At 83, Del McCoury has long been a pillar of the bluegrass community, but he’s not ready to rest on his considerable laurels. With Friday’s (Feb. 18) release of The Del McCoury Band’s Almost Proud, the veteran musician and his famed band deliver a well-rounded set sure to satisfy their broad audience.
“I’m hoping that they do enjoy the diversity of the record,” McCoury says during a phone call from his home outside Nashville. “Back when I was really young, I remember going to hear this bluegrass band and they were really good. They were all good at what they did, but after about 20 minutes I thought, ‘Everything sounds the same no matter what it is,’ and I figured it out, they were doing everything in the key of A and every song they did was the same tempo and the same mood. I thought, ‘If I ever have a band — which. that was way before I ever got a band of my own — I’ll make sure that that don’t happen with me.’”
McCoury has built a strong career giving audiences what they want. He’s equally at home as a member of the Grand Ole Opry or performing at Bonnaroo where he’s a crowd favorite. “I’ve never figured that out,” he says of his multi-generation appeal. “I have a lot of young fans and, of course, I have a lot of old fans too that have been with me for years. I know the first time we played Bonnaroo it got so loud that people started writing their requests on a poster and hung it up in the air. I couldn’t believe it. I thought maybe it was mostly rock people at that place — which there were a lot of there — but we found out we could play Bonnaroo.”
A nine-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Assn. (IBMA) entertainer of the year honor, McCoury started as a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in 1963, playing with the Father of Bluegrass for a year before striking out on his own. He now leads The Del McCoury Band, which includes his sons Rob on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin along with bassist Alan Bartram and fiddler Jason Carter.
The two-time Grammy winner is also co-founder and namesake of DelFest, the genre-spanning festival that takes place in Cumberland, Maryland Memorial Day weekend. Founded in 2008, the festival was cancelled the last two years due to Covid. This year’s lineup includes Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, Bela Fleck, The California Honeydrops, Sierra Hull, Sister Sadie, The Lonesome River Band, The Seldom Scene, The Hot Club of Cowtown and Twisted Pine. “It’s actually just a music festival,” McCoury says. “It could be bands from every genre.”
McCoury is back on the road, but like most artists, time off during the pandemic afforded him more time to write and search for songs as he prepared the new album. “Through the years people send me demos on a CD and I’ll throw them in a box,” McCoury says. “I usually didn’t have time to listen to them and so in March  I thought, ‘I’ll get that box out and listen to all those CDs and just see what people sent me,’ and I did. I listened to a lot of stuff, and I also got inspired to write a couple too for the record.”
McCoury penned “The Misery You’ve Earned” and “Running Wild,” which was released as the album’s first single. Though he didn’t write the title track, “Almost Proud,” it sounds as though it’s chronicling his own journey — country boy makes good, but stays humble and true to himself. “It sounds like somebody who grew up in the country and I think that might be why I liked it,” he says of the song penned by Eric Gibson and Mike Barber. “I kind of pictured myself.”
Among the standout tracks is the rollicking up tempo “Honky Tonk Nights,” which features Vince Gill. “That song came from Mike O’Reilly. I recorded quite a few of his songs through the years,” McCoury says of the Ottawa-based performer, who died of cancer in 2021. “He could sing tenor, just throw it right out there at you. I became friends with him and found out he was a great songwriter. He had a whole bunch of songs that I recorded all through the years and I recorded this song but he never got to hear it because he passed away.”
McCoury’s son Ronnie suggested recruiting Gill to sing on the song. “Vince has got his own studio in his house. Ron got the engineer to send him a copy of it and a day or two he sent it back and he done a good job on it,” McCoury says.
Among the new tunes, McCoury also mixes in some of his favorite classics, including “Rainbow of My Dreams,” which he first heard sung by a young Lester Flatt in the 1940s. “The only copy I had of it was on a tape,” he says. “It was on a tape of Lester and Earl [Scruggs], and they did it on an old radio show about the time they first got together to play. It sounded so good. I couldn’t get it as good as they did, but I really liked it so well and thought, ‘I’d love to record that.’ I knew it wasn’t going to sound as good as Lester and Earl, but I’m going to do it anyway.”
The songs on the album span from love songs to drinking songs. “I like a variety and when we got these songs down, Ronnie said, ‘Dad you know there’s quite a few drinking numbers in this record. Have you thought about that? I said, ‘Well not really, but I just recorded them because I liked them,’” McCoury relates with a laugh. “There’s probably more drinking numbers on this record than anyone I’ve ever done. When I do a record, I never had a theme or anything. I just like songs that are in different keys and different tempos and different moods and all that.”
In addition to performing with McCoury, his sons (Bartram, Carter and Cody Kilby) tour as the Travelin’ McCourys. So in doing pre-production for the Del McCoury Band albums, the family patriarch tries to save precious time by having things mapped out before they enter the studio.
“I’ll just select the songs that I want to do, work on them and get them in the keys that suit me and the tempos and all that. I don’t want to take up the boys’ time because they are on the road playing with their own band these days,” says McCoury, who co-produced the album with his son Ronnie. “I’ll sing them these songs in the studio, and they can work out their instrumental parts or if there are any singing parts or whatever, in the studio. It costs a little more studio time, but they don’t have to get together especially to just rehearse.”
Now into his seventh decade as an artist, McCoury has lost none of his passion for recording or performing live. “I like talking to people from the stage and they entertain me. The audience does. They are so funny. They’ll request a song and they never get the title right,” he laughs.
“I never did mind travel. There probably will be a time when I won’t be able to, but I’m still in pretty good health,” he says. “And I like doing shows and I like recording records too. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing a finished product.”