The Core: Del McCoury
Del McCoury on recording with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, meeting Jerry Garcia and jamming with Phish
Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Ben Jaffe asked me to play on a benefit CD he was making a few years ago, and we got to talking about recording with both our bands. That’s the way [the record] American Legacies came about. We went down to New Orleans and jammed with them at Preservation Hall and then we played a date with them in San Rafael, Calif. After that show, we went down to San Francisco and recorded for about three days. We recorded about 14 songs and then we got the tracks back here [in here in Nashville] because it will come out on my label. I got my engineer to mix it but we weren’t sure about the horns, so we called Earl Scioneaux III to come up from New Orleans. He came up here and mixed the horns and it made a big difference. We have it out as an LP—I haven’t done an LP since the ‘80s and we pressed 500 of them.
Grand Marshal McCoury
Though I had heard of it and played blues clubs in New Orleans, I had never actually been to Preservation Hall until I went down and sang those few numbers for that benefit album. Actually, I’d never been to Mardi Gras until this year either. When the LP came out, they wanted me to come down and be in their parade—they made me grand marshal in their parade. And I said, “Well, look this might work out good ‘cause I can bring these LPs down [and] we don’t have to ship them.” [Laughs.]
New York State of Mind
I’ve been playing New York City since I went up there [as part of] Bill Monroe’s band in 1963. That was my first time there and I still have fans from that time. Of course, they’re getting old like me, you know? [Bill Monroe] took me up there because he didn’t have a banjo player. That’s the reason I was a banjo player back in those days. He took me up there and offered me a job. When I accepted the job, he said, “Look, I need a guitar player and a lead singer worse than anything.” He wanted me to try that and [that’s how I ended up as a singer and guitarist].
I’m trying to slow down but it looks like I’m getting more work than I want. [Laughs.] I still feel good but I just kept thinking, “A person never knows.” I’m 72 now and I never know when I might want to slow down or I might have to slow down. So we got to thinking, “We should get our boys out on the road, get their feet wet and get the feel of running things.” And, man, they’re busy—they really are—playing in the Travelin’ McCourys. But our agents work together so that we don’t have any collisions.
I played a festival in Virginia in the late ‘60s. David Grisman was going to play the next day. I was just getting ready to leave ‘cause I had to go somewhere else and play the following day and David said to me, “Hey, I want you to meet my new banjo player.” It was this young, thick, black-headed boy. It was Jerry Garcia. Before he started playing his style of music, he was playing banjo. But I never saw him again until years later. My first introduction [to the jamband scene] might have been through Phish. They recorded a song I wrote and then they wanted us to come play their festival up there in Oswego, N.Y. I found out that all those jambands had come to my shows before they ever started having their own bands. They’d come to some of those bluegrass festivals in Colorado or up in the Northeast—that’s how they knew who I was. And when they got their own bands, they wanted me to come and play at their places.
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