PreViews - Del McCoury Interview

Uploaded by CPAPSU on 21.08.2012

[Music] >> Laura Sullivan: In a career spanning half a century, guitarist and singer Del McCoury has
earned recognition as a living legend of bluegrass.
McCoury, who fronts a band featuring his sons Ronnie on mandolin and Rob on banjo,
came to national attention in the early nineteen sixties performing with
bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe.
PreViews editor John Mark Rafacz speaks with McCoury about why he decided to
perform with Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
McCoury reminisces about his introduction to bluegrass through the
recordings of banjo picker
Earl Scruggs.
He also talks about the similarities between jazz and folk music
and how the genres have enriched one another.
>> John Mark Rafacz: I understand that you originally recorded with Preservation Hall in two thousand
nine when they were
doing a
for a fundraising effort of theirs. What made you want to record with Preservation
Hall? >> Del McCoury: Well I'll tell you what, John,
my distributor, I have my own record company, you know,
and my distributor
is a
Sony Red in New York City. So they called my manager and wondered if I would
be interested in going down
and singing a song
with the
Pres. Hall Band, you know, for that benefit record ... and I told --
so Stan said, Now I'm just gonna lay this out in front and if you don't wanna do it,
it's okay. If you do, it's fine, you know.
So I said, [laughter] I'd like to do that. I'd like to do that.
I think I sang three songs, and I think they put two of them on the record.
So uh, that's how we got acquainted. And then, of course, we got to talking, you know,
and thought, why don't we get both bands together and see what they would sound like together?
You know, just an experiment, so we played -- I think we played JazzFest
in New Orleans.
Me and my band that is, sometime later
and uh
we set it up where we'd go over to Preservation Hall and play with those guys
and just see what it sounded like.
So we decided [laughter], okay we're just going to do a record.
>> Rafacz: I spoke recently to Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall
and he said that when he first met you it was one of those feelings where he felt like he had
an instant rapport with you. And one of the reasons why he thinks he felt
that was because you're so similar to his father. He described it as uh ...
the two of you were cut from the same cloth. You and Ben's father were born just
two years apart
and not that far apart geographically. His father was born and
raised in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and I understand that you were born in
York County.
>> McCoury: That's true... umhmm.
A lot of my first playing that I did was
in Baltimore, we played those clubs,
'cause Baltimore was a big bluegrass town
in the fifties and sixties, you know.
A lot of my kin folks, you know, they moved from
western North Carolina up there to Baltimore to work, you know, during the ...
during the war.
They brought their music with them, you know.
And my dad's people all played old time music, you know, like banjos and fiddles.
Uh ... but they were from the mountains down there in western Carolina,
you know,
Mitchell county.
And so I guess that's kind of where I got my music from. But actually, I never learned from my dad,
I learned from my mother.
My mom, she played piano and
she taught my older brother guitar chords, and I learned from him, you know.
>> Rafacz: And you started playing
banjo, but you uh... you made a uh... rather important switch to guitar
when you met Bill Monroe. >> McCoury: Yeah, I'll tell you what happened there John.
My brother taught me to play guitar, I think when I was about nine.
He ... he would sing, and he wanted somebody to play with him, 'cause he was a good guitar player and singer.
He played on the radio in Hanover, P-A ... there.
But he [cough]
was older than me and he could afford to buy records,
so he bought uh...
-- now this is back when the seventy-eight RPMs were still in [laugh] and he bought a record of Flatt and Scruggs.
And when I heard Earl, Earl Scruggs play
that banjo
I thought, Man this is what I got to do.
So I started learning to play, even though I didn't have a banjo. We borrowed one.
And then, I think, when I got out of high school and got a job,
I bought one.
I bought a new one in Gettysburg. There was a music store there
and they had Gibson instruments, you know, and I bought a brand new Gibson banjo.
And I,
I just took it from there, you know. 0:05:07.620,0:05:09.580 I played banjo for ... I played it
for about ten years. And my first job, my first date with Bill Monroe was on banjo.
He needed a guitar player and a lead singer and I wound up doing that you know. [laughter]
>> Rafacz: What were some of the challenges of
combining your band with Preservation Hall, coming from two
different genres?
