NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

From time to time, we venture one flight up from our usual spot to NPR's performance studio, 4A, to give you a chance to listen to some live music and talk with the people who make it about their process, about their lives, about how and why they do what they do.

Today, we're honored to welcome one of the great bluegrass bands in the country, the Del McCoury Band. Thanks very much for coming in. Why don't you start us out with a tune?

Mr. DEL McCOURY (The Del McCoury Band): Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Man Gave Names to All the Animals")

THE DEL McCOURY BAND (Bluegrass Band): (Singing) Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, in the beginning. Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, a long time ago.

Mr. RONNIE McCOURY (Mandolin Player, The Del McCoury Band): (Singing) He saw an animal up on a hill chewing up so much grass until she was filled. He saw milk coming out but he didn't know how, Ah, I think I'll call it a cow.

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, in the beginning. Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, a long time ago.

Mr. R. McCOURY: (Singing) He saw an animal leave a muddy trail. A real dirty face and a curly tail. He wasn't too small and he wasn't too big. Ah, I think I'll call it a pig.

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, in the beginning. Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, a long time ago.

Mr. R. McCOURY: (Singing) The next animal that he did meet had wool on his back and hooves on his feet. Eating grass on a mountainside so steep. Ah, I think I'll call it a sheep.

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, in the beginning. Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, a long time ago.

Mr. R. McCOURY: (Singing) He saw an animal as smooth as glass, slipping his way on through the grass. Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake. Ah, I think I'll call it a snake.

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, in the beginning. Man gave names to all the animals in the beginning, a long time ago.

Mr. R. McCOURY: (Singing) In the beginning…

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) In the beginning…

Mr. R. McCOURY: (Singing) In the beginning.

DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) In the beginning.

Mr. R. McCOURY: (Singing) In the beginning…

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) A long time ago.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: The Del McCoury Band: Jason Carter on fiddle, Alan Bartram on bass, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Brother Bob on banjo, and on guitar, the leader of the band, Del McCoury. And, of course, as you can hear, we have an audience here in Studio 4A. If you have questions for Del McCoury or the members of the band about the evolution of bluegrass, their concerts with Phish, life on the road, our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And Del McCoury, let me ask you about that tune. That's - it's a Bob Dylan tune?

Mr. D. McCOURY: It is. You know, I should probably let Ronnie talk to you more about this because it's from an album that he actually put out. It's called "Little Mo' McCoury," and I guess it is a Dylan tune, huh?

CONAN: Ronnie?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, it's a Bob Dylan tune, Neal.

CONAN: And you also sang the lead on that?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. D. McCOURY: He did.

Mr. R. McCOURY: I sure did. It's a children's album. So this is all bluegrass-flavored tunes for children.

CONAN: I was going to say, are there a lot of bluegrass tunes for children?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. R. McCOURY: There's not a whole lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You're expanding the repertoire.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, now there is.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Actually, it's a bad time for Ronnie to be excerpting this record, because he's got a cold or something. It's that contagious.

CONAN: Oh.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, I've got a pretty bad cold coming on, Neal.

CONAN: Well, that's - nevertheless, you got to figure out a way to perform anyway. I know you're recording a live album and, so it's going to be there with your cold.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yes.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, that's right.

CONAN: Preserved forever.

Mr. R. McCOURY: That's right. I'm the lucky one. You get the say, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. That's - the critics will remark on your departure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: True.

CONAN: I wanted to add, those of you who are not lucky enough to be here with us in the studio, this is a return to the old days of radio. As opposed to micing(ph) a band - each mic for each instrument, a mic for each singer - Del, you prefer to work with just three microphones. Why is that?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah, that's true. Well you know, Neal, I'll tell you back in the beginning or when I started playing, you know, we had eight microphones, for a bluegrass band…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: …you know, everything had a mic on it and monitor speakers, and I could hate all that, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: I'm sorry to say, but anyway, I was telling the boys one time about, you know, that when we started, we all just - like a five-piece band, had just one microphone to play and sing into, you know?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: And whoever got up to the microphone was upfront. And so, the soundman couldn't - he couldn't change your sound, because the guy that's supposed to be featured, he's always featured.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: So - but, and I said, you can't do that today. But the boys said, no there's microphones today that you can do that with, you know? And so, we started experimenting, you know, with one…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: …again, to start with, and no speakers, and you know - what do you call them? Monitors. I'm trying to forget what they are.

CONAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Because I always hated them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Anyway, so we started that way and then we eventually added one on the right for backup, you know, because we needed a microphone for backup behind the singer, you know? And so then, we found we needed a little bit of bottom ends, so we put one over here for the guitar and bass.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: And so that's kind of the way we arrived at this.

CONAN: Now, I've read that once you've rehearsed a tune and once you've recorded it, you don't rehearse it again. How do you remember who's supposed to go up to the microphone when and avoid poking each other's eyes out?

Mr. D. McCOURY: I don't remember it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: No, I'm just kidding, Neal. But it seems, you know, once you do rehearse it for the record, then you kind of know it pretty well, you know? And I guess that's - and, you know, everybody knows how to get up to the mic and back out without you…

CONAN: Yeah, the scary part is getting them away from the microphone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah. Sometimes, they crowd in there, both of them at the same time or three. No, I'm just kidding. It's kind of a natural thing, Neal, I guess.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Our guest is Del McCoury and the Del McCoury Band. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Let's begin with Mark(ph) and Mark is calling us from Columbus, Ohio.

MARK (Caller): Hey, guys. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARK: Hey, I'm a musician. I've been playing guitar for a number of years. And it seems like the more music I play, I just get drawn deeper and deeper towards these mountain sounds, and I'm ready to buy a banjo and I don't want to do it wrong.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Don't do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARK: Are you saying I'm just going to break my own heart?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: No, I'm just kidding. Go ahead, Mark.

MARK: Well, it's - I just figured I'd go to the experts. If I'm going to plunk some money on a banjo, can you recommend a brand?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Well, actually, Rob sales banjos. Would you like to call him about that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARK: He sell banjos, huh?

Mr. D. McCOURY: He really does.

MARK: And he wouldn't steer me wrong, sure?

Mr. D. McCOURY: No, really, I wouldn't because I played this brand new thing - I guess you're going to tell him - well, let Rob tell you all about that, but I played one and I used to be - I played the banjo for 10 years.

MARK: Yeah?

Mr. D. McCOURY: And I found out I couldn't come up to Earl Scruggs so I quit. And anyway, so I know a little bit about one. Rob knows more than I do and so he - I played one of his new ones last week and it's great.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Rob?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, there's a company - years ago, there was a company called Recording King.

MARK: Recording King?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Recording King, yes. They actually - they were Gibson banjos that were sold in Montgomery Wards, out of the catalog.

MARK: Yeah. So I can track one of those now?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Well, a new company - some new guys have taken the Recording King name and started making these Recording King banjos and they're very affordable but they're professional grade instrument. They're - I've got one, I just got it about a week and a half ago and I haven't had a chance to put the little - there's little spikes, you know, that you put in your banjo next so you can use a capo and capo your fifth string. I haven't had a chance (unintelligible) by and get that done. Yet Rob probably have it here with me, but they're awfully good instruments. But there's several…

MARK: Well, you said affordable and that's the key for me so. As a beginning player, I guess I'll track that name down.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Can you hold off till we get to Columbus? We will bring one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. R. McCOURY: Oh, yeah.

MARK: Bring it on. I'll be here. I'll look for your show.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Okay. And there's also plenty of other good banjos. You know, you can't go wrong with a Gibson, of course, they're a little more higher priced.

MARK: Yeah.

