2016 International Bluegrass Music Award Nominations
Two masterful musicians from different genres have come together for a new CD despite the fact that one of them passed away nearly a half century ago. The legendary Del McCoury releases a collaborative work with the late Woody Guthrie titled Del and Woody this Friday, April 15. McCoury didn’t set out to do the project. It just kind of fell into his lap when he was performing in a memorial concert for Woody a few years ago in Tulsa, OK.
Indeed, there’s a joyfulness to these recordings, perhaps to be expected from a singer who can perform heart-stopping spirituals. For example, “Left in This World Alone,” a lonely traveler’s lament that could be performed as a heart-breaking ballad, is elevated to a jaunty but impassioned mid-tempo plea in McCoury’s caring hands.
Del and Woody is the realization of two distinctly, genuinely American voices: Woody’s common-man vernacular and Del’s common-man sound. Perhaps the keenest observer of mid-century American life and particularly American dialogue, Woody Guthrie’s take on life is perfectly reflected in these little moments. A man taking his car to the garage to get fixed, a just-released prisoner working on a post-depression work project, a young father marveling about the beauty of his toddler son.
DEL McCOURY EMBARKS ON LANDMARK PROJECT WRITING MUSIC TO WOODY GUTHRIE LYRICS.
NEW ALBUM “DEL AND WOODY” TO BE RELEASED ON APRIL 15, 2016
February 17, 2016 – Nashville, TN – Del McCoury is at it again. At 77 years young he is still very excited about music and creating projects that will be enjoyed by generations to come. This one might just be the most talked about as it’s rare for two artists to team up on music separated by 70+ years…some of these lyrics were written the year Del was born, but with Woody’s timeless lyrics, and Del’s timeless sound, nothing matters but the songs.
You could almost say that the cover of the new release from the Del McCoury Band tells you everything you need to know: two giants of American music, both known far and wide by their first names, guitars in hand, looking out at the world with a bold gaze and a characteristic expression. But there’s a story behind Del And Woody (McCoury Music, street date 4/15/16), a collection of Woody Guthrie lyrics set to music by Del McCoury—and while its dozen songs speak eloquently for themselves, knowing how they came to be adds a dimension that’s sure to deepen every listener’s enjoyment.
“When he recorded with Steve Earle back in the late 90s, that’s when I really discovered Del McCoury,” says Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, guardian of the famed singer/songwriter’s unique legacy—and of an archive containing a treasure trove of memorabilia, recordings and, especially, notebooks filled with song lyrics.
Still, it wasn’t until the Newport Folk Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2009 that she zeroed in on the bluegrass patriarch’s unique fitness for what became Del And Woody. “After hearing Del's show,” she recalls, “I remember thinking that if my dad had had a band, it would very possibly have sounded very much like Del’s. An invitation went to Del to perform at a Woody Guthrie
Centennial concert in Tulsa a couple of years later gave her the opportunity to hear him singing a few of her father’s songs—“I think Del’s ‘So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh’ is the best version I’ve ever heard,” she notes—and the deal was sealed.
For McCoury, Guthrie’s name was mostly unfamiliar, though his songs weren’t. “It took a while before I heard his name,” he remembers. “But then I started learning that so many of the songs I was hearing, from ‘Philadelphia Lawyer’ to ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ were his. So when Nora said she wanted to send me some lyrics, I already knew what a great writer he was. She sent me a few, then sent me some more, a few dozen in all.”
“When I read them, it seemed pretty easy to me to hear the music that would fit. Nora said, ‘you can change some things if you want to,’ and I said no. He’s a great writer, and I do not want to change anything in his songs. I would just like to put a melody to these words so that maybe folks will accept the songs, and that’s what we did.”
Though it took the process years to come to fruition the result is an album that really transcends the concept of collaboration. For while Del McCoury is not quite of Guthrie's generation, these two American masters share an unsurpassed breadth of experience, outlook, shared interests and common backgrounds. So what you hear is the simple and easy unity of these two artists. As Nora Guthrie says, "It sounds as if these lyrics and melodies have been around together forever, or as Pete Seeger says, 'that's genius'."
