Stories

5 Reasons Why Everybody Loves Del McCoury

February 1, 2019

The Grand Ole Opry is honoring Del McCoury with a special Wednesday night “Grand Del Opry” on February 13, 2019 in celebration of the bluegrass icon’s 80th birthday.

By Katie Quine • Photo by Chris Hollo • February 1, 2019

1. Even the patron saint of bluegrass wanted Del in his band.

Bill Monroe, known as “The Father of Bluegrass,” recruited McCoury to become one of his “Blue Grass Boys” in 1963. After playing the banjo with Monroe at a few different gigs, McCoury was hired as the band’s guitarist and lead singer. He played with Monroe for a year when he landed his first record deal, which marked the beginning of his successful career as a solo artist.

2. He’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy.

Even as his musical career took off, McCoury kept his day job until the mid 1980s, working in logging and construction until his children were grown. (His two sons, Ronnie and Rob, are both in the Del McCoury Band.) His working class roots were influential in shaping some of his music. His 2008 project Moneyland was groundbreaking and included a reimagined rendition of “Breadline Blues 1932” called “Breadline Blues 2008” as well as collaborative songs that featured the likes of Merle Haggard and fellow Opry member Marty Stuart.

3. His musicianship is constantly evolving.

Del has never fit neatly into any box. He’s collaborated with a disparate who’s who of musicians, from country’s Vince Gill and Dierks Bentley to Jon Fishman of Phish and Steve Earle. Many have named him an inspiration, including the late Jerry Garcia. “I’ve just been trying to sing like Del McCoury all my life,” Garcia was once quoted as saying in a Rolling Stone article. McCoury’s music resonates far beyond bluegrass. The late Woody Gutherie’s family even asked that McCoury complete and record the unfinished songs written by the folk legend. Del & Woody was released in 2016.

4. His “Del Heads” are fiercely loyal.

McCoury’s dynamic artistry has earned him a legion of fans of all ages who call themselves “Del Heads.” Whether they first listened to him at a music festival like Bonnaroo or have been following him since his early days playing the Grand Ole Opry, they’re fans all the same. Their love for him has nothing to do with his Grammy Awards or 31(!) International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, it’s about knowing good music when you hear it.

5. His coif is incomparable.

Real talk: How can someone have such an immaculate head of hair? We’d recognize that iconic pompadour this side of anywhere.