CONAN: But that's what you're playing now, isn't it?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yes. Yeah. Yes, this is a 1940. It's an all original five-string flat head, which is - for people that don't know what banjos are, this is kind of the holy grail of what you want when you're a professional Scruggs style banjo player.

MARK: Well, I appreciate the advice and wish me luck. I know I'm going to need it.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Wish you luck, Mark.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

MARK: You bet. Bye-bye.

CONAN: We're talking with Del McCoury. Of course, that was Rob McCoury talking about his banjo. And we're taking your calls at 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK, if you'd like to join us. Also, e-mail: talk@npr.org. More music and more phone calls coming up.

So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're joined today by the Del McCoury Band live in Studio 4A. That's Del McCoury on the guitar, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Rob McCoury on banjo, Alan Bartram on base, and Jason Carter on fiddle.

If you want to see what these guys look like, later today, you can watch a video of today's performance on our Web site, npr.org. But right now, if you want to talk with the Del McCoury Band: 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Del McCoury, does it bother you when people say you look like Bob Barker?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Oh, man, I kind of pity Bob Barker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, he's done all right in his career.

Mr. D. McCOURY: You know, I never heard that, but I could see it that I am.

CONAN: Yeah, there's a certain resemblance, you know.

Mr. D. McCOURY: I'm a little older than he is.

CONAN: Oh, I don't think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I don't think so. And you know what, I don't think Drew Carey could take your place.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Why don't we hear another tune?

Mr. D. McCOURY: All right. Well, we're going to do a little tune that we have on the record and it's entitled the "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

(Soundbite of song "1952 Vincent Black Lightning")

Mr. D. McCOURY: (Singing) Said Red Molly to James, that's a fine motorbike. A girl could feel special on any such like. Said James to Red Molly, my hat's off to you. It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952. And I've seen you at the corners and cafes, it seems; red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme. And he pulled her on behind. And down to Knoxville, they did ride.

Said James to Red Molly, here's a ring for your right hand. But I'll tell you in earnest, I'm a dangerous man. I've fought with the law since I was seventeen. I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine. Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22. And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you. And if fate should break my stride, then I'll give you my Vincent to ride.

Come down, come down, Red Molly, called Sergeant McRae, for they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery. Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside. Come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside. When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left. He was running out of road, he was running out of breath. But he smiled to see her cry, and said I'll give you my Vincent to ride.

Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world beats a '52 Vincent and a red-headed girl. Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do. Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent '52. And he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys. He said I don't have any further use for these. I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome, swooping down from heaven to carry me home. And he gave her one last kiss and died. And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: I take it that's not from the children's album.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: No. It's got shooting and all that stuff…

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. D. McCOURY: …that's too good for kids, you know?

CONAN: Yeah, I would think so - red hair and blonde leather, my favorite color scheme, that's good stuff.

Mr. D. McCOURY: It comes from Richard Thompson, you know, he's a songwriter-singer over there in England and I kind of like that story, you know?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. D. McCOURY: And that's why we recorded it.

CONAN: And not, again, what you'd take as an ordinary source for a bluegrass tune?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah, probably not, you know, but I always kind of listen to the story of the song. You know, I kind of like that. It's hard to tell what to struck a person, you know, when you go to record.

CONAN: And let's see, we get another caller on the line, and this is James(ph). James is calling us from Woodland in California.

JAMES (Caller): Hi, it's James.

CONAN: James, excuse me. Go ahead.

JAMES: I'm playing mandolin, too.

CONAN: Aha.

JAMES: I've been playing for about three years and it's - I was just wondering how he got started and if I could play you a tune.

CONAN: Ronnie, why don't you tell us how you got started on the mandolin?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Is this James?

CONAN: Yeah.

JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Hey, James. This is Ronnie. Yeah, I started - I actually started when I was 9. I started playing the violin in an orchestra, and I did that for about two years. And I kind of laid that down. And I picked up the mandolin again when I was 13. It's the same strings and followed the same fingering and noting. So - then my daddy, of course, he showed how to - some pretty difficult things for some people to learn, but simple in another way is just how to hold a pick and how to keep a loose wrist.

