Neal McCoy— You Don’t Know Me — A Whole New Voice

| February 10, 2016 | 2 Replies

Originally published in February issue, Buddy Magazine, all photos are courtesy

Neal McCoy

Neal McCoy

Mary Jane Farmer, Scene In Town

When you’ve listened to a musician for decades, taking in his hit-making, award-winning, neo-traditionalist honky tonk songs, you think you know him well. That’s what Texas baritone Neal McCoy has shown the world since winning a talent contest in 1981. Country music icon Janie Fricke was in the audience and apparently was so impressed with McCoy that she helped him get on tour with Charley Pride. A few years later, McCoy began touring on his own. It wasn’t until several more years that he had back-to-back hits in “No Doubt About It” and “Wink.”

OK, so you know all that, that’s all in Wikipedia and in just about every interview McCoy has given — so you think you now know Neal McCoy.

Well, maybe think again. His latest CD, You Don’t Know Me, is a fresh new look at this hit-maker. You Don’t Know Me consists of 13 songs, all hits from decades before McCoy even entered that talent show. “I’m this guy also.”Neal playing pool up closer bw

The title cut is perhaps the most recent song and the only country song in this collection, recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1956. “Because I am known for country music, it needed this song,” he said. “We put some strings and horns and a few singers in the background.”

The other 12 songs are creations of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, jazzy, bluesy songs written by Lerner & Loewe, Cole Porter, and others of that ilk. They’ve all been major hits by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin.

So, what’s it like to switch from pure country to pure swing/jazz/blues/pop with one album project? Well, let’s get to know a little more about the artist who accomplished just that.

McCoy said this is the album he’s always wanted to make. “I started with this kind of music before switching over to country,” the neo-crooner elucidated. He sought out the attention Houston’s Don Sanders, who recognized and shared the passion. Over lunch, McCoy said he dreamt out loud, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if Steve Tyrell would produce it!” Sanders picked up the phone and called Tyrell.

But, that didn’t seal the deal. McCoy said that, at first, Tyrell said he didn’t have time. “But, send me something so I can hear this guy.” McCoy sent him a recording he’d done with Les Brown Jr. for a PBS TV special and when Tyrell heard it, he “called Don back and said he’d like to do something with us.”

So, the preparations began with tickets to L.A. It had to happen there because “the country music industry doesn’t know how to bring this kind of music across,” McCoy said. It takes a producer who can put the right musicians together. “Tyrell got those guys who played with Frank Sinatra and such stuff. And, not just me, as the singer, but the producer needs to understand what it’s about — lyrics and phrasing — and be able to interpret it, to deliver it.”

Neal McCoy

Neal McCoy

One song that had to be included is McCoy’s mother’s favorite, “It’s Been A Long Long Time,” a song written in 1932 and popularized during World War II. “That’s about guys who were sent off to the war and greeted with a kiss when they got home.” And “my mother sang that to me as a child.”

Another no-brainer was the song he sang at a dinner club in Longview, where he crooned it to the woman who became his wife. “She wasn’t familiar with that music, and it has grown on her,” he said, adding that for a long time now, the Dean Martin hit “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” has been their song. “It makes more sense now, because I have grown accustomed to her face.”

One of McCoy’s own favorites he describes as “music that takes a picture, that puts you in a place.” And at this point in the interview, McCoy began singing almost as much as he conversed in the more traditional style. Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” “When people who have lost someone either through relationship or death, that’s when you think about them the most,” he said, softly.

This writer’s favorite — there’s 13 favorites here — include “I Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” because of the emotion in McCoy’s voice, and the trombone solo, pure passionate production.

“It’s my favorite album I’ve ever done. It’s true,” Neal said with a smile that verified he was speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Getting to know Neal McCoy a little better

Neal and his wife, Melinda, have been married since 1981. They have two children, Swayde and Miki, and two grandchildren, and they all live near enough to stay in close contact.

