In late September, at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association Awards at the Ryman Auditorium, many of those in attendance might have been a little surprised. Del McCoury was announced as one of two new inductees into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Nobody was surprised about the distinction - Del has been one of Bluegrass's more historic and progressive figures for close to five decades - just that he wasn't already enshrined for his career accomplishments.
"That was a shock and a great honor," said the Grand Ole Opry star. "For some reason, I just wasn't expecting it. I was nervous when I got up there to talk. I didn't have any notes written out or anything. I thought I would just get up there and wing it."
Accepting the honor at the Ryman - the same place he started playing in the band of Bill Monroe - was an awesome accolade of itself, he said. "My mind was going at about a thousand miles an hour, going from here to there to everywhere. I couldn't talk like I wanted to. I was forgetting people's names and everything. But, I thought about it later. When I first started playing music, I never thought about awards and things like that. I just loved to play music. Sooner or later, people recognize you for wanting to do it."
And, do it he has. Starting with Monroe in 1963, Del has stayed with it over the years, and the McCoury name - through him and his sons Ronnie and Rob - has become one of the most associated with Bluegrass Music.
For his new album, McCoury decided to step back in time to those early days. The musician has just released "Old Memories: The Songs Of Bill Monroe," a tribute album to his mentor. He stated that in recording the disc, he wanted to approach it a little different than how others had paid tribute to the "Father of Bluegrass."
"I had worked with him and sang some of the songs with him," he recalls. 'I think we did 'In Despair' on every show, so we put that on there. I didn't want to put things on there that had been recorded a lot, like 'Uncle Pen' or 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky,' but he had so many other good songs. I figured that if I was ever going to do a tribute to him, this would be the time - with his 100th birthday. Some of the songs on there, I had never heard him sing live. There were certain songs we would do for a while, then he would start doing things from a new record, and the older songs would get neglected.
Of his favorites on the disc, Del said that "I love the 'Lomesome Truck Driver's Blues.' It kind of hit home with me because before I went to work for Bill, I was driving a truck. I remember my brother G.C. bought that record. He was nine years older than me, so I got to listen to all the records he bought. 'The Girl In The Blue Velvet Band,' I guess those might be the closest to me than any. I've played them over and over," he says with a smile.
He says that the album came together as it went along, as there was no major blueprint for how it would come out. "I didn't really know what I was going to do when I got into the studio. I got in there with a few things in my head to do, and of course, the boys would suggest something, but for the most part, I had them in my head."
Old Memories is available on vinyl - as well as for digital download. "Isn't that something,' Del said of the new wave of technology. "It's so fast. If a person wanted to hear a song, you had to hunt up the record. I remember going to learn a song, I would have to go listen to the record in the WSM library. Now, all you do is punch a few words in on the computer, and there it is."
McCoury says that he is thrilled with the state of Bluegrass right now, saying that "It is in better shape than it's ever been in, as far as popularity, and people being able to get work. When I first started listening to it, there were only a few that were able to make a living playing. You could probably count on two hands. The artists are great, and the music is great, too. It's just a good time for Bluegrass Music."