And it takes some people a long time to learn that, but my daddy showed me that. Well, I played for about six months and he put me in the band…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. R. McCOURY: And I just played the rhythm as chopped chords, you know?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Quick steady, he is.

Mr. R. McCOURY: So anyhow, I've been there ever since and…

CONAN: Was this, Del, was this part of an effort to keep down the costs of the band?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yes, it was. Yeah, It am. It was just a four-piece band, you know, when he came in. I said, well, you can go along and play rhythm, you know. And actually, the banjo player and the fiddle player that was in the band, they were used to taking all the breaks, you know. So I said, well, Ronnie, start stealing their breaks from them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We'll get to your song in just a second, James.

JAMES: Okay.

CONAN: But Ronnie, I just want to ask, did you feel pressure from your dad to play bluegrass music?

Mr. R. McCOURY: No, I didn't. I just, you know, I was around it and have always been my entire life.

CONAN: Well, sure, yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: So I didn't have any pressure until I get into my late teens and all my buddies and all my friends, they listened to rock and roll music, you know?

CONAN: Electric guitar.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Electric guitars all that. So - and of course, I listened to that and I tried to play some of that, but I always love the mandolin. I kept playing the mandolin, I played in my dad's band the entire time. So it's all over 25 years or something like that we've been together doing this. So I didn't really never had any pressure.

CONAN: Does he still show you stuff?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, he will. I mean, he'll just say something, you know? He's kind of a teach-by-example, you know.

CONAN: Yeah. So James, what are you doing on the mandolin?

JAMES: I'm going to play "Salt Creek."

CONAN: Okay.

JAMES: Okay. I want to play it on speaker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAMES: Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yeah, we can hear you.

JAMES: Okay. Here it goes.

(Soundbite of mandolin playing)

Mr. R. McCOURY: All right.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: That's not bad. Ten-year-old James there.

Mr. R. McCOURY: 10 years old? James, that's great, man.

JAMES: I've been playing for three years. I actually started on the banjo.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Oh, wow. So you went to the real instrument.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Kind of little sibling dig there.

Mr. R. McCOURY: That's great, James. I hope to meet you someday.

JAMES: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: Well, hang in there, James. Appreciate the phone call and we all appreciate the tune.

JAMES: Okay.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

JAMES: Bye.

CONAN: That's very nice of James to call. Let's go now to - this is - whoops, what have I done…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's what I've done. Julie(ph), Julie is with us from South Lake. Where is South Lake?

JULIE (Caller): South Lake Tahoe, California.

CONAN: Okay. Go ahead, please.

JULIE: I enjoyed seeing down the band at the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy this last July. You guys probably remember it was sweltering hot. We had a nice forest fire going on over the hill. I wondered if the band gets involved in choosing their touring schedule, or is that done for them?

CONAN: Hah? Do you pick the date you've toured or is that done by your agent, Del?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Actually, it's done by the agent, yeah. Tours, you know, some of the places we had been playing, I guess before - before we got this agent, you know? But for the most part, the agent and the manager, both manager - I've got two managers.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: And they kind of decide, you know, things that are right for the band, I think, you know. And that's good because I don't want that responsibility, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JULIE: Well, we appreciate you coming to Northern California. Thanks very much.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Oh, I enjoyed at Quincy. That's a nice festival, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

JULIE: You bet. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail we have from Eric in Crozet, Virginia. It seems that bluegrass has become more intelligent in recent years. I guess he listened to you in the old days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah.

