Rob McCoury releases his first solo album, The 5-String Flame Thrower.
Digital (with immediate download of Jericho)
Strike up a conversation with Rob McCoury, and it won’t take long for you to realize that you’ve met one of the most easygoing musicians around—a guy who’s happy to chat with just about anyone on just about anything, or to just quietly watch and enjoy what’s going on around him. When he puts on his banjo picks, though, it’s another story. “My first love will always be traditional bluegrass,” he says with a smile. “When it’s right, there’s just nothing better. I love the simplicity of being able to take four or five guys, get ‘em out, tune ‘em up and play.” And when that happens, watch out, because in Rob McCoury’s hands, the banjo becomes just what the title of his album says: a five-string flamethrower.
Though The 5-String Flamethrower is McCoury’s first solo album, he’s hardly a newcomer. Indeed, there are only a few banjo players today who have been heard by as many audiences. As a member of the award-winning Del McCoury Band and its second-generation alter ego, the Travelin’ McCourys, he’s a gold-plated member of bluegrass music’s royalty. But while he cheerfully confesses that he’d been thinking about it for years—and laughingly adds that it took almost two years from start to finish—Rob was in no hurry to get the job done. And when he did, he made an album that seems likely to put an end to his status as the most under-appreciated yet highly visible banjo players around—and to do it, characteristically, by paying tribute to his banjo heroes, including his own father.
The tribute—though not the record itself—begins, logically enough, with Earl Scruggs, the player who started it all. McCoury blisters his “Foggy Mountain Chimes,” but also nods in his direction again by dishing up a relaxed version of “John Henry” that, like Scruggs’, is played out of the rarely-used D tuning. “Foggy Mountain Banjo is arguably the greatest banjo record ever made,” he says, “and Earl had a variety of stuff on there—‘Home Sweet Home’ in C tuning, and ‘John Henry’ in D. It’s one of the things that made him so great.”
Others to make the cut include Don Reno, who turns out to be one of the best-represented of the bunch with “Charlotte Breakdown,” “Banjo Riff” and, perhaps most memorably, “Feudin’ Banjos.” “When I started writing down all these tunes,” Rob says, “I kind of surprised myself. I looked the list over, and I spotted a lot of Don Reno tunes. Well, when you’re playing stuff a lot, you don’t always pay attention to where you might have learned it from, but I looked at that list and thought, I’m putting some Don Reno tunes on here. As a kid, it was Earl all the way, but as I got a little older and I started hearing these great Reno & Smiley records, I thought, some of that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The legendary Sonny Osborne shows up, too, both figuratively and literally, as Rob both recorded his “Siempre” (with brother Bobby Osborne on hand) along with the previously unrecorded “Jericho,” and momentarily enticed Sonny out of retirement to lay down the opening to “We Could.” So do recent Hall of Fame entrant J. D. Crowe (“Blackjack”), banjo buddy Larry Perkins (“Northwest Passage”) and another under-appreciated giant, Walter Hensley (“Sugar Creek”).
But while The 5-String Flamethrower puts Rob’s banjo front and center, it doesn’t neglect the other side of the banjo’s role in a bluegrass band—accompanying the vocals that lie at the music’s heart. Here, too, McCoury looks to his heroes—and again, his dad makes the list. Del’s rendition of “I’ve Lost You” serves to highlight Rob’s understanding of the lessons Scruggs taught in this regard, while “We Could,” sung by Bobby Osborne, not only drives home his mastery of them, but features his own vocal contribution, and does it on a song that’s near to his heart—the one played at his wedding to wife Lisa years ago.
“It’s crazy to have so many of my heroes in my address book,” Rob says, but while he may have gotten his introduction to them through his dad, his attitude—a unique combination of respect, friendliness and eagerness to learn—has turned the introductions into lasting friendships that give him a unique perspective. Indeed, whether he’s having a cup of coffee with Sonny or hanging out backstage with the likes of the guys in Leftover Salmon, the String Cheese Incident or with Keller Williams, Rob’s the same guy, one of just a handful equally at home in the center of bluegrass or out on its edges.
“I used every cut we recorded on this album,” Rob McCoury notes, and while that’s a little unusual—artists frequently “over-cut,” then pare down to the best of the bunch for the final selection—it’s typical of his no-nonsense approach, and emblematic of the justified confidence he has in his ability, and in the ability of his colleagues in the Del McCoury Band, to deliver. There are a lot of banjo players out there these days, but there’s only one Rob McCoury, and when he calls his banjo The 5-String Flamethrower, well, it lets you know exactly what you’re going to get.
