I asked Neal McCoy’s label Slate Creek Records executive Jim Burnett for some “talk points” for the Country Music Chat Twitterview we have on September 23. “Talk Points” are usually quick points of interest that publicists/managers/labels send you about what an artist is working on. After I received these from Jim, I just thought it was just so much interesting information and there was no way we could cover everything in a “1 hour Q&A”. Neal is such a fascinating gentleman, and I am always honored by his regular presence at #CMchat as a community member. It always make me feel good that no matter where Neal is or what he is doing, he always takes time to check in and say hi to us #CMchat every Monday night!
Well here ya go, Enjoy!
Notes sent to by Label Exec Jim Burnett, written by Robert K. Oermann
Charley Pride has been honored with membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has been inducted into the hallowed cast of the Grand Ole Opry. He is widely regarded as one of the premier vocal stylists of classic country music, but has never been saluted with a tribute album. Until now.
“I thought it was time to do this,” says longtime Pride disciple and protégée Neal McCoy. “When I researched it and found that no one had done a Charley Pride tribute record, I was surprised.”
“I wanted to open people’s eyes about him and what he has accomplished. And I thought the best way to do that was to just put his music out there, to let people hear what great country music sounds like.”
“For years, I have been singing his songs in my shows, and it was strictly out of honor. I thought it was right — because of everything he had done for me – that I should put a tribute segment of Charley Pride songs in my set. And when I sing that Charley Pride medley, people just love it. The response is overwhelming.”
All three of the Pride hits that McCoy has been performing for years are included in his tribute album to the Hall of Famer. They are 1971’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” 1970’s “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” and 1982’s “Mountain of Love.” They sit alongside eight other Charley Pride classics.
Those 11 songs are just a fraction of the dozens that Pride has immortalized during his career. Between 1966 and 1990, the superstar placed 67 titles on the country hit parade, including an astounding 29 No. 1 hits and 52 top-10 successes.
During the 1970s, Charley Pride was the biggest selling artist on the RCA Records roster, out-selling even Elvis Presley. He was named the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 1971 and 1972 and the organization’s Entertainer of the Year in 1971. In addition, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” won a Grammy Award as the Country Song of the Year for 1971.
Few have had as dramatic a rise to fame. The Mississippi native sang “Heartaches By the Number” and “Lovesick Blues” for country stars Red Foley and Red Sovine backstage at a show in Helena, Montana in 1962. Sovine gave him his phone number, instructed him to contact Cedarwood Publishing and urged him to come to Nashville.
After being turned down as a baseball player by the New York Mets during spring training in Florida, Pride went to Nashville in 1963. As instructed, he looked up Cedarwood and met honky-tonk star Webb Pierce there. Pierce directed Pride to manager Jack Johnson, who had been looking for an African-American country singer. Pride auditioned for Johnson.
For the next two years, Johnson was met with resistance on Music Row. He eventually caught the ear of producer Jack Clement. In 1965, Clement took Pride into the studio, then played the resulting tape for Chet Atkins at RCA. Atkins convinced the label to sign Charley Pride. The singer’s first two singles for the label were failures.
As 1966 drew to a close, RCA released Charley Pride’s version of Clement’s song “Just Between You and Me.” It became the singer’s first top-10 hit and is another song Neal McCoy chose for the tribute album. That Pride single was followed by six consecutive top-10 hits in 1967-69, then six consecutive No. 1 hits in 1969-71.
Over the years, Charley Pride’s recorded highlights have included 1969’s “Kaw-Liga,” 1971’s “I’m Just Me,” 1972’s “It’s Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer,” 1978’s “Someone Loves You Honey,” 1979’s “You’re My Jamaica,” 1981’s “Roll on Mississippi” and 1982’s “You’re So Good When You’re Bad.” These comprise the remaining repertoire that McCoy chose to represent the living legend on his tribute album.
Charley Pride was at the peak of his stardom by 1981. That was the year that Neal McCoy entered and won a nightclub talent contest in Dallas, Texas. Singer Janie Fricke saw him at that contest. At the time, she was Pride’s opening act at concerts. She introduced the star to the newcomer. Pride hired McCoy as his opening act as Fricke moved on.
“He took me under his wing,” McCoy recalls gratefully. “For the next five or six years, I toured the world with him – Canada, England, Australia, Europe. Oh my gosh, what an experience and what an education. There is no substitute for what he gave me and what he showed me.”
“He let me use his band. I got to watch his show every night. He taught me to relax onstage and that it’s okay to be a little silly. He was so good with audiences. But equally important, he showed me how to treat people OFF stage, to take that extra minute to be nice. He never told me what to do or what not to do. He led by his example. He allowed me to hone my craft and become an entertainer.”
“When my wife and I met the Prides in 1981 through that contest that I had won, we had been married about a year. We fell in love with them, and they became like second parents to us. They’ve been there whenever we have needed them. We could always go to Charley and Rozene and ask them questions, not only about the music business, but about life.”
Neal McCoy left Charley Pride’s show to try his wings as a solo artist in 1986. He first made the country charts in 1988 and had his first top-40 hit in 1992. During 1993-94, Neal McCoy scored back-to-back No. 1 smashes with “No Doubt About It” and “Wink.”
During the late 1990s, he sang such successes as “For a Change,” “They’re Playin’ Our Song,” “You Gotta Love That,” “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” and “The Shake.” In 2005, he returned with the light-hearted “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On.” He has earned four Gold Albums, three of which have gone on to be certified Platinum. Along the way, Neal McCoy has earned a reputation as one of country music’s finest showmen.
“When I started having hits, Charley and Rozene were almost like proud parents. They were with me all the way. We have stayed in touch all these years, and it’s a great relationship.”
To help him honor Charley Pride, Neal McCoy chose acclaimed producer Garth Fundis. Years ago, at the dawn of Pride’s career, Fundis was producer Jack Clement’s studio engineer. So he was present during the original recording sessions for some of the songs.
McCoy wanted some guest artists on the tribute, so Fundis suggested Raul Malo and Darius Rucker. Backstage at a concert, McCoy approached Trace Adkins, who became another enthusiastic participant.
“It’s really neat to have this package,” says Neal McCoy. “And it is so fitting, for all of us who worked on it. It’s a real tribute, from me to Charley, and my way of just saying, ‘Thank you for letting me get my foot in the proverbial door, giving me the opportunity to meet some folks and making this thing happen.’
“Charley told me, years ago, ‘Neal, if you put on a great show and be nice to people, you’ll last a long time in this business.’ I adopted that. And it has worked. It certainly did for him. So, thank you, Charley Pride.”
9/23 #CMchat with Neal McCoy 6p PT
9/30 #CMchat with Tyler Farr 6p PT
10/7 #CMchat with Steve Wariner 6pPT
10/14 #CMchat with Colt Ford 6pPT
10/21 #CMchat with Lee Brice 6pPT
10/28 #CMchat with Chase Rice 6pPT
For a complete schedule go to cmchatlive.com/upcoming
All times are Mondays from 6-7pPT on Twitter.