleveland, we call him G.C., taught me the guitar when I was 9. I would play with him because he knew a lot of the popular bluegrass, hillbilly songs of the day. He bought a 78 record of Flatt and Scruggs “Rollin in My Sweet Babies Arms” in 1950. I wore that record out. When I heard Earl Scruggs, that’s what did it for me. That was the moment.
Cincy Groove: What was it like playing for Bill Monroe?
Del McCoury: That was a great experience. The first time I played with Bill Monroe I was 23, and I played banjo for him. He offered me a job and by the time I accepted, he told me he really needed a guitar player and singer more than anything. I had been playing banjo for about 10 years at that point, so I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out. I honestly haven’t really played the banjo since that time. I played with Bill for about a year.
Del McCoury Band:
Del McCoury – guitar
Ronnie McCoury – mandolin
Rob McCoury – banjo
Alan Bartram – bass
Jason Carter – fiddle
Upcoming Del McCoury band tour dates:
For complete show details visit http://www.delmccouryband.com
11/6/08 Oxford, MS The Lyric Theatre
11/7/08 Murray, KY Lovett Auditorium
11/8/08 Chicago, IL Old Town School of Folk Music
11/9/08 Hamilton, OH Parrish Auditorium
11/11/08 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
11/13/08 Norfolk, VA Norva
11/14/08 Louisburg, NC Louisburg College Auditorium
11/15/08 Atlanta, GA Ferst Center for the Arts
11/21/08 Burlington, VT Flynn Theatre
11/22/08 Towson, MD Recher Theatre
11/22/08 Towson, MD In-store Performance Record and Tape Traders
11/25/08 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
11/29/08 Nashville, IN Little Nashville Opry
12/31/08 Nashville, TN The Ryman Auditorium
2/5/09 New York, NY Allen Room – Rose Hall
2/6/09 Rockland, ME The Strand Theater
2/7/09 Brownfield, ME Bloom Arts & Events Stone Mountain Arts Center
2/13/09 Alexandria, VA The Birchmere
2/14/09 Charlotte, NC The Neighborhood Theatre
3/21/09 Stoughton, WI Stoughton Opera House
4/24/09 Wilkesboro, NC MerleFest Wilkes Community College
4/25/09 Cedartown, GA Cedartown Civic Center
5/17/09 Cary, NC Koka Booth Amphitheatre
7/31/09 East Hartford, CT Podunk Bluegrass Festival Martin Park
11/21/09 Alexandria, VA The Birchmere