Del doesn’t take his job, his good health, or his fans for granted. So in 2014, he’s gonna celebrate his 75th birthday by doing things a little differently. The festivals you see on the below map have been among his biggest supporters, this time around, he’ll be spending a couple days at each one – and he’s inviting you to come celebrate and spend some time with him. One of Del’s favorite things at Delfest has been to get on the golf cart, ride through the fairgrounds and just hang out with the fans. That interaction has inspired this idea, and we hope you’ll come wish him a Happy Birthday with us. Let’s celebrate Del being Del !
Last year, while in New Orleans, we had a chance to get “behind the mule” with Bloody Sunday Session. We loaded up the horse drawn carriage with all band members and instruments and played our way down the street ultimately causing a bit of a traffic jam. We had a lot of fun and we’re excited to release the video today! Check it out!
Del McCoury was already hard at work in Baltimore’s lively bluegrass music scene when the very first Grammy awards were presented more than 50 years ago, but you couldn’t tell it from the way he bounded up the steps to thank the Grammy voters for honoring his Del McCoury Band’s The Streets of Baltimore at Sunday’s glittering awards show. The trophy marked the group’s second 21st century Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album (as well as Del’s 10th nomination total), and for the silver-haired McCoury, who turns 75 in just a few days, it’s an especially sweet one.
“That’s really where I got my start, you know,” he says of the gritty, hard-working harbor town that provides the setting for the title track, an early ‘60s hit for country legend Bobby Bare around the time that McCoury left his nearby Pennsylvania home for a stint with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. “There were some great bands, and some great characters, that were working in the clubs those days, and I learned a lot about how to play this music from playing with them. Back then,” he adds, with his characteristic chuckle, “You could get anything you needed down there—and a lot of things you didn’t need, too!”
Yet while The Streets Of Baltimore was inspired by the milieu in which McCoury first honed the craft that would eventually lead him to worldwide acclaim as bluegrass music’s most genial—and most admired—ambassador, it’s hardly an exercise in nostalgia. To be sure, there are some songs like the title track that cast a backward glance, but the project is filled, too, with new contributions from masters like Larry Cordle, Shawn Camp and Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson. It’s all part of what helps keep Del and his band—sons Ronnie and Rob McCoury, fiddler Jason Carter and bass man Alan Bartram—not just among the most respected of bluegrass artists, but also among the music’s coolest.
“It really makes me feel good to see all the younger talent coming up in bluegrass,” Del notes. “You know, it was kind of an honor just to be nominated with all these great musicians; a lot of them weren’t even born when I was working back in Baltimore. It really keeps me on my toes to be out there with them. I think the music’s in as good a shape as it’s ever been, and I’m just thrilled to still be right in the middle of it all.”
Indeed, the McCoury group converged on the Grammy ceremony from several directions, as the younger members flew in from Georgia, where they’ve been touring with jamgrass favorites, the Yonder Mountain String Band. And sure enough, they’re heading back out on the road just as soon as they’ve caught their collective breath. “I am truly grateful for this Grammy award,” Del says with a laugh, “but you know, we’ve still got some shows to do!”
The single was recorded and produced inside Jefferson Center’s professional recording studio and arts education hub, Music Lab. All sales proceeds benefit Jefferson Center’s efforts to make music education available at the Music Lab to teens in grades 6-12 who want to learn music production, recording, performance, and all the basics of the music business.
Jefferson Center’s Executive Director, Cyrus Pace said, “There’s World of Song focused on building an original Darrell Scott song using voices from around our community and throughout the nation. We are honored that it showcases the collaboration and creative processes happening between artists from all over the world and students right here in Jefferson Center’s Music Lab.”
“Jefferson Center and its Music Lab are one of the most impressive music education programs available in the U.S. today,” said Darrell Scott. “It was important to find a way to help Music Lab grow in both education and students and I am pleased by the extraordinary group of musicians who said ‘yes’ when Dylan and I asked for their time and voices.”
“We are grateful for the support of artists who have performed at The Jefferson Center in recent years who came together to produce this single. There’s a World of Song demonstrates how a simple idea becomes a reality,” said Dylan Locke, Artistic Director for The Jefferson Center.
There’s a World of Song Participating Artists
Darrell Scott (creator), Tim O’Brien, Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Rob McCoury, Jason Carter, Alan Bartram, Marc Cary, Keith Thomas, Rene Marie, Blind Boys of Alabama, Kathy Mattea, Kim Davidson and the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, Janiah Allen, Michael League, Otu Kojo, Bukuru Celestin, Ephrazie Niyonzima, Elvanie Niyibigira, Furaha Ndayishimiye, Judi Jackson, Jeremy Wilder & Spirit of Life Choir, Chris Howard-Woods, Abby Cohen, and Motion Adrenaline.