CONAN: Groups like the Hackensaw Boys, Old Crow Medicine Show and others get into the complexities of war, racism, Southern identity, globalization, land rights, a whole range of issues, not to say that old-time bands didn't have substance to their songs, but the revival of bluegrass seems to have broadened those intellectual horizons while still having fun. It's a great mix. I wonder what you think.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Well, you know, it's always been an intelligent music, I think. Bill Monroe started it, you know, in the middle '40s at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. And I guess the sound - this sound came about when he hired Lester Flatt as a lead singer and guitar player and Earl Scruggs is a three-finger banjo player, you know?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Chubby Wise play - he's a swing fiddler, I think, before he came into Bill's band and Bill told him to play song breaks, you know, which is what they needed him to fill. But, you know, there've always been doctors and lawyers coming to our shows years ago, you know, even before we got intelligent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, you were, of course, a bluegrass boy yourself.

Mr. McCOURY: I was.

CONAN: And you went down with your banjo to audition for Bill Monroe and you didn't get to play it?

Mr. D. McCOURY: No, I didn't. I'd played it - I had played a date in New York City with my own banjo, you know, before. And he offered me a job then, but I was kind of reluctant, you know, to accept the job. And when I did get there, he told me, he said, now you go to this certain hotel and - at the Clarkston Hotel in Nashville - and call me, and I'll come in town and get you, you know, whatever.

And so it's been a long time and I could have forgotten some things, but there's another banjo player there at the same time. And actually, what Bill wanted me to do - he needed a lead singer and a guitar player. And he said I want you to do that. So that's what I did, and I've been doing it ever since.

CONAN: Did he know you could play the guitar?

Mr. D. McCOURY: No, I don't think he knew anything about it. I don't see how, because I never played for him, you know?

CONAN: We're talking with Del McCoury and listening to the Del McCoury Band. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get another caller on the line and this is Dell(ph). Dell is with us from Loomis, is that right, in Washington?

DELL (Caller): That's right.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

DELL: I know Del has been playing mountain music for years and years, and I know he used to play with Bill. But I wondered if you could tell us a little bit of how you got started personally as a youngster and how the music industry has changed over the years.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Hey, Dell, how are you doing?

DELL: I'm doing great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Well, you know, I started playing when I was about 9. I started playing guitar first. And then I heard that my brother, my older brother, G.C. McCoury, he was older than me and he could buy records, so he bought a record of Flatt and Scruggs. And that was kind of the turning point for me. You know, I wanted to play banjo after I heard Earl Scruggs.

And that would have been 1950, I think. And so I felt, well, you know, there's probably a lot of banjo players, three-finger style that is. I'd heard a lot of other styles, you know, like two-finger style and drop them or whatever (unintelligible) you know, before that, because I had uncles that play that way.

But when I heard Earl, you know, I thought, this is it for me. I want to learn to do that, and that's what got me into the music in the beginning. And like I said - and I played it for 10 years until I've started playing guitar and singing lead with Bill Monroe, you know?

But in those days, you know, the music wasn't that popular, but see, I came along. When I was in high school, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis and the "Blue Suede Shoes" guy…

DELL: Carl Perkins and Friends.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yes, they hit it big, man, and they were just stealing the shows from all the bluegrass guys and all the country people, you know? I mean, it was tough for those guys to make a living about that time and - but you know, I'd already - I had already heard Earl Scruggs, so Elvis didn't mean anything to me, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: And so - but then, you know, actually, that the folk boom got a lot of the bluegrass bands a lot of work, you know?

DELL: Yeah.

Mr. D. McCOURY: It kind of helped the bluegrass bands all over the country and then of course, eventually we got our own festivals, you know, the bluegrass festivals.

And then, that seemed to spread the music worldwide because there were a lot of folks who would come from all the countries in Europe and Japan and everything to those festivals. So, you know, from the - back in those early days, it was kind of a - what would you call original music, you know.

And so it was hard for those guys to make a living. They had bad roads to run on and it was before interstates, you know? But the music is worldwide now, so it makes a lot of work for people like us, you know. The old guys paved the way, Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs, I could name dozens, you know?

CONAN: Hmm. Thanks very much for the call, Dell.

