Jazz Fest Minutes: The Legendary Del McCoury
Bluegrass Hall of Famer Del McCoury’s folks came from the mountains of western North Carolina, but he grew up on a farm in York County, Pennsylvania, less than an hour’s drive from Baltimore.
“My dad and my older brother listened to the Grand Ol’ Opry every Saturday night,” McCoury said. It was before television, in the middle- to late-1940s.
“At a young age I heard Earl Scruggs, and that’s what got me into music.”
McCoury had already learned a little guitar from his older brother — who had learned it from their mother — when, inspired by Earl Scruggs, he took up banjo. And, thanks to his dad, soon acquired one.
“My dad knew a guy who had an old banjo; he didn’t play it, and so he borrowed it from that guy because I kept talking to my dad about getting me one. And he said, ‘I know a guy who’s got one. He don’t even play it.’ And, after a while, that guy started owing him money for something, so we got a banjo out of the deal,” he said. “It wasn’t a good one, but you could play it.”
Before long, McCoury started singing in a gospel quartet with his brother, cousin and their preacher at the local missionary Baptist church.
“That was the first time I sang in public, was in church, he said. “And so I found out, you know, that you don’t just play, you have to sing, too. And in every band I’ve been in, before I went with Bill Monroe, I had to sing a part of some kind.”
McCoury said it was easy for him to sing. “From an early age I understood how to sing any part.”
Del McCoury sang lead and switched to guitar when he joined the Bill Monroe band for a year in 1963. And he’s been doing it ever since.
The Del McCoury band jams with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Jazz Fest, Saturday, May 5.