When asked what his friends say they appreciate the most about him, McCoy answered:

Neal McCoy

Neal McCoy

“They say I’m still a person. You can go be successful and some people have done it the right way. We can lay our heads down at night a little easier, believing we’ve set a example for a lot of folks. We tried to do the right thing, and not be a clown, and still represent the industry. (Current country headliners) Lee Brice and Tyler Farr tell me they hope they are still doing it when they get my age. ‘You’ve done it right, you’ve built your audience, and people know you are easy to deal with, and we want to be you when…’ and that’s really sweet.

“But, it takes a lot of work being that person. People want to say hello at the shows, and even out at the stores. And it takes a lot of your time to not slough them off. My family deserves a lot of the credit, too.”

Talking about songwriting, McCoy said, “I write a little bit, but I’m not really good at it. There are a lot of great songwriters out there, and I leave it up to them.”

He’s big on charities. McCoy was one who helped an impromptu fundraiser for Rockwall area tornado victims, held at Southern Junction in the hard-hit area.

Jolie Holliday and Sonny Burgess asked me to come up to help raise money. They said, ‘With your name, we might can get more people in the door. Just sing a few songs and goof around.’ That’s exactly what we did. They (Jolie and Sonny) are really good friends and anything they believe in, I believe in.”

He heads up a charity called the East Texas Angel Network, which helps provide money for families of seriously-ill children. He explained how that came about, saying, he was playing a benefit in Arizona in the early 1990s where he met a 9-year-old boy with bone marrow cancer. “He hit me right in the heart. I felt guilty. And so, 21 years ago, we started the Angel Network.” It’s about helping where the help is needed most, he continued, “sometimes even keeping the electricity on or putting a lift for a child’s family van, or providing gasoline money for transportation. So far, we’ve helped more than 600 families.”

The majority of the funds come from a yearly concert he and his Nashville cronies put on at the Belcher Center in his hometown, Longview, and have featured in the past Martina

Neal McCoy

Neal McCoy

McBride, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Diffie, all giving their time. It’s a “If you’ll come sing at my benefit concert, I’ll come sing at yours” kind of trade-off. Win-win. The next one will be September 24.

About Nashville v Texas music, “Because of my age, I missed the Texas music stage. I spent my time around the U.S. and the world.” No brag, just fact. He’s a big fan of Josh Weathers. “I love him, he’s terrific.” But, when he’s at home, that’s where he is — at home. “I don’t think it is right for me to come in (from a tour) and go out to go hear music.”

And speaking of being on the road, McCoy said his favorite place to play is “Where the troops are.” He’s traveled on 15 U.S.O. tours in the Middle East, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, England.. “anywhere I get to hug a troop or shake a hand or sing them a song means the world to me.”

This year, Neal started posting the words to the Pledge of Allegiance” along with encouragement to repeat it, and questions of his followers as to where they are when they read that — every morning on his Facebook page. “I think it’s something the world has forgotten, and we need to bring it back.”

In the U.S., McCoy’s favorite place to play is the Hodag Country Festival in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. “I’ll be there this year for the 27th year, 22 years in a row. They are the greatest fans, because they are so passionate about whatever they do. That includes drinking and football — and country music. There will be 30,000 people there, all listening, and screaming and hollering and clapping. No audience could be any better anywhere.”

So, what is a perfect day for this hit-maker? He answered that question by saying, “I’m having one right now. I’m at home. I got my workout in this morning- gotta keep my girlish figure and I work out a lot. I fed the dogs. The grandkids are coming over after a while. And I’m talking with a nice lady right now about my albums.” To unwind from those 200 shows he’s still playing every year, McCoy said he likes “to play a little golf, fish a little, shoot a few guns, and that’s about all.”

You Don’t Know Me isn’t released yet, except through hard-copy CD purchases from his Website, NealMcCoy.com, or at his live shows, which are also listed on the Website. “We don’t have a date to release it yet,” he explained. “We are trying to figure out if we are going to promote it ourselves or shop it to a label.

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  1. Jerrie Spath says:

    Enjoyed reading your article and listening to your last CD.

  2. Candy Aurand says:

    The album is great. If you haven’t heard it, you really need to run on out and get it. His voice is truly accented in this album and it is one of a kind. Be sure to see a show when he is in your area as well. You won’t regret it and chances are you will become hooked like I have!

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