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Del McCoury On Bluegrass And Life On The Road


Tens of thousands of music lovers have made their way this weekend to Cumberland, Md., for DelFest. It's a four-day music festival that features the best of bluegrass music, founded by one of the genre's most beloved figures, Del McCoury.


THE DEL MCCOURY BAND: (Singing) Oh, sir, we'll be soon Mississippi bound. Another city and another town. My own true lover wants me to stay, but, you know, it won't be long. And I'll be on my way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today's the last day of DelFest 2018. But before Del McCoury before down the current made his way to the Allegany County Fairgrounds, he joined us from Nashville to talk about his new album "Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass." Del McCoury and his son Ronnie join us now.



DEL MCCOURY: Yeah, thanks.

R. MCCOURY: Hi, Lulu.


R. MCCOURY: Glad to be here.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to start with you, Del. This album's called "Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass." I mean, was there ever any doubt that you were going to still be singing bluegrass?

R. MCCOURY: (Laughter).

D. MCCOURY: Hey, I didn't have a thing to do with that.


D. MCCOURY: No, I think Ronnie and my manager Stan - I think they came up with that. But it's been 50 years since I did that first...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right.

D. MCCOURY: ..."Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass," you know (laughter)? So I had another song title in mind for the record, but I never told anybody.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, Del, you can tell me. I won't tell anyone. I promise.

D. MCCOURY: OK. I tell you what. I did a song called "Hot Wired." Did I like that sound, man.


D. MCCOURY: Everybody's got to hot wire something, you know?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, we're going out to get back to that song.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Del, you obviously play with some of the best in bluegrass. Your banjo picker and your mandolin player are internationally renowned. And, I guess, for people who don't know, I'm talking about Rob and Ronnie McCoury - your sons.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Ronnie, I want to bring you into this conversation.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you know you'd pick up a mandolin and join the family business?

R. MCCOURY: No, not really. I can probably speak for my brother, too. We just started at the age about 9 years old on instruments. And then I gravitated to the mandolin at 13. And I really only played it about six months. And my dad asked me to play in the band because he didn't have a mandolin player in the band at the time. It was a vacant spot. And it was kind of - I would say a sink-or-swim type thing. But once you get that bug, you can't really shake it.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You play together all over the country as a family. It's kind of, like, one long family road trip, I guess.

R. MCCOURY: (Laughter) Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm curious. I want to hear some stories, you know?

R. MCCOURY: (Laughter).

D. MCCOURY: Well, you know, Lulu, my wife goes along, too. And it is a family thing now, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who keeps the peace?

D. MCCOURY: Well, now she holds the stick that keeps the peace.


D. MCCOURY: She just let everybody run, you know?

R. MCCOURY: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, is that true, Ronnie?

R. MCCOURY: Pretty much, yeah. But, you know, honestly, after all these years, I just really can't think of a time that we ever had any kind of problem at all. But, you know, my dad's really a pretty easygoing fellow. And I'm sure when we were younger, he turned his back a little bit...


R. MCCOURY: ...To some things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And now with this record, there's a third generation of McCourys playing with the band. I want to listen to a little bit of "Hot Wired."


THE DEL MCCOURY BAND: (Singing) She climbed upon a ladder, hotwired my ceiling fan. When she came back down to earth again, she hotwired. her man. Hotwired. Hotwired. Hotwired. Wired her man, hotwired.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Ronnie, I have to ask you, who's that on the electric guitar?

R. MCCOURY: Well, that's my oldest. His name is actually Heaven McCoury.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and how old is he?

R. MCCOURY: He's 20 years old. He's 20.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty years old.

R. MCCOURY: Uh-huh.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And did he have to audition, or how did you get him in there?

R. MCCOURY: I didn't. Dad did. He said...

D. MCCOURY: Yeah, what happened in the beginning, you know, with this particular song, there was a word or two I couldn't understand from the...

R. MCCOURY: The original.

D. MCCOURY: ...The original, yeah. And Heaven dropped by there one day. And I said listen and tell me what these words are. Him and Josh (ph) both - his brother. And so - oh, he figured out real quick. His ears must better than mine.


D. MCCOURY: So I said, look, do you want to play on this? And so he remembered that, and he came in the studio. And he played that with us, you know? Oh, he just knocked it dead.


R. MCCOURY: Yeah, he's good. I guess he is good.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do your other kids play, too?

R. MCCOURY: Well, not really. Not a whole lot. My middle son plays a little bit of bass. He's not quite as interested in it. My daughter played the piano and the flute. And she's kind of laid it aside. She's 14. You know, it's a different time now than, in some ways, when we started with my dad. We didn't work as much as we do now. Back when we started, Lulu - when I started, my dad was still working.


R. MCCOURY: He was working in the woods. He was a logger. And my mother, then - she also worked in a factory. And then I graduated high school in 1985. And I think that's the year that my dad quit working in the woods because we were doing well enough then being on the road. But when we really made the jump in 1992 to Nashville and got into it and started working - and now we play a lot. You know, we're gone a lot. And it's something that's - got to have in you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, that it true.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Del and Ronnie McCoury. The album "Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass" is out now. Thank you both so much.

R. MCCOURY: Thank you.

D. MCCOURY: Thank you, Lulu.


THE DEL MCCOURY BAND: (Singing) Well, you tell me you've got troubles, that you're feeling low down. You say you've got more problems than anybody else in town. Well, friend, I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't feel so sad because things could be worse. Lord, you could be me, and, buddy, that's bad. Because I could tell you things about my life, man, you just could not believe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.