When McCoury isn't home, he's on the road, doing what he loves most -- entertaining people with bluegrass music. He regularly plays the Grand Ole Opry and has also been on "A Prairie Home Companion." After 50 years in the music business, McCoury is still trying new things. His most recent project was recording some tracks with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. His bluegrass festival, DelFest, celebrates its third year on Memorial Day weekend in Cumberland, Md.
He said he never expects awards, but he has won dozens including several International Bluegrass Music Association Awards and a Grammy. He was awarded the Artist of the Year award from the Pennsylvania Governor's Awards for the Arts in April 2010 in York.
McCoury said he's looking forward to coming back to the place where he learned to play the banjo. He might even play a few licks on his Martin Del McCoury 50th Anniversary Custom Artist Edition D-18.
You said you were taping your Sirius XM Radio show earlier today. How long have you been doing that? I've done about . . . 180 of them I think now. We do one a week, so it's been a while I guess. Earlier this morning, I went down to the Bill Cody show. He has a show in The Country Music Hall of Fame . . . I think every Friday. I went down and did a few numbers with him live, which I hardly ever do. Today, I was down there at about 9 a.m. It's hard singing that early. (Laughs) I tell you my voice . . . hardly ever lets me down. At DelFest last year . . . I could feel this little tickle in my throat. I have to sing with a lot of acts that come in. From the (first day) on, it was downhill. By Sunday, I couldn't sing anything. The last time I can remember that happening to me before that was, gosh, 20 years ago, I guess.
Is there anything you do to preserve your voice and health while you are touring? I just turned 71. The only thing (I do is) take vitamins. Up until a month ago, I never took any kind of (prescription). Now, I take a blood pressure pill. I'm in pretty good shape. I don't know if that helps my vocals or not. I always get excited before I go on. I guess that's part of it too.
You'll be in York Thursday for the Governor's Awards for the Arts. Do you remember when you found out you won Artist of the Year? My manager told me something about this about a month ago. I got a personal letter from the first lady . . . Judge (Marjorie) Rendell. Boy, this is serious stuff. I'm really honored. (I) go through life and. . . I just go play shows. I stay so busy that I don't think about awards and all. I've received a lot of awards (from the International Bluegrass Society). It's always a great honor and a surprise.
Are you looking forward to coming back to the place where you started playing music? You know, I grew up on farm . . . between Thomasville and Abbottstown right off Route 30 there. We moved around quite a bit, but my dad bought this farm there . . . and he said he'd go into dairy farming. We had a whole bunch of cattle and dairy cows. (My mother) played the piano, the organ, the guitar (and) the harmonica. I learned to play the guitar when I was about 9. My older brother, G.C.,-- he still lived in York County there -- he taught me some chords on the guitar, and I played with him. He bought a record . . . and I heard Earl Scruggs playing banjo . . . and I thought, boy, I want to do this. It took me forever . . . but I learned to play. We went to a Baptist church over there in Seven Valleys, and we . . . had a quartet in the church. That was probably my first time to perform in front of people. I got a job with a guy in Baltimore playing banjo named Jack Cooke. He was an ex-Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys guitar player. Baltimore was a hotbed for our type of music in the late '50s. In those days, bluegrass and country -- they called it hillbilly -- was all kind of lumped together. I got to meet Bill Monroe through?through (Jack), and Bill offered me a job to come to Nashville and play with his band. That's kind of the way I got started in professional music.
I guess bluegrass runs in the McCoury blood since your sons are musicians, too. When they were little, I had a band . . . in the late '60s. I had these instruments at home, and they'd pick them up and try to play them. I hardly had time to sit down and show them note by note. I'd just show them little things to get them straightened out. That's kind of the way they learned. Ronnie won mandolin player of the year for . . . eight years in a row (from the International Bluegrass Music Association). His mentor was Bill Monroe, and one year (Monroe) was at the awards show and (Ronnie) won the mandolin player of the year . . . and instead of accepting it, he walked right off the stage and walked back to Bill and handed it to (him). Later on Rob, my other son . . . played bass with me. Then, my banjo player quit, and Rob had played banjo since he was 9 years old . . . so I said, "OK . . . you're going to switch from bass to banjo." He got really good.
You've toured the world. Is bluegrass prevalent in different countries? I don't think this music was international until the middle '60s. We started having bluegrass festivals, and we were drawing big crowds. There was one in Northern Virginia . . . right on the Shenandoah River . . . that was one of the first . . . in the north. There was one in North Carolina. Once they established those two festivals, I started seeing people coming from different countries like Japan and from all over Europe. The festivals started spreading all over the country. It kind of popularized the music all over the world. My band kind of started at those festivals.
Did you ever think that you'd have your own festival? I had thought about it years ago, but I didn't want the responsibility. After I moved to Nashville, I got a manager kind of accidentally and new booking agent. (Managers) are always thinking about things for you to do that are new. (We) looked at several sites, even one in York. We started in Cumberland, Md. It was the first place we looked at. When I saw the Allegany County Fairgrounds, I said, "I like this place." It's right on the Potomac River. I thought it was fairly close to where I used to live . . . in York. It kind of fit. That town is kind of depressed. They used to have all kinds of industries, and then it all went downhill, so they needed something to boost the city. We give back to the community. It's working great. I just wish we could move York there. We . . . teach mandolin, fiddle, bass and banjo about three days before the festival starts. It shows a lot of the younger people (about bluegrass). It's just like an academy.
You recently celebrated 50 years in music. What are you going to do for the next 50 years? I don't know. I guess we'll have to find out. (The band) kind of depended on me for their living. We thought we should get these guys out on their own doing their own things . . . for a couple weeks a month. (They) play under the name of The Travelin' McCourys. They have another thing that they do with a band called The Lee Boys from down in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It's a sacred steel band they call it. One's a steel (guitar) player, one's an electric guitar player and one's a drummer. See, then my boys have to plug in, and it gives them something different.
Are you going to play for the audience Thursday at the Governor's Awards for the Arts? You know, I don't know. It's kind of hard for me to do what I do without my whole band. I'd kind of like to (play).