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Neal McCoy: Looking Back… and Looking Forward

In this SLN exclusive, Neal McCoy looks back on his career and opens up about his new album, 'You Don't Know Me.' 

Written by Chuck Dauphin
Neal McCoy: Looking Back… and Looking Forward
Photo courtesy the artist

Neal McCoy will always have a soft spot for Charley Pride. In fact, the dynamic entertainer says that without Pride, there may not be a McCoy. “He let me open shows for him for about five or six years, and let me hone my craft. He let me learn on his stage, and gave me that platform. I think that’s the main reason I’ve turned into the entertainer that I hope that I am. I’ll always be grateful to him and Rozene for everything they did for me.” One thing that McCoy learned from the singer was to simply have fun when you’re on stage. “I try to make that my lifestyle. I want to enjoy life, and I want fans to enjoy life around me.”

That was evident in his 1991 video for his cover of Conway Twitty’s “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” which featured children in the main roles. McCoy wonders just what those once-children are doing now. “I need to put out a feeler and reach out to some of them, though they probably don’t remember be or that video. I’m sure they have moved on to bigger and better things,” he says with a laugh.

However, as good as the cover was, the song only made it to No. 50. Throughout the first couple years of his deal with Atlantic, he only placed two singles in the Top-40. Though he wasn’t hitting at radio, he could definitely tell a difference in the crowds – which prompted the label to keep him on the label. “My touring career was already going full blast. We were working all the time. I think that’s the main reason we were able to stick around with Atlantic Records. Rick Blackburn even told me that when we started our third album for the label. I thought he was bringing me in to let me go. He said ‘Anybody who works as hard as you and is doing all of the things we’ve asked you to do, I’m going to give you another shot.” It proved to be great decision by Blackburn, as McCoy’s next single, “No Doubt About It,” climbed all the way to No.1, paving the way for over a decade of radio hits.

Perhaps the pinnacle of McCoy’s career was winning the 1998 and 1999 Entertainer of the Year awards from the TNN / Music City Awards. The winners were completely fan-voted, which further cemented his relationship with the fans. “We never got mentioned by the CMA, ACM, or the other organizations, but we won those two fan-voted awards from the TNN / Music City News awards. Looking back, it meant so much. We have such a terrific fan base, and we worked hard to make sure people liked us. We were up against the George Straits, Shania Twains, and Alan Jacksons. They had a lot of fans too, but ours were so rabid. That was a huge deal. It would have been nice to have been recognized by the CMA or the ACM, but we weren’t selling the numbers. I know how that works, and I’m okay with that. But, the fans definitely stepped up for us.”

The singer has just released his thirteenth studio album, You Don’t Know Me. He says the album of classic love songs is one of the most different things he has ever done. “It is a 180. Hence the title, which is not just a classic Eddy Arnold / Cindy Walker song, but it’s also a great outlook on this album. It’s a bucket list album of mine. I’ve always wanted to do this album. There was this man in Houston named Tom Sanders, who is a friend of mine. He said ‘Let’s go do it.’ He knew the passion I had for it. I’ve always had the reputation of being an entertainer, but something that I thought had always been overlooked, and I wanted people to know about was that I could really sing and being able to deliver what the writers were trying to say. I wanted the album to show people I could do that. It’s that album. I want everybody to hear it, and say ‘What great music, and what a really good singer delivering the music.”

Adding a bit of authenticity to the album was the decision to have the legendary producer Steve Tyrell behind the glass as producer. McCoy he added a bit of credence to things. “He definitely understood what I was wanting to do. He not only brought in some wonderful talent, along with his knowledge of this music. One of the things I admire so much about him is that he’s a real stickler for paying tribute to what these writers wrote.”

Several of the songs on You Don’t Know Me have a deep meaning to the singer. There’s one song called “Long, Long, Time” that has a special place in his heart. “My mother always used to sing me that song – almost as a lullaby when I was young. I remembered that song, and how special it was to me. Mom is 87, and I hoped she would still be around when we finished this album. That’s on there for her. There’s another song called ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,’ which is from My Fair Lady. I’ve been singing that song for about thirty years to my wife. I had sung to her very early in our marriage. Now, that song rings true, because I have grown accustomed to her face. To have the opportunity to put that on an album is very special to us both.” The disc will also be available on vinyl through his web site, NealMcCoy.com.

You also might be seeing McCoy online these days with his daily recitations of the Pledge Of Allegiance, which continues to pick up hundreds of thousands of views. He says in today’s political climate, it was just a way for him to remind people of what the most important aspect of it all is. “As crazy as the presidential race has started out, at least on the GOP side with seventeen people, you saw the bitterness and you knew what was coming when they got their candidate to run against Hillary, you knew it was going to get crazy. I thought the one thing that everybody can do – regardless of what side of their aisle they are on or their beliefs is love our country. You should love and appreciate the United States of America.”

He says he learned a lot of that first-hand. “Going back to my childhood, my mother is Filipino. My father met her in the service. She used to tell us as children to be appreciative of the freedoms we have in this country, because she was raised where they did not, and were under martial law a lot of the time. I started thinking a lot about my mom and what she taught us, and I realized the one thing I could do I show my allegiance to our country, I wrote out the Pledge of Allegiance, and put it on my Facebook page. Some people wrote in saying that was cool, so I told them if they liked it, write it back to me. If you’re writing it, you’re saying it. I took it one step forward, and no matter where I was, I started to record it and putting it up, and see if we can get people to honor our country. It’s gone crazy, and I’m glad. I’m excited for all the people who come to our Facebook page to learn about Neal McCoy are getting excited about the Pledge of Allegiance again. It’s just a wonderful thing to do in honoring this country, in the times we have now. I think it just makes people feel good about themselves again, and that’s why we’re here.”