Rob McCoury releases The 5-String Flame Thrower

Rob McCoury releases his first solo album, The 5-String Flame Thrower.  

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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 at 75!

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 !

 

del at 75

THE DEL MCCOURY BAND PICKS UP THEIR SECOND GRAMMY FOR “THE STREETS OF BALTIMORE”

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!”

Del McCoury Band announce involvement in “There’s A World of Song” to benefit Music Lab

Music Lab at  Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Va. today announced the release of the There’s A World of Song single, available Friday, Jan. 24, on iTunes, Amazon, Google Music, Shazam, and more.

Video of There’s a World of Song

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.

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McCoury Music & High Sierra Music announce dates for Delfest 2014

2013 has almost left us, and if we have learned anything this year, it’s that time moves fast and DelFest will be here before we know it. We are thrilled to announce the dates for the 7th Annual DelFest in Cumberland, Maryland – Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-25, 2014!

A limited pre-sale of specially discounted 4-day Passes will go on-sale at Noon EST on Tuesday, January 14th.  In years past, pre-sale tickets have moved very quickly. The general on-sale, including DELuxe Experience Packages, RV and Parking Passes, Kids Passes, and DelFest Academy will be announced and available shortly thereafter, with a lineup announcement early next year.

DelFest 2014 will once again be held at the beautiful Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, MD (2.5 hrs from Baltimore and DC).  The festival originated from the desire to create a family-friendly music festival with a down home feel that celebrates the rich legacy of McCoury music while creating a forum for world-class musical collaborations as well as showcasing fresh new talent. Produced in association with High Sierra Music, the 7th Annual DelFest will again offer a quality festival experience stamped with the unique McCoury touch.  Personally chosen by Del, the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, MD serves as the perfect location for DelFest. Nestled along the Potomac River in the scenic Appalachian Mountains, the Fairgrounds are convenient to four major airports and easily reached by rail or road.

In addition to traditional stage sets by world-class artists, attendees can again expect to see one-of-a-kind collaborations, special guest sit-ins, various tributes to Del McCoury and his musical legacy, intimate appearances both at unique “playshops”(informal workshops where the emphasis will be on performance rather than instruction) and in late night indoor performances and picking sessions. DelFest will also include a band competition, with the winners being invited to return for a regular set at the following year’s gathering, and for the sixth year, Delfest will be immediately preceded by a 3-day Music Academy hosted by The Travelin’ McCourys, where all levels of musicians can learn from some of the best pickers in the world (the Academy will take place the week leading into the festival).

delfest 2014

The Streets of Baltimore nominated for a 2013 GRAMMY AWARD

The Streets of Baltimore nominated for a 2013 GRAMMY AWARD, Best Bluegrass Album

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The Del McCoury Band has garnered critical acclaim for their latest effort, The Streets of Baltimore and the album was just nominated in the Best Bluegrass Album category for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, which will be airing live on CBS January 26th, 2014. This gives the Del McCoury Band a chance to add a second Grammy to their collection-having won in this same category back in 2005. It also marks Del’s tenth Grammy nomination.

It’s not hard to see how the new album is shaped by the musical memories acquired and lessons learned starting back in McCoury’s Baltimore days.  For one thing, as a reminder of how tightly entwined bluegrass and country music were at the time, there’s a healthy dose of songs from the country repertoire, including the title track (a 1966 country hit for Bobby Bare), “Too Many Rivers” (a crossover hit for Brenda Lee in 1965 and recorded by dozens of country singers at the time) and “Once More With Feeling,” a massive hit for Jerry Lee Lewis that reminds us that McCoury and his band were called on to perform in honor of The Killer’s induction into the Rock Hall of Fame a few years ago.  And while pop and jazz fans know “Misty” as an entry in the “Great American Songbook,” Del and the boys give an affectionate here nod to country singer and humorist Ray Stevens, whose banjo-driven version of the song scraped the top of the country charts nearly 40 years ago.