DELL: We love your music.

CONAN: Thank you.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail we have from Larry(ph) in Florida. Is it true that there's some sort of FCC regulation prohibiting any radio station from playing bluegrass and old country? Also, are bluegrass bands ever allowed to play indoors or is that some other kind of law?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: That's pretty good, Larry. You know, yeah. I tell you that, I guess, you know, radio is kind of geared to better selling, you know, music…

CONAN: That's other part of Nashville that town you live in.

Mr. D. McCOURY: It's probably true, you know? But we do play - once in a while, we do play inside. In fact, today, we're playing inside. So…

CONAN: If we're in violation of a law, we're going to keep it really, really, quiet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: I know what he's telling about is probably - the most - the shows that he see is probably are bluegrass festivals, which are always outside, you know? But we play from Carnegie Hall to Bonnaroo, you know, that's an inside one and an outside one. So, yeah, it's not against the law. Now we'll keep doing it…

CONAN: More inside music for the Del McCoury Band when we come back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And again, if you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Today, we're talking with the Del McCoury band here in Studio 4A. If there's anything you'd like them to play, well, then take a request. Send us an e-mail: talk@npr.org. The members of the band are Del McCoury on guitar, Rob McCoury on banjo, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Alan Bartram on bass and Jason Carter on fiddle.

Again, we're videotaping this performance. We'll post it at the Web site later today. You can check that out at npr.org. And again, any requests: talk@npr.org. And if you'd like to join the conversation by phone, that's 800-989-8255. Why don't we hear another tune now?

Mr. D. McCOURY: All right. You know, we'd like to do the latest band release that we have is "The Promise Land," which is a gospel record.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: And we have a request for another gospel tune just a minute over. We felt we better do this because it's on our new record.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. D. McCOURY: All right.

(Soundbite of song "I'll Put on a Crown and Walk Around")

Mr. D. McCOURY: (Singing) I am on my journey to the city four square. And by faith and the love of God I surely will enter there. Win some bride tomorrow with the saints I'll stand. I'll put on a crown and walk around all over God's Promised Land.

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) Oh, what glory. Oh, what a wonderful day. I'll join the throng in the blood-washed throne while the ages roll away. And when I get to heaven on that beautiful strand, I'll put on a crown and walk around all over God's promised land.

Mr. D. McCOURY: (Singing) There will be no dying. No more trouble or strife. We will live forever by the beautiful stream of life. When I join that chorus, heaven's happy band, I'll put on a crown and walk all around all over God's promised land.

THE DEL McCOURY BAND: (Singing) Oh, what glory. Oh, what a wonderful day. I'll join the throng in the blood-washed throne while the ages roll away. And when I get to heaven on that beautiful strand, I'll put on a crown and walk around all over God's promised land.

Oh, what glory. Oh, what a wonderful day. I'll join the throng in the blood-washed throne while the ages roll away. And when I get to heaven on that beautiful strand, I'll put on a crown and walk around all over God's promised land. I'll put on a crown and walk around all over God's promised land.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: The Del McCoury band in Studio 4A. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Trey(ph). Trey is with us from South Carolina.

TREY (Caller): Hey, yeah. I just want to thank all of you all for doing what you all do. I saw you guys, probably, about seven years ago up in North Carolina. You all played the show with Widespread Panic, and The String Cheese, then Parliament Funkadelic. I know that you got to play at places like Bonnaroo all the time, where you all kind of have a hippie audience. I just wanted to know how playing in a situation like that differs for you all than playing to an old Tommy bluegrass crowd?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Well, Trey, you know it's a - it's just about the - well, I guess - there is a variety, you know, in our shows that we do but it's - we still entertain them just the same, you know, as they all - we always do requests - and from the audience. And so, you know, there's a lot of similarities. A lot of times, we'll have a standup audience, you know, in some of the clubs that we play inside, and there might be teenagers, say, or people in their early 20s standing there, and then there might be a guy of my age right up next to him, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: And if they - if I was that old, I don't think I'd stand through a show like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I wonder, though, do you worry sometimes that people who come to see you might to see some of these other groups and other kinds of musicians and people who do very - just different kinds of music but…

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah.

