Looking back on his career, Neal McCoy gives a lot of credit to the man who pushed him out into the spotlight as an opening act – Country Music Hall of Fame member Charley Pride. "He stands taller than anyone else in my career," McCoy told Billboard. "I've been fortunate enough to have had some hits, and met some great people, but it was all due to Charley giving me the opportunity to get into country music back in 1981, He was a great cheerleader. He and his wife Rozene would cheer us on, saying ‘You got what it takes. Don't give up."
Thankfully, McCoy didn't walk away from his dreams, and the hits have been plenty since 1994, with "Wink," "No Doubt About It," and "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On" being three of the biggest. Now, the singer tips the musical hat to Pride in the biggest way possible – a tribute album.
On September 24, McCoy will release "Pride: A Tribute Album To Charley Pride." Listen to the exclusive premiere of "Roll on Mississippi," which includes a cameo from Trace Adkins:
When asked how the idea for the album came about, he says it was the result of a brainstorming session with his team. "We were talking about a new album, and Tim DuBois had gotten involved through my management company. He asked me if there was a special kind of album I wanted to do. I said I would love to do a Charley Pride tribute album. He's the one who got me started. We put our heads together, and he said it would be a good idea. I went to Charley, and asked him if he'd be ok with it. He said he yes, and that he'd be flattered."
The album also includes cameos from the Mavericks' Raul Malo ("I'm Just Me"), and Darius Rucker on Pride's 1971 signature "Kiss An Angel Good Morning." McCoy says he was thankful for their participation. "I was fortunate to have them come in. They each did a great job." Other cuts on the Garth Fundis-produced disc includes "You're My Jamaica," "Someone Loves You, Honey," and "You're So Good When You're Bad."
Besides paying tribute to his mentor, McCoy says working with Fundis was a plus, as well. "I had never met him. He was only a legend to me. When I was coming up, he was one of those guys who I never had an idea that I would get to work with. So, when I met him, and told him about the project, he was excited. He was the perfect person for this, because he understands what the Charley Pride music was about, and what we wanted to do with it."
McCoy and Pride teamed up for the filming of a video for "Kaw Liga," the set's first single. Charley took the Hank Williams classic to the top five in 1969. The singer was glad to be working with his longtime friend again. "It's Neal, and I'm very pleased to be working with him. He's done a tribute album to me, and I'm proud to be a part of it – and hope to help make it a success."
Pride's role in the video is as a high school principal, which he slyly admitted was very ironic. "I wasn't a principal, though I had to answer to the principal a lot of the time. They spanked us back then," he recalled with a laugh.
Pride has recorded tribute albums to Jim Reeves and Hank Williams in the past, but he says it's different being on the other end of the salute. "I just think it's really nice for someone to do a tribute to you. It's the first time that has ever happened, so I am very pleased about it."
In reflecting on his career, Pride also put the spotlight on his former producer, "Cowboy" Jack Clement, whom he will formally induct as a fellow member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame this fall. "He told me one time, ‘These songs we're recording, people are going to be listening to fifty years from now.' It looks like we're right on target," he stated.