Thursday, October 16, 2003

McCoury Band bluegrass masters


By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Del McCoury Band is proof that, in bluegrass at least, nice guys do finish first.

The singer/guitarist leads a group featuring his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo) and has won about every honor available in bluegrass, including membership in country music's most exclusive club, the Grand Ole Opry.

The band is filled out by award-winning fiddler Jason Carter and award-winning bassist Mike Bub, while Del's wife and the boys' mother Jean handles merchandise sales.

Today at 7:50 p.m., the Del McCoury Band plays the P&G Pavilion, part of a four-star bluegrass double bill with Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder (9:30 p.m.).

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Tall Stacks section

On his way to Tall Stacks, Del took time out from his tour (in support of his new CD, It's Just the Night) to answer a few questions.

What's the best thing about playing with your sons, Ronnie and Robbie?

I'm really proud of those guys. They've turned into great musicians. I see some family bands and I go, "Eeeyew! They're just playing together 'cause they're family." But if I would try to replace these guys I don't know where I would go, 'cause they're just so good at what they do and they can work together as a band good.

On Oct. 25 you'll become the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. How does that feel?

I never dreamed I'd be an Opry member (when playing guitar on the Opry show with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the early '60s). But I guess in the back of a musician's mind you want to be an Opry member. It's a great honor.

One of your most popular songs is Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" his highwayman-on-a-motorcycle ballad. Are the rumors true that you were once a biker?

I used to ride. It probably hit home with me, the words, the story, 'cause I used to ride a motorcycle. I had a big Indian Chief, a '47 model. This is years ago. I wish I had it now, 'cause it would be worth a lot of money. It was in great shape, too. It was a great motorcycle.

You've expanded your audience, touring with some of the bluegrass jam bands. How did you hook up with the jam-rock band Phish?

The first time I knew who they were they sent me a tape of them singing my song ("Beauty of My Dreams") and I thought, "They do pretty good on this." But that was the first time I ever head of them.

I imagine they were fans of mine when they were kids, the same with (bluegrass jam bands) Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident. Phish invited us to play their festival up in New York and it was a big thing just like Bonnaroo was.

It was really something to see all those kids, y'know. They dance a lot. And what amazed me, at Bonnaroo they'd hold up signs requesting songs I had recorded, so they'd bought my records. And a lot of the kids today are learning to play bluegrass.

You're known for sticking to the old, traditional bluegrass sound. Did you think you would see the sort of popularity you're seeing?

No, not really. You're right; I just didn't change the sound that much, not consciously anyway. I never really thought that bluegrass or my music would get this popular, I really didn't. But it's just what I like to do and I just did it because I like to do it, y'know. And I guess if you do something long enough, people recognize it after a while.

Photo gallery of Day 1
Water taxi is scenic route to Tall Stacks
Bell magicians do it again
Copter takes the high tour
Latin flavor spices up the night
Of white gloves and shady characters
Music doesn't end when festival closes
Underground Railroad alive at Sawyer Town
Admission a bargain, but extras do add up
Running low on cash stack at Tall Stacks? Check deals
McCoury Band bluegrass masters
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