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were. But, when I was in high school, Elvis was killing everybody. All the kids my age listened to was Elvis — not hillbilly or country. “Elvis, and Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins — they were taking it over. I didn’t realize at the time, but in later years I came to understand how much all that music is related. That's it. “With bluegrass, you just think these guys came along and sounded that way. You didn’t see the whole thing. I didn't know what they listened to when they were young. They didn’t listen to bluegrass, because there wasn’t any. They were listening to big bands and oldtime country. Hillbilly. Bill Monroe used to go down to New Orleans and listen to those horn players there.” McCoury had the talent in his hands, and in his voice, though he didn’t know it early on. He began playing banjo with Jack Cooke’s Virginia Mountain Boys in Baltimore-area gigs, and in 1963 joined Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. Monroe pressed him to sing, and he be-

“WITH BLUEGRASS, YOU JUST THINK THESE GUYS CAME ALONG AND SOUNDED THAT WAY. YOU DIDN’T SEE THE WHOLE THING. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY LISTENED TO WHEN THEY WERE YOUNG. THEY DIDN’T LISTEN TO BLUEGRASS, BECAUSE THERE WASN’T ANY. THEY WERE LISTENING TO BIG BANDS AND OLD-TIME COUNTRY. HILLBILLY. BILL MONROE USED TO GO DOWN TO NEW ORLEANS AND LISTEN TO THOSE HORN PLAYERS THERE.”

came lead singer and guitarist, discovering his trademark tenor voice that would become the centerpiece of his sound for the rest of his life. “I didn’t sing before then,” he said. “Although, we were raised Missionary Baptist, and I remember singing in church. I remember singing songs when I was growing up, but when I heard Earl Scruggs, I don’t know. He clouded my mind, and that’s all I was interested in doing. In every band I was in as a banjo player, they had me singing a part somewhere —and I wasn’t really interested in doing that. “But Bill said, ‘No, no you gotta sing. You gotta sing a part.’ Well, I could sing any part, except if I had to sing bass, I couldn't get very low. I never thought I was intended to be a lead singer, until I went to work for him. I just sang parts in the choruses, and all of that. He wanted me to sing lead on all his songs, and I didn’t know the verses.” McCoury needed to learn the songs, some reaching back to the time he first heard the band, when Lester Flatt and Scruggs were members. “He'd sing with me on a chorus, a different part, but I had to know a lot of the songs he recorded back in those days. So, I really had to work at that — the hardest part. The singing was easy. The hardest part was the words, the lyrics. It really was. I was nervous, and there were many times when I rewrote a song on stage. I would forget the original verse.” For all his nervousness and discomfort, McCoury worked hard to become the singer inside. One night in particular stands out. “The one I really remember — it must have really impressed me — and scared me pretty much,” he said, laughing. “We’d been on the road, and on the way back in, Bill said he wanted me to sing ‘Wait a Little Longer, Please Jesus’ on the Opry the coming Saturday night. I want you to learn it. “Well, we stayed in a hotel on Seventh Avenue, the Clarkson, right near the National Life & Accident Insurance Co. building. On one of the floors in that building, they had a library of all the Opry acts. They had all the records in this library, and you'd go in there, and you could listen to them, but you couldn't take them out. You could put on a phonograph and listen. I’d go there and find records I needed to learn and write down the words, and then I’d go back to the hotel room and work on them. I got that song worked out to where I could stand there, and sing without looking at them. “So, I got on the Opry that night, and we started singing it, and on about the second verse, I got excited, and I forgot a line. I did a line from another verse, and once I did that, I didn’t know where I was at all. I just kept singing different things, but I never quit singing. I never quit. It was the last song of the segment and we came off stage as the curtain came down.” Knowing Monroe, McCoury decided to face the music. “I thought I better stay close to the chief and take my medicine,” he said. “The only thing he said was, ‘Del, I’ve never heard that song sung that way.’ I thought, man, I’m off the hook! He didn’t give me trouble over it — I think because I always worked hard. I got along good with him because I worked hard, and I didn’t quit singing.” It was a life lesson in one moment. With Monroe, McCoury traveled the country, rarely breaking. In 1964, McCoury moved to California and worked with the Golden State Boys, before returning to Pennsylvania where he formed the continued on page 20 APR – JUN 2019 19

Profile for Kathy Osborne

The Nashville Musician — April - June 2019  

The official journal of the Nashville Musician Association, AFM Local 257. This issue features Del McCoury, Tracy Silverman, and more.

The Nashville Musician — April - June 2019  

The official journal of the Nashville Musician Association, AFM Local 257. This issue features Del McCoury, Tracy Silverman, and more.

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