The Bluest Man in Town
Source: Sounding Board Newsletter Vol 13 - Jul.. 2002
D-28DM (Del McCoury)
Del McCoury is "The Bluest Man in Town!" At least 17 songs, from his 14 albums/CDs, have "blues" in the title and many more have blues in the theme. Of course it doesn't stop with just words; his style is one of the bluesiest in Bluegrass music today. Man, that's a lot of blue!
Delano Floyd McCoury was born on February 1, 1939 in Bakersville, North Carolina, close to the Tennessee border. The McCoury family relocated to York County, Pennsylvania when Del was young. His earliest musical influences came from his mother who sang, played the guitar, the banjo and the piano. In 1950 his older brother GC brought home some 78 RPM records, one of which was Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs playing "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms." In his words, "I just couldn't leave that record alone. I wore it out!" Hearing that recording was a turning point in Del's life, and it began a lifelong love affair with Bluegrass Music. He soon decided to take up the banjo, but the banjo players he knew played clawhammer or frailing style, so he had to learn the 3 finger "Scruggs style" from records.
Throughout the late '50s and early '60s Del played in a number of groups around the Baltimore, Maryland, area including Jack Cooke's Virginia Playboys. Jack had been a Bluegrass Boy in Bill Monroe's band. In November of 1962 Bill Monroe dropped in on one of their shows. After the show he asked Del to fill in on banjo for a brief tour, and later that year Bill invited Del to become a full-time Bluegrass Boy. An audition was arranged in Nashville, but much to Del's surprise, when he arrived he was asked to audition on guitar and as a lead singer. "I thought it was strange. I had never even told him I could play one, even though that was the first thing I had learned as a kid." He took out Bill's Martin D-28, finished the audition and became a Bluegrass Boy. "Listening to Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin sing those duets like 'Blue & Lonesome' had a big effect on the way I sing and on how I feel about the blues. Bill's style was a lot like the sad mountainstyle music my mother sang when I was little. That was blues, man."
In 1966, Del started his own band, Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals, and started recording on the old Arhoolie label. There were some lean years playing Bluegrass music for a living, and most of the time Del's "day job" was logging. "I grew up in a farming family, and I always enjoyed hard work outside, but farming just wasn't for me. I found that I liked working in the woods." As Bluegrass music became increasingly popular, more and more time was spent on stage and less time working in the woods. Del began to notice his sons picking up some of his musical habits, and in 1981, Ronnie started playing mandolin in the band. In 1986, son Rob joined as a bass player and switched to banjo in 1987. The boys have stayed with their dad ever since and have established impressive recording and performing careers of their own. Del was obviously a tremendous influence on Ronnie and Rob, but they have brought a fresh approach into the band as well. It's definitely a family affair. "People ask me if it's hard, all of us traveling together. I get to see them a lot; I think it's great. I rely on them a lot," McCoury says.
The name of the band was changed from the Dixie Pals to the Del McCoury Band after the brothers joined. With Mike Bub on bass and Jason Carter on fiddle, the band has kept the same lineup for over ten years, winning the prestigious International Bluegrass Music Association's "Entertainer of the Year" Award five times.
Del was voted "Male Vocalist of the Year" four times and has been honored with two Grammy nominations. The band's worldwide travel has created fans everywhere, including traditional Bluegrass enthusiasts and a new younger crowd known as 'Del-Heads.' Followers of bands like Phish and Leftover Salmon have added Del McCoury to their list. We played the Fillmore West and the promoter told me that the last Bluegrass band to play there was Flatt and Scruggs." The band's answer to music getting louder and louder is to all play around one microphone, the way the bands of the '40s and '50s did. It's much simpler, and you can still hear everything well.
Songwriting and great rhythm guitar playing are at the forefront of Del's career. The blues feel dominates his writing and his guitar playing. When asked what his most requested song is he replied, "I guess that would be 'I Feel the Blues Moving In'. I recorded that back in 1988 on the 'Don't Stop the Music' album." Strong, powerful rhythm guitar playing is prominent throughout Del McCoury's live performances and his many recordings. A signature G-run is distinctly his and shows up in just the right places in his songs.
"In 1966, my wife Jean bought me a 1954 D-28 for my birthday. She knew enough about guitars to know that I'd always wanted a Martin D-28." Del has played that guitar for most of his career and has used it for almost all of his recording sessions. He is also seen from time to time playing another favorite, his dark top D-18. "After 63 years, I've played a lot of guitars, but nothing comes up to a Martin."
The Martin Guitar Company takes pride in paying tribute to Del McCoury, an incredibly soulful figure in the acoustic music community, for his years of contributions to the industry. Like Del McCoury's music, the Limited Edition D-28DM is steeped in tradition. The body is Martin's famous Dreadnought shape, made from solid Indian rosewood to give that rich, warm bass desired by most Bluegrass guitar players. The instrument is bound both top and back with grained ivoroid to give it a distinct vintage look. The panels of the back are joined in the center with zig-zag purfling, reminiscent of Martins of yesteryear. Grained ivoroid nicely caps the heel of the neck and is also used as an endpiece where the sides meet at the endpin.
Solid Adirondack spruce, lightly colored with aging toner, was chosen for the top. Famous for its clean, crisp tone, this variety of spruce is an excellent complement to the Indian rosewood. The top braces are scalloped and forward shifted to 1" from the soundhole. The combination of Adirondack red spruce and scalloped bracing provides great separation for bright, clear lead work and booming bass runs. The soundhole is dressed with the simple appeal of a vintage "18 style" rosette, with a uniquely thin strip of pearl as the center ring and a polished, beveled tortoise style pickguard.
Del's choice for a neck shape is Martin's "Modified V" with a nut width of 1 11/16". The genuine mahogany neck is joined to the body using the traditional dovetail neck joint, assuring the sustain and punch Martins are famous for. The squared, tapered peghead features a polished Brazilian rosewood headplate with the old style C. F. Martin & Co. decal. The back of the peghead has a diamond volute, and the guitar is equipped with nickel Waverly butterbean tuning machines. The ebony fingerboard is decorated with unique position markers. Elegant dots of lapis stone, each trimmed with a thin ring of pearl, symbolize Del McCoury's fondness for the blues. This tribute guitar is available with Del's signature in pearl between the 19th and 20th frets, upon request.
The 'blues' theme continues... genuine black ebony bridge pins inlaid with lapis dots compliment the ebony, long saddle, bridge. The strings resonate clearly across the bone nut and saddle. The D-28DM ships with Martin MSP 4200 Extended Life Strings and a 545 Geib™ style deluxe case.
Del McCoury and C. F. Martin IV will personally sign the interior label of each guitar. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each Del McCoury D-28DM will be donated in support of the American Heart Association.
Orders for the Limited Edition D-28DM will be accepted by Martin dealers for until September 18, 2002 after which a list of participating Martin Dealers will be posted on the web at: www.martinguitar.com.