>> McCoury: You know, I think the biggest thing was to get the balance,
uh ... get the balance between the acoustic instruments
and the horns in the studio and on
stage. So our sound --
we've got two sound guys. I've got my own sound guy
and a
sometimes he can't go. But they have their own sound guy
in New Orleans. But both those guys
really learned fast how to mix them on stage, you know, how
to mix the two on stage,
and so, I think that was the biggest challenge actually.
As far as the songs and the --
I've got to tell you this little story ...
uh ... when we first got together to
try some things between the two bands, you know, my son Ronnie
he said to the --
those guys, he said did you ever...
did you ever play a tune called Mullenberg Joy?
And they said, Oh, yeah that's that --
old Jelly Roll Morton wrote that song.
[laughter] Ron
told them the story then about Bill Monroe ...
that Bill Monroe was in the hospital in the middle fifties
and he had had a bad car wreck and he
spent some time in the hospital, and, of course, back then they didn't have TV in hospitals
but they did have uh ... radio.
And so, he heard this jazz number on the radio, this uh ... they call it
Milenberg Joy.
And so, anyway, like twenty or thirty years later, I mean he didn't record it, he heard it
and he
just recorded it from memory
but not for twenty or thirty years.[laughter] I don't know
why he waited that long but
he did. >> Rafacz: That is amazing.
Well obviously it stuck. >>McCoury: It stuck, you know, the only thing was there's a chord change in there that was
a little different ...
the original, but it wasn't
that far removed from the original
thing, you know. So they just stated playing that right away.[laughter]
Ronnie on mandolin and they played the horns so we recorded that one.
>> Rafacz: You've played with an
awful lot of great musicians in your career.
You've recorded with Steve Earle, and with
the band Phish, and of course with Bill Monroe
and others. What sort of things did you learn from these jazz musicians that that was new to you?
Did you learn anything new that you felt, wow, I've been doing this, you know, for fifty years and this is news to me?
>> McCoury: Well, you know,
I'm not sure that I did learn anything new because
uh ... years ago, you know, I realized -- in the beginning now when I first started
playing bluegrass, when I was just a kid, you know ... 0:07:58.669,0:08:03.259 I thought, well there's no other music
like bluegrass. But, as years went by,
I grew to realize, you know, all this music is related, it's all akin.
Bill Monroe learned things from jazz when he was pretty young, you know,
'cause people told me he used to
go to
New Orleans
and stay there for a couple weeks and listen to people, which
I didn't know
you see. But anyway, later in life now, when Bill Monroe is famous and he's on the Grand Ole Opry, on a fifty-thousand watt
clear channel radio.
Okay, now I'll tell you who's listening to Bill Monroe
and they're starting their own music. Uh ... Jerry Lee Lewis
uh ... Elvis Presley
uh ... Chuck Berry
and the Blue Suede Shoes guy. What was his name ... uh ... Carl Perkins.
Those guys were playing
on electric guitars, they were playing the same notes that Bill was playing on the mandolin.
'Cause they were listening to the Grand Ole Opry when they were kids, like they were
roughly my age, you know,
and Bill Monroe's like twenty years older than them.
And he's already famous and playing on the Opry.
Chuck Berry used to come
to the Grand Ole Opry
at the Ryman Auditorium.
And course because he was Black
and this is the deep South, they wouldn't let him in, you know.
So he had to sit
on the back steps of the Opry
and listen from outside. And he would hear
Bill Monroe playing
those downbeat tunes on the mandolin, you know.
That's where he got uh ...
Johnny B Goode. That's where he got them licks from, you know.
So the music just keeps going and
it's all akin ... It's all
related, you know.
And the singing is the same thing, you know.
Bill Monroe learned a lot of his songs from Jimmie Rodgers, you know.
Of course a lot of the ... you know it's amazing, a lot of the jazz tunes 0:09:54.100,0:09:57.940 uh ... came from country or
old hillbilly.
You know, they do ... well they had me record uh...
Jambalaya. And they do that a lot in jazz,
and I didn't realize that. That came
from Hank Williams ...
Hank Williams wrote the song,
you know. He was a big country star on WSM on the Grand Ole Opry. They do,
They do quite a bit of country,
old country stuff, you know, It's ... they established it in the jazz world, you know. So, yeah,
it was actually pretty easy to record,
you know. It's a natural fit.
>> Laura: Tickets are on sale for The Del McCoury Band
and Preservation Hall Jazz Band together in concert September 28, 2012,
at Penn State's Eisenhower Auditorium.
Order online at
or by phone at 1-800 ARTS-TIX.