The Del McCoury Band, headed by 66-year-old patriarch Del McCoury, is back on tour to promote their new release, The Company We Keep. The album, released under the family’s new record label, McCoury Music, features familial relations – Del’s sons Ronnie and Rob play mandolin and banjo, respectively, in his five-piece outfit.
On Friday evening at The Ark, The Del McCoury Band will play pure bluegrass, inspired by the genre’s founders and McCoury’s teachers – Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Despite the fact that McCoury has played for more than 30 years, he only obtained this level of recognition with his band in the past decade. The group won four Best Male Vocalist awards and three Best Album awards in the ’90s from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
McCoury said he can’t explain the recent popularity of the band or the genre. “You’ve heard the expression, ‘Every dog has its day,’ and bluegrass is having its day now. God knows why.
“I never figured it out, but there are probably a lot of things that point to this. The movie (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) helped a lot. They released a single and that song they chose was a great song, and it helped us a lot. It was the pure thing,” he added.
The Del McCoury band has also gained a large fanbase from cultish jam-band followers after their collaborations with groups such as Phish. McCoury finds his concert audiences have become a mix of bluegrass purists and long-haired, half-baked contemporary counterculturists.
“I tell you the truth,” he said. “When some of those jam bands used to come to my shows when they were young, before they were in a band, they were fans. Then they grew up and wanted us to play at their (performances), and that’s kind of the reason we have been playing a lot of those things. The jam band community has kind of accepted us.”
McCoury noticed through his concerts that this younger generation not only appreciates his present work, but have also gone back to explore his older material. He often gets requests during his concerts for songs he recorded 30 years ago. He said this is what makes his live performances exciting. McCoury rarely ever enters a show with a set list; instead, he caters to his audience.
“We mostly do all-request shows; we have no idea what we’re going to do when we walk on the stage,” he said. “I try to do some of the new things, but then I say we’d like to take requests and they start hollerin’. It’s more exciting for the audience, the band and me to do things we aren’t expecting to do. It makes for a really live show, mistakes and all.”
The Company We Keep is a record close to McCoury’s heart, the work of a man who treasures his family and all those who worked so hard to make the group a success. He likes the idea of carrying on the tradition of bluegrass music; teaching his grandkids to play bluegrass is “just a natural thing to do, and sooner or later, they’ll be the ones on stage and I’ll be sittin’ down somewhere,” he said.
The tradition of bluegrass is what draws McCoury to its sound the most. He said as long as he’s alive, the tradition of bluegrass music will remain alive. McCoury also pointed out that all rock stems from his genre – that Chuck Berry’s licks are simply an electrified version of Bill Monroe’s mandolin picking. He is confident that today’s musicians will similarly follow his band’s influence.
“That’s what inspired me in the beginning – Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs,” McCoury said. “I think God said, ‘Well, if I’m going to introduce bluegrass music, I’m going to get the best musicians there are.’ And this tradition is what really attracts me to the music. I can’t see myself setting up a band with anything but that sound.”