CONAN: …have a different attitude towards the audience sometimes?

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah. You know, a lot of times we - yeah, I guess they do, but we get new fans that way, you know, by playing with some of the jam bands.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: And I know we've got - we - I had a song "Went to Heaven" and Phish recorded it on a live album and they want us to come and do their festival up in New York - up there on the lake, you know? And I thought, well, we'll go up there and play, you know, and it just been another festival, you know?

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. D. McCOURY: We got up there and it was like 77,000 people are there, you know? So, we got a lot of fans there, you know?

CONAN: Yeah. But I've read that it was less comfortable, for example, after you toured with Steve Earle?

Mr. D. McCOURY: It was, I think, you know? He's a great songwriter, you know, and great musician, you know? But I think it was kind of like a clash there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: He was probably raised different from me, you know. And I like to keep a clean show, and I always did, you know. So - but Steve, you know, he's got his own fans and they accept him the way he is, which is good, you know? But I have my bluegrass fans, too, at a lot of those shows, well, all of them. I had bluegrass fans come. And so, you know, it just didn't sit right with me that he would have that kind of language in front of my fans, you know?

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah.

Here's an e-mail. This actually from a man named Del(ph) on our blog. On Del's MySpace profile, they have a photo of Del, Rob, and Ronnie along with Jerry Garcia and Bruce Hornsby. I wonder how that all came about and where that took place?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. McCOURY: Ronnie can tell you more about that.

CONAN: Ronnie?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Sure. Well - Dad - my father had met Jerry Garcia probably about 1972, I think, you said in Warrington, Virginia…

Mr. D. McCOURY: I think it might have been. Yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: …with a friend of ours name David Grisman who's a great mandolin player. And my dad had known David since the early '60s.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: And David had - was living in New York and he moved to California, and he met up with Jerry Garcia and they start a band called Old and in the Way. And so my dad had met him in '72 - well this picture was from about 1990.

I had bought some old time banjoes, and I was living in Pennsylvania - that's where we're from and I grew up there - and I called David about them and David said, you know, Jerry might be interested in these banjoes and they're coming to Washington, D.C. And I had been to see the Grateful Dead several times because a lot of my friends that knew about rock and roll, when I said I play bluegrass, they said, oh you mean, you know, Jerry Garcia, he does bluegrass. So I wanted to see what this was all about, how this intertwined at all if it did. And I found that there were kind of like folk music plugged in, you know?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: So, anyhow, we got to…

CONAN: Plugged into several things.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. R. McCOURY: Well, anyhow, I had these banjoes. I took them down to him. And I took my dad with me, and my brother went, my wife went, anyhow - my sister -we all went down there to this show - and I had been to some other shows before, but never been backstage and never had really talked to him. And we sat down and talked for about an hour and, of course, he bought the banjoes, you know? It was probably pennies to him, you know, but I - whether he bought them because he wanted to or he just bought them just to buy them, I don't know. But he bought the banjoes - Bruce Hornsby was also in the band at that time, and anyhow, we sat and talked for about an hour and he had seen my father with Bill Monroe in 1963.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. R. McCOURY: And he told me that was the first time that he had ever seen Bill Monroe in California. Dad was out there and he told me that my dad was a big inspiration for him like for playing music. So that's kind of how that conversation ended - that's where the picture came from, Del.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So that's a - and when did your father meet with those guys to get the picture taken?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Well, it was then.

CONAN: That was that moment?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah. It was that meeting…

CONAN: That moment. Yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: …you want to take them to the CAP Center here in D.C. that's where it was.

Mr. D. McCOURY: There it was.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now, you were never seduced by the offer of maybe plugging in and starting a different kind of band yourself?

