STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now for some bluegrass. A few years ago, the influential bluegrass musician Del McCoury got tired of modern concert amplification, so he went retro along with his sons Ronnie and Rob. The band stripped back to a basic setup used in the early 1960s when Del McCoury was playing guitar and singing with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. Here's Del McCoury as part of the occasional series Musicians...In Their Own Words.

Mr. DEL McCOURY: Back when I was a young guy, there was Frank Sinatra on the radio, you know, and there was Bing Crosby--you knew it was Bing. But there was nothing that excited a kid like this bluegrass music. It just had that punch.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McCOURY: I was 11 when I heard Earl Scruggs, and I thought, `That's what I want to do.' Those cats could play fast, and they could sing high and just do everything, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

BLUEGRASS BOYS: (Singing) Rollin' in my sweet baby's arms. Rollin' in my sweet baby's arms.

Mr. McCOURY: When I was with Bill Monroe, we played a lot of places that didn't have sound systems. You know, in the '60s we went to like eight microphones and monitor speakers and all that bit, and I just got so fed up trying to sing with a guy who's six feet away from me, you know. See, back years ago, we just used one microphone. When I mention this, like, 10 years ago about doing this again, the boys said, `Well, Dad, we could try this'--my sons, you know. And so we got modern, and then we went back to the old thing, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McCOURY: We only use two mikes. When you're in this microphone right here and you're all four or three or two singing there, you can hear this guy out of your own natural ear and tell exactly when he's breathing and what he's doing.

(Soundbite of music)

BLUEGRASS BOYS: (Singing) Get down, get down, get down, get down. Get down on your knees and pray.

Mr. McCOURY: I guess it is choreography, you know. The lead singer, you know, he has to get in there and do his verse and chorus or whatever it is, then he's got to get to the left and let the lead instrument come in and take a break.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McCOURY: When he gets done, he can step to the right real quick, and the other guy--he's coming in from behind. You can hear him, just as though he's already there, you know.

BLUEGRASS BOYS: (Singing) Get down, get down, get down, get down. You better get down on your knees and pray.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. McCOURY: Harmony, you know, is--I don't know. It's a thing--it's a hard thing to do, I think. The main part of the harmony is me and my son Ronnie. And you go to sing with somebody that you never sang with, they can be a good singer, but they'll phrase different.

BLUEGRASS BOYS: (Singing) It's the words you can't say, the things you can't change no matter how much you care.

Mr. McCOURY: They'll say the words different. They'll put different rhythm in the words, you know. But if you're related, you're apt to do the same thing.

BLUEGRASS BOYS: (Singing) You're just part of the soul of the river that runs between fathers and sons.

Mr. McCOURY: Once we rehearse a song and record it, it's probably the last time we'll ever rehearse that song. You know, the next time we do it, we'll be on stage. Usually what we do in a dressing room is just tune up, you know, maybe warm up a little bit.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McCOURY: Yeah, I feel like I'm no different now than I was 30 years ago. I may be more polished now, you know, what I do, but I have my heroes, and I think those are the guys that are so good.

(Soundbite of music)

BLUEGRASS BOYS: (Singing) I ain't gonna work on the railroad, ain't gonna work on the farm. Play around the shack till the mail train comes back, and rollin' in my sweet baby's arms. Rollin' in my sweet baby's arms. Rollin' in my sweet baby's arms. Play around the shack till the mail train comes back, and rollin' in my sweet baby's arms.

INSKEEP: If you'd like to see a performance by Del McCoury, go to npr.org, where you can also hear a cut from his upcoming CD, "The Company We Keep."

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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