Given the importance of family to this project—whether in Woody’s obvious affection for his own, in Nora’s dedication to keeping his artistry alive and appreciated, or in the McCourys’ collective career—it’s fitting to leave the last word here to Nora’s brother, acclaimed singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie. “The entire album goes back to a place and time that these days, are an almost forgotten era,” he says. “But, Del’s high bluegrass voice brings it all back into focus...It’s amazing how little the human condition has changed, and good to be reminded that humor, attitude, and great music are timeless. Thank you, Del.”
The world did get a brief glimpse into the project when "The New York Trains" was released on the 2014 audio book CD set, "My Name is New York; Ramblin' Around Woody Guthrie's Town". That song was honored with a Grammy Nomination at the 57th Grammy Awards for Best American Roots Song.
The Del McCoury Band will be touring in support of this release in 2016. On designated “Del & Woody” shows the band performs this album in its entirety with companion videos to each song playing behind them. It really does bring Woody’s work to life after many years of these lyrics sitting on a shelf.
For more information:
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JERRY DOUGLAS AND THE EARLS OF LEICESTER WITH SPECIAL GUEST DEL MCCOURY
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Malcolm Brown Auditorium, Shelby High School
FOR TICKETS, CALL 704.487.8114
The Earl Scruggs Center is excited to present:
Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester
with special guest Del McCoury
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Malcolm Brown Auditorium
Shelby High School
Shelby, North Carolina
GRAMMY and IBMA award-winning band Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester features legendary dobro player Jerry Douglas with acclaimed writer, producer, and solo artist Shawn Camp on lead vocals and guitar, renowned Nashville banjoist Charlie Cushman on banjo and guitars, second-generation fiddle phenom Johhny Warren, and Barry Bales, Douglas’ longtime bandmate in Alison Krauss and Union Station, on bass and vocals.
The group is the product of Douglas’ lifelong passion for the music of bluegrass pioneers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys – note the play on words in the group’s name. This has been a longtime vision of Jerry Douglas, friend of Earl Scruggs. Joining them will be special guest and bluegrass legend Del McCoury, who was bitten by the bluegrass bug when he heard Earl Scruggs’ banjo. McCoury got his first taste of bluegrass when he played for Bill Monroe’s bluegrass boys in early 1963, and he has gone on to become one of bluegrass music’s greats.
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS!
By Michael Scott Cain | Special to The News-Post | Jan 20, 2016
Del McCoury might have been born in Pennsylvania, and he’s chosen to live in Nashville, but he has Maryland roots that go back a long way. In fact, he started his career playing bars in Baltimore, up U.S. 1 and out U.S. 40.
“Baltimore was pretty hot back in the ‘50s. It was a hot place for bluegrass,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Nashville. “A lot of people came up from Tennessee and Georgia and Alabama to work during the war in the shipyards, in the steel mills and aircraft factories, and we played for them. They loved mountain music. A lot of local people loved it, too, and we played for them.”
He laughed as the memories turned into stories — and Del McCoury, in his many years playing music, has a lot of stories to tell.
He went into the story of how the first bluegrass concert in Carnegie Hall came to be. “Earl Taylor was the biggest star. I played with him in a little place called Castle Café, right off of Broadway. I met him in the fish market. There was was a big bar in Fells Point that had country and bluegrass music, two bands, no stopping. When one finished, the other would start up. Earl Taylor was playing there, and a man came in, sat there all night listening. Just had two drinks, and when Earl finished, he went up to him and said, ‘My name’s Alan Lomax, and I’m going to put you boys in Carnegie Hall. Earl said, ‘I’ve heard that before,’ but Lomax actually did it. He got them to make an album for Folkways Records and to play Carnegie Hall. They had a great sound.”
How did McCoury end up playing guitar? He has a story for that, too.
Bill Monroe, the mandolin player credited with inventing bluegrass, was coming through Baltimore in 1963 and needed both a banjo player and a guitar picker. He hired McCoury and put him onstage without even rehearsing. McCoury, having played cover versions of Monroe’s songs, was able to keep up, but after a couple performances, Monroe shocked him by asking him to switch over to guitar and become the lead singer. It turned out to be the right move. He did it, and has never gone back to the banjo.
After almost 10 years with Monroe, McCoury left the band and briefly joined the Golden State Boys in California. When that band broke up, he went back to Pennsylvania and took a job to support his wife and two small sons, confining his musical activities to playing festivals on the weekends.