Mr. R. McCOURY: Well, you know I've dabbled in a little bit in a - but of course, I like the true sound of these instruments when you stand beside each other playing. And - but you never know. I mean, it's fun to do, you know, and I've considered it before. But as far as, you know, the music that we're doing and the way that we do it, and the tone that we try to get from the instruments together, and singing together, this is what we do.

CONAN: Yeah. You're also preserving a tradition - not only preserving a tradition, but expanding it. I know you're trying to do stuff and we've been talking about the new kinds of songs you're using, too.

Mr. R. McCOURY: Yeah, you know, it's true. We try to do that. You know, this is a great American art form and - that, you know, I think it deserves more attention than it gets. And to have young guys and young people like James that called…

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. R. McCOURY: …and played a mandolin - he lives in California - in Woodland. But I think it's just great to be able to carry the song and there's - it's a challenge for kids to play those music. And a lot of people have said, if you can play bluegrass music, you can play any kind of music. And many people, like rock and roll people, like Jerry Garcia or whoever, they agree, you know?

If you can play this music - it's not easy to do. And I'm glad to hear about little guys like James out there, you know? And there's a lot of them out there because they like a challenge.

CONAN: Ronnie McCoury talking to us. We're listening to the Del McCoury Band. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we do have a request. John(ph) in Sacramento wants to hear "Can't Get There from Here."

Mr. D. McCOURY: Wow. Did we do that one ever? Did we?

Mr. R. McCOURY: You wrote that.

Mr. D. McCOURY: I wrote that and did it? "Can't Get There from Here." I can't remember it.

Mr. R. McCOURY: I (unintelligible).

Mr. D. McCOURY: I'm not sure I can. I can't…

Mr. R. McCOURY: Don Sliztch.

Mr. D. McCOURY: I just can't recall that. Oh, I did write that with Don Sliztch, a great songwriter there in Nashville. Of course, he did most of it, I helped him a little bit but, you know what, I guess I'll have to turn that request down.

CONAN: We'll we've got another one, as you might suspect, this one for the "Tennessee Stud."

Mr. D. McCOURY: No.

CONAN: No?

Mr. D. McCOURY: That's great. That's great, but I never - I met the guy that wrote that song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, how about "High on a Mountain" then.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Well, yeah. That one now - I tell you what. I recorded it back, I was probably the first to record that song back in - was it 1970? Maybe, I don't know.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: A friend of mine, Ola Belle Reed, her name was actually Ola Belle Campbell. She had a brother - they had a brother-sister duet, and she wrote this song and gave it to me. And she said, now you do it up on your own fashion. And so I did, and of course, it was just about like the way that she sang it, and it was a title of the record I had back about 1970, '71, '72, somewhere along in there on Rounder Records.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. D. McCOURY: "High on the Mountain." Okay.

(Soundbite of song "High on a Mountain Top")

Mr. D. McCOURY: (Singing) As I look at the valleys down below, they were green just as far as I could see. As my memory returned, oh how my heart did yearn for you and the day that used to be.

High on the mountain oh wind blowing free, thinking about the days that used to be. High on the mountain, oh standing all alone wondering where the years of my life has flown.

Oh, I wonder if you ever think of me or if time has blotted out your memory. As I listen to the breeze whisper gently through the trees, I'll always cherish what you meant to me.

High on a mountain, oh, wind blowing free, thinking about the days that used to be. High on a mountain, oh standing all alone wondering where the years of my life has flown.

High on a mountain, oh wind blowing free, thinking about the days that used to be. High on a mountain oh standing all alone, wondering where the years of my life has flown.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: You've been listening to the Del McCoury Band live in studio 4A with Jason Carter on fiddle, Alan Bartram on bass, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Rob McCoury on banjo, and of course, Del McCoury leading the group on guitar.

Del McCoury, thank you so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

Mr. D. McCOURY: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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