The Del McCoury Band is considered to be the anchor of Ceili Music, an imprint of Ricky Skaggs’ Skaggs Family Records. So “Del and the Boys” is, sensibly, the label’s first release through its new sales, marketing, and distribution pact with Lyric Street Records.
The disc, which was briefly available in March only through the Internet — and titled “Del 2001” “because no one knew what to call it,” says Stan Strickland, co-founder of Skaggs Family Records and manager of both Ricky Skaggs and McCoury — will be officially released July 10.
“Del’s a good example of the way this relationship benefits us,” says Strickland, who characterizes the Ceili/Lyric Street bond as a “big brother” one. “Del’s breaking in terms of public awareness, but we need a system like this to make sure he gets his shot in the marketplace. Certain accounts we couldn’t get into without the clout of Lyric Street and the UMVD [Universal Music and Video Distribution] system, and they’re opening doors for Del that were never open before.”
But vocalist/guitarist McCoury — and Ceili — retains creative freedom, Strickland stresses, and in the case of “Del and the Boys,” a creative decision was made to switch from producer Jerry Douglas, who had helmed the past few McCoury Band albums, to Ronnie McCoury, Del’s son and the band’s mandolinist. (The group also includes son Rob McCoury on banjo, stand-up bassist Mike Bub, and fiddler Jason Carter).
“Ricky and I felt that Ronnie’s heard special things, by virtue of standing at his father’s side for years and years and years, but never had a chance to explore it,” Strickland says. “He’s heard different sounds than Jerry and took a different approach, and in some ways the sounds and tones are richer because he was so in tune to his dad and could bring his unique vision and understanding of Del’s goals in taking him to a different place.”
But the ever-affable paterfamilias laughs, saying, “It might have been easier for Ronnie to do someone else instead of me. But I didn’t give him too many pains, and it turned [out] good.”
Douglas, McCoury continues, was “awful good at arranging things, but Ronnie is, too. He has ideas for different things in songs that spice them up a little.”
One “Del and the Boys” tune that’s already spicing up bluegrass playlists is the leadoff track, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a cover of Richard Thompson’s motorbike song. Because early feedback from family and friends — and later those who heard the song tested before live audiences — was “so incredible,” Strickland says, Ceili took the unusual step of sending a promotional single to bluegrass and Americana radio outlets.
“The bluegrass community cringes at the concept of a single, because they want to have the whole album,” Strickland says. “But we weren’t ready for national release of the album at the time, and we knew there was so much pent-up demand for Del from the phenomenal response to the limited Internet release.”
Strickland is now toying with the idea of shipping the single to country radio, “subject to our big brother’s input,” he says, referring to Lyric Street. The album, he adds, is even broader in content than McCoury’s usual expansive reach and also includes the jazz standard “Learnin’ the Blues,” “The King’s Shilling” by regular McCoury album contributor Mike O’Reilly, Cindy Walker’s “The Bluegrass Country,” and “Count Me Out,” which Jeanne Pruett wrote for Marty Robbins.
“It’s all over the map,” Strickland says. “He goes from ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ to ‘Learnin’ the Blues,’ which is so identified with Frank Sinatra, and manages to pull it off. Who else could take [on] ‘Nashville Cats’ [the Lovin’ Spoonful cover from 1999’s “The Family”] without it being cheesy? But Del McCoury is bigger than any song on the album — and it’s always been that way. When you tackle songs this big, you’re a stylist — and he’s a stylist.”
“We’re feeling an anticipation for this album everywhere,” Strickland says, “from promoters, on the Internet, entertainment writers — an overall feeling that Del’s about to explode, that it’s Del’s year.”
McCoury is busier than ever on the road now and playing a wider variety of engagements, Strickland says. “In the next 30 days, he’s doing everything from major outdoor festivals to performing arts centers to rock rooms, as well as major racetrack/stadium dates with String Cheese Incident.”
And in further recognition of the McCoury Band’s expanded potential, Ceili is making a “stronger push” for mainstream media exposure this time out, Strickland says. “We had the good fortune to do the Letterman and Conan [O’Brien] shows last time around, because we were marketing both “The Family” and “The Mountain” [a collaboration with Steve Earle]. We hope to do them again — and would like to play The Tonight Show.”
Fortuitously, Strickland notes, a recent wire service photo showed Tonight Show host Jay Leno next to his prized ’52 Vincent. “I hope this is reason in itself for an invite,” he says.