But by the time they hit their teens, his two sons had become musicians. They became his band, and McCoury decided it was time to move to Nashville and get back to music full-time in the ‘80s. With his son Ronnie on mandolin and his son Robbie on banjo, they have become the Del McCoury Band and are busily and happily rewriting the rules for bluegrass.
The Del McCoury Band recorded nonbluegrass tunes like the British folk-rocker Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” recorded an album with country-folk-rocker Steve Earle and played jam band festivals with Phish, proving that bluegrass is more flexible than people might have thought it was. Their stretching of musical horizons has also made McCoury and his sons one of the most honored bands in bluegrass. In fact, country-bluegrass artist Alison Krauss told the newspaper The Tennessean that McCoury widened the field for everyone. He is, she says, the new Bill Monroe.
McCoury expressed surprise at her comment, which he had not heard. “Alison said that?” he asked and then said he was just lucky to be able to make a living playing bluegrass.
He’ll return to Maryland to perform on Jan. 22 at the Weinberg Center in a concert designed to celebrate the music of Woody Guthrie, America’s finest and foremost composer of folk songs. Long after Guthrie’s death, his daughter, Nora Guthrie, found notebooks of his that were thought to have been long lost. They contained lyrics for songs that remained unfinished because Guthrie had not yet written melodies for them.
Nora gave lyrics to such artists as Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello and Natalie Merchant, asking them to write tunes to match the lyrics and to record the finished songs. “Nora picked us to do that,” McCoury says. “She said her dad would have loved to have a band like ours. She offered us 20 songs. We worked the songs up and made demos of them. One day, I’m listening to them and really got into them. ... We’ve been playing them at shows and at first we didn’t know them, didn’t know how to perform them, but they always went over well. We’ve got them down right now.
“They’re very special songs, from 1935 to 1949. Some of them are in his own handwriting. The songs last. You could do some of them 100 years from now. He’d write about that day, whatever day it was. He wrote comical, smart, about being down and out, everything. He’s even got a song about women’s hats. He was in New York City, and he’d never seen stuff like that before. That’s what he did — he wrote down what he saw.”
The first half of the show will feature songs with Guthrie’s lyrics, and after an intermission, the Del McCoury Band will perform classic songs from its own repertoire.
Del McCoury still feels a kinship with this area. His bluegrass festival, Delfest, is held annually in Cumberland, and he’s played a lot in Frederick, “even though I’ve driven through it more than I’ve played here.” Playing Frederick is “like coming home,” he said.
A practicing poet who teaches literature at Frederick Community College, Michael Scott Cain also writes essays and music and book criticism for various magazines. He has published three novels, three nonfiction studies and six poetry chapbooks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Craft email@example.com Jan 14, 2016
Like father, like sons, to be sure.
But sometimes the chips off the old block will fall where they may, due to circumstances beyond their immediate control.
"Actually, this has been going on for about five years now," notes Ronnie McCoury, one of the chips off that solid, silvery McCoury oak known as Del, towering in the bluegrass forest of legend alongside the likes of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
Ronnie is referring to a group known as The Travelin' McCourys, billed as "80 percent of the Del McCoury Band," since four out of five people in it — Ronnie, kid bro' Rob, fiddler Jason Carter and bass player Alan Bartram— hail from same.
When these fellow bluegrass travelers take to the stage of the Castle Theatre Friday night, they'll be following three prior Castle shows involving both McCoury configurations: Del's band in 2011 and 2012; Del's boys' band in 2014 and, now, this weekend.
So which McCoury band is which, musically speaking?
"We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out," says big bro' Ronnie, who joined papa Del's band in 1981, at age 14.
"If we need to plug in, we'll plug in. We're open to anything."
We interrupt this plug for the Travelin' McCourys to reassure fans of papa Del that the old man's band is alive and well and kicking, with the 9th all-star edition of DelFest, his namesake Memorial Day weekend music fest, now ranked as one of the country's top roots music destinations, set for 2016 in Maryland.
"What happened," explains his good son, "is that Dad started looking at his age, which was around 72 at the time (he'll turn 77 in February). His mother lived until her mid-80s, but his dad passed at 72."
