Dustbin Bands: The Surreal McCoys

Producer Trey Kay profiles the country-fried punsters known as the Surreal McCoys as part of Day to Day's occasional review of great bands that no longer exist. Kay remembers that the unique talents of the McCoys could make you rock, sway and split your sides with laughter.

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CHIDEYA: When you think about places that spawn great country music, Nashville, Tennessee, or Austin, Texas, probably come to mind. But New York's Columbia University? As part of our occasional series about dustbin bands, great bands that are no more, producer Trey Kay tells us about an Ivy League country group known as The Surreal McCoys.

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Mr. KEVIN TRAINOR (The Surreal McCoys): I would have to say we were smart asses from Columbia University.

TREY KAY reporting:

That's Kevin Trainor, the highly entertaining front man for The Surreal McCoys. The band started out playing at Columbia University fraternity parties while he was a student there in the early '80s. After graduation they became a key part of a thriving country music revival scene in New York City.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

Mr. TRAINOR: (Singing) But I got circles on the date ...(unintelligible). I got a ...(unintelligible) in the sky. Got a bottle on the console and the mountains rolling by. Got everything I need here. Yes, I do. Don't know why I ever thought I needed, don't know why I thought I needed, don't know why I ever thought I needed you.

KAY: The McCoys played in bars all over Manhattan. Their shows were a boozy, honky-tonk circus featuring great songwriting, wonderful musical improvisation and, best of all, slapstick comedy. Trainor was in the center of it all as ringmaster and head clown.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

Mr. TRAINOR: (Singing) This here's the story about Oedipus Rex. Yeah, he liked older women, the opposite sex. Now one time he found this woman. She could oop like no other. Oh, imagine his surprise when it turned out to be his mother. Oh, no, Oedipus...

KAY: Their energetic shows were a clear change of pace from the spiky-haired, angst-ridden bands that were the after shock of the '70s CBGB's punk explosion. The McCoys took you out of the city and made you feel like you'd rambled into a Southern juke joint.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

Mr. TRAINOR: There was a lot of people that used to come to our shows and they were like, `I moved to New York from Boone, North Carolina, and I haven't found anybody that plays this kind of music. And I'm going to come see you every Saturday night, you know.'

KAY: Sarcastic New Yorkers loved The McCoys. But they thought that their shtick was to lampoon country music.

Mr. TRAINOR: I think some of the--some people got that we didn't like the music or we were making fun of it, which was like absolutely not true. You know, we wrote songs in that mold, like, you know, "I Woke Up On the Right Side of the Wrong Bed Again." You know, the sort of like country one-liner type of thing. But we wrote those songs because we really like that kind of music.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

Mr. TRAINOR: (Singing) I guess I woke up on the right side of the wrong bed again. Oh, I feel so low down and dirty. But, baby, I can't remember when I felt so good in the morning after such a night. So good and guilty as sin. I guess, I woke up on the right side of the wrong bed again.

KAY: At the height of their popularity they were on the Marlboro Country Music Roundup, a contest for the best local country band. And they were invited to play at the Meadowlands Arena on a bill of Alabama and Ricky Skaggs.

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Mr. TRAINOR: We were very close to a couple record deals.

KAY: Record people would come to see The McCoys. But Trainor thinks that he knows why it never went anywhere.

Mr. TRAINOR: I think they would make the determination of, boy, they're a great bar band, but I don't think there's a record here. And you know? They may have been right. There may not have been a record there. I don't know.

KAY: But what if they were only a great bar band? Is there any shame in that?

Mr. TRAINOR: I think there is a sort of negative connotation with being a great bar band. It's like you're a great bar band, but you'll never make it as a big recording act. Whereas, you know, I don't think that is a failure anymore. And I used to. You know, I used to think that, `Oh, man--when I would see something like that, you know. Somebody would write a review of us or something and it would say, `Oh, you know, they're one of the great bar bands playing today,' or whatever. It was like, `Hey, we're more than a bar band. You know, listen to all these songs we've got, you know.' But I'm past that now, so I'm a much more mature person.

KAY: I'm glad that Kevin's past that, because I've been in some dead towns that were cultural wastelands and a good bar band was the only salvation. Not that a cultural Mecca like New York City needed The McCoys, but it was really fun while they were around.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

KAY: And when they pulled up stakes and disbanded in the early '90s it felt mighty empty without them to liven up some of my favorite watering holes.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

Mr. TRAINOR: (Singing) Well, I might see you sittin'...

CHIDEYA: The music of The Surreal McCoys. Our series on dustbin bands is produced by Trey Kay.

(Soundbite of music from The Surreal McCoys)

Mr. TRAINOR: (Singing) ...and you might see me and never notice in my eyes that I've been watching you and wantin' you. Yeah, I'm a longing to tell you that ...(unintelligible) is shy. 'Cause I'm shy. I'm shy. I'm shy...

CHIDEYA: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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