The Del McCoury Band:

Del McCoury (guitar, vocals)

Ronnie McCoury (mandolin)

Rob McCoury (banjo)

Jason Carter (fiddle)

Alan Bartram (bass)

Del McCoury Band to join String Cheese Incident on New Years Eve in Denver

Del with Cheese NYE 2013We are so excited to announce that we will be joining our good friends The String Cheese Incident in Denver on New Years Eve! We hope you will join us as we ring in 2014 and help the String Cheese family celebrate 20 years of making music!

A note from String Cheese:

When we started 20 years ago, it was bluegrass that filled the setlists.  We are over the top excited to announce that the most awarded bluegrass band in history will open and play with us on New Year’s Eve. The Del McCoury Band is joining us on December 31st to celebrate 20 years of The String Cheese Incident. Del and the boys have been welcomed guests at many Incidents in the past, and we’re thrilled to have them on hand for our big night on NYE!

Nearly 20 years ago, a “bluegrass” band formed in the small ski towns of the Colorado Rockies. Two decades later, The String Cheese Incident will kick off their 20th Anniversary Celebration with a 3-night New Year’s run at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, CO. This will be the ultimate celebration of the life of the band, highlighted by special guest appearances, vintage relics from SCI’s past, and more!

SCI DMB NYE

Mitchell County Highway Named in Honor of Bluegrass Legend Del McCoury

Mitchell County Highway Named in Honor of Bluegrass Legend Del McCoury

October 26th, 2013 Ceremony Planned

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury will become a part of Mitchell County lore when a stretch of Hwy. 261 north of Bakersville bears his name. A ceremony to commemorate the naming of the road will take place on Oct. 26 starting at 9:30 a.m. at Lavonia Crest north of Bakersville.

 

McCoury, guitarist, a lead vocalist, and leader of the Del McCoury Band, is scheduled to attend the event, as well as North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. “He is world-famous in bluegrass and has a childhood connection with Mitchell County,” said Mitchell County Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Slagle.

 

McCoury was born in York, Pa., but both his parents and his wife’s parents are Mitchell County natives. “Del McCoury has deep roots in WNC,” said Mitchell County Chamber Director Shirley Hise. “He is related to a lot of folks here. He is one of the most accomplished and renowned bluegrass musicians in the United States.” Hise said McCoury identifies with the community and with the state of North Carolina.

 

“McCoury’s name is synonymous with bluegrass,” said Angie Chandler, Executive Director of Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership, which is collaborating with counties in Western North Carolina and the North Carolina Arts Council to develop the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina.

 

“Our mountains and foothills have a national reputation as a music-rich region, and our traditions of old-time string band music, ballad singing, and bluegrass are internationally renowned,” she said. “No other area of the country has had more impact on the development of the banjo as a bluegrass instrument than here in Western North Carolina. Del McCoury has exemplified that musical heritage through his 50-year career, his ability to appeal to younger and older audiences, and his innovation of various musical styles.”

 

McCoury is honored by the attention. He said he has a National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and is in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, but this is something more. “It is a great honor to have a road named after you,” he said. “That stands forever.”

 

McCoury said he wished his father were alive to see the highway get named for him.

He himself never lived in Mitchell County, but he did get to visit quite a bit. His father’s family was from Glen Ayre and his mother’s family was from Buladean.

 

McCoury traces his musical heritage back to his family. He remembers a tale about his mom’s father playing fiddle at the Cloudland Hotel, which was located at the top of Roan Mountain, and said the lore is part of his family heritage. “I’ve heard my kin folks talk about all those things,” he said.

The Del McCoury Band announces the release of "The Streets of Baltimore" on September 17!

The Del McCoury Band Releases

The Streets of Baltimore

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Available in Stores and online September 17

“The picture on the cover, that’s Broadway in Baltimore, maybe back around the time I started playing in the clubs,” Del McCoury says with a smile.  Then he adds, just before breaking into his signature, eyebrow-wiggling laugh, “Back then, you could get anything you needed down there—and a lot of things you didn’t need, too!”

It’s a long way from his apprenticeship in those Baltimore honky tonks in the late 1950s to his stature as the ultimate bluegrass ambassador today, but Del McCoury’s negotiated the path with enough perseverance, humility, good humor, adventurousness—not to mention talent and enthusiasm—to last a lifetime.  Along the way, he’s earned not just the applause, but the passionate devotion of fans ranging from old-timers who remember those early days to country aficionados drawn in by his collaborations with Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels and Vince Gill to tie-dye-clad youngsters who’ve just learned about him from hearing artists like Phish and the Yonder Mountain String Band rave about—and perform—his music.

And lest you think that the open-mindedness that’s led McCoury into so many surprising collaborations and contexts comes from the younger generation, heed the words of Ronnie McCoury, who says of The Streets Of Baltimore, “That one’s all Dad’s!”  And indeed, with sons Ronnie and Rob and their Del McCoury Band colleagues Jason Carter and Alan Bartram spending more time touring as The Travelin’ McCourys, the job of choosing songs for the album fell squarely on Del’s shoulders—and judging by the results, it’s clear that Del McCoury’s as creatively inspired as ever.

Where the Del McCoury Band’s last two projects—2012’s tribute to Bill Monroe (Old Memories) and 2011’s collaboration with the Preservation Hall Band, American Legacies —were built around themes, The Streets Of Baltimore shows McCoury and his award-winning band at their most relaxed and free-form.  “I just put together a group of songs that I liked,” says Del.  “And then we got into the studio and tried to make them sound good!”

Still, it’s not hard to see how the new album is shaped by the musical memories acquired and lessons learned starting back in McCoury’s Baltimore days.  For one thing, as a reminder of how tightly entwined bluegrass and country music were at the time, there’s a healthy dose of songs from the country repertoire, including the title track (a 1966 country hit for Bobby Bare), “Too Many Rivers” (a crossover hit for Brenda Lee in 1965 and recorded by dozens of country singers at the time) and “Once More With Feeling,” a massive hit for Jerry Lee Lewis that reminds us that McCoury and his band were called on to perform when “The Killer” was honored in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters series a few years ago. And while pop and jazz fans know “Misty” as an entry in the “Great American Songbook,” Del and the boys give an affectionate nod here to country singer and humorist Ray Stevens, whose banjo-driven version of the song scraped the top of the country charts nearly 40 years ago.

But while there’s a lot of looking back on The Streets Of Baltimore, McCoury turned to some favorite contemporary writers, too, to keep things grounded in the here and now.  Long-time song supplier Mike O’Reilly is accounted for with the album’s opener, Shawn Camp and friends sent in the timeless waltz, “I Wanna Go Where You Go,” occasional co-writer Jerry Salley teamed up with Donna Ulisse for a gripping Civil War story and Verlon Thompson contributed the pensive meditation, “I Need More Time.” Del expands the circle, too, giving hit artists and songwriters Larry Cordle and Steve Wariner, along with Country Hall of Famer Bill Anderson, their first McCoury cuts.  There’s even room for a McCoury original that sports a characteristically generous, upbeat take on a fundamental gospel message.

Yet if McCoury cast a wide net to haul in the songs for this album, the performances are as distinctive, and as tightly focused as ever.  Years of constant musical companionship have made the Del McCoury Band among the most renowned ensembles in any kind of music, and every number on the album shows off their unmatched precision and empathy for the material.  Meanwhile, Del’s magnificent voice soars, whispers, pleads and rings out with just the right feeling for each song, recalling Jerry Lee Lewis’s slippery ways on “Once More With Feeling,” coloring the opening lines of “Butler Brothers” with foreboding and injecting the slightest tinge of nostalgia in tackling a bluegrass reworking of a doo-wop classic from his youth.

All in all, then, The Streets Of Baltimore is a masterful performance—exactly what one would expect from a close-knit, supremely talented group led by a man universally acknowledged as a national treasure.  It’s a long way from the streets of Baltimore to where Del McCoury’s music has taken him these days, but today, just as he was then, Del McCoury is right where he needs—and wants—to be.

 

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