With that specter of mortality suddenly looming, "he started thinking about things and he thought maybe it would be a good time for us to get out of the nest and try to have our own band."
Fast-forward five years ... to now.
Of course, you can't keep a good musician down ... seventysomething or no. And Del has kept the original band, sons included, going strong, though scaled back to about 50 dates a year, or an average of one a week.
"Dad is not one to sit still or retire, and that's the way it's gone ... he's still got an incredible voice and his musicianship is still great," notes Ronnie, 48.
"What's astonishing is that, because when we've been gone (with the Travelin' McCourys), he's been given the freedom to do all these collaborations, like the duet he did with Sam Bush two years ago."
So much for Dad's retreat.
As for the Travelin' McCourys, they've kept logging miles begun half a decade ago. Fresh off a Grand Ole Opry show just several nights before his GO! interview, Ronnie says the group has just entered a new phase with the addition this past fall of flat-picking prodigy Cody Kilby, who was off and running in his teens, straight into a 14-year run with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder.
He's also a highly sought-after studio player, most recently on Beck's Grammy-winning critical/popular success, "Morning Phase."
Prior to Kilby's joining, they'd kept the guitar slot vacated by Del open on a kind of revolving door basis, extending invitations to an array of ace friends and fans like Jeff White, Ronnie Bowman, String Cheese Incident's Billy Nershi, Alison Krauss Band's Dan Tyminski and Infamous Stringdusters' Andy Falco.
"We've enjoyed playing with so many guitar players we know," Ronnie says, but, he adds, the stability that has come with a permanent flat-picker of Kilby's prowess has upped their ante.
That began at last year's DelFest, where the pact was sealed.
"I guess we had our 'a-ha!' moment there .... we were on stage and it was like a light bulb went on," Ronnie says.
"With Cody, we really have the perfect combination: a great player, and he fits perfectly with what we do — straddling the fence between traditional and progressive. No matter what we throw at him, he can handle it."
Meanwhile, the brothers McCoury play on, and on ... on either side of the McCoury fence, with no end in sight.
"I've been in a band pretty much all my life," says Ronnie, "and I'll be coming on 35 years since I joined Dad's band. But neither of us was ever pushed or pressured by him to become musicians."
Ronnie was born March 16, 1967, in York County, Pa., where he lived until he was 24, then relocated with his wife Allison to Nashville, which is home to this day.
The McCoury boys were weaned on bluegrass, courtesy the many pickin’ parties held at the house, along with rehearsals that Del would have with his band of the era, the Dixie Pals.
Around age 13, after attending a show with his Dad where he saw Bill Monroe perform, Ronnie decided that, OK, yes, he wanted to be a chip off the old block and play some serious bluegrass mandolin (he'd taken violin lessons as a kid, but didn't keep at it).
Ronnie practiced on his mandolin for six months, soon followed by Del asking his son to fill it a recently vacated mandolin slot in his band.
That was on May 28, 1981; the slot has remained filled since.
Ronnie McCoury is more than happy to continue in that long-term role, but he's also happy to be a Travelin' man, too.
In Del's band, "Dad is always the front guy, it's his show, and it's him who keeps the crowd in the palm of his hand all the time," says Ronnie.
Sans Del, "it's something me and the other guys have had to learn how to do, even though we've been play his shows for so long. It's fun for us to figure out a bunch of stuff ... the ways we can stretch out on our own."
Comprising the five members of The Travelin' McCourys are:
- Ronnie McCoury, mandolin: See accompanying interview
- Rob McCoury, banjo: Full name actually Robin (not Robert); four years Ronnie's junior; joined papa Del's band in 1987, six years after Ronnie; played bass for a year before switching to the banjo he picks to this day.
- Cody Kilby, guitar: Bona fide bluegrass prodigy, winning awards as teen; member of Grand Ole Opry at 16; spent 14 years Ricky Skaggs' ace flatpicker with Kentucky Thunder; started travelin' with the McCourys last fall.
- Jason Carter, fiddler: Picked up the fiddle and never put it down one day after hearing Del at age 16; in 1992, asked Del for a job, auditioned, has been there ever since; now with Travelin McCourys, too.
- Alan Bartram, bass: Began music career with The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band; joined Del's band in 2005; followed Ronnie, Rob and Jason to Travelin McCourys in 2011.
Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraf