It's not an exaggeration to say that the Del McCoury Band is sitting atop many folks "best in bluegrass" list. And it's not just fans who appreciate the band. The group's peers have honored them with the International Bluegrass Music Association's coveted "Entertainer of the Year" award every year since 1996. Their latest recording is Del and the Boys.
Although they're regarded as one of the best straight-up bluegrass bands on the road today, Del McCoury and his group straddle several musical worlds. They're as comfortable on the so-called jam band circuit, playing with groups like Phish, or in a smoky night club as they are picking at a traditional bluegrass festival or on the Grand Ole Opry.
And the group's new CD, Del and the Boys, is sure to add to that legend, as it has Del leading his group through a wide variety of tunes. It's safe to say no other string band could take "Learning the Blues," a Frank Sinatra hit from 1955, and transform it into a song that sounds like it had never been anything but bluegrass.
Always bold in their choice of material, this album also finds the group performing Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." When it was first announced that the band was recording the story of a doomed biker outlaw and his red-headed girlfriend rooted in England, some fans it was an odd choice. But one listen shows Del and the boys have no problem transplanting the tale of a motorcycle and doomed love to Knoxville, Tennessee.
Singer and mandolin picker Ronnie McCoury produced the new record and knew the song was a natural for the group the moment a friend played it for him. He said, "We're kind of a band that can step out of bluegrass a little bit and try different stuff. And with Dad's voice, it works, you know."
Del McCoury got his first big break in 1963, when Bill Monroe hired him to sing lead and play rhythm guitar in his band, The Bluegrass Boys. The father of bluegrass had a good eye for talent and recognized Del's strong point, a high, lonesome tenor voice that could climb into a stirring falsetto.
Today, Del leads his own band, featuring his sons Ronnie on mandolin and Rob on banjo, with Jason Carter on fiddle and Mike Bub on bass.