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Ronnie McCoury breaks new ground

By Jon Weisberger, June 2000

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Though he didn't write all of the songs, it's evident McCoury put as much care into the selection of songs by other writers as he devoted to his own compositions. The early airplay leader, "Somebody's Gonna Pay," comes from an old friend, singer-guitarist Jamie Hartford.

"I've been friends with Jamie since before I moved to Nashville," he recalls. "We're about the same age, I guess; we were probably both about 18 when we met. He's one of those guys I just hit it off with right away. He's such a nice guy, and I think he's a great guitar player, and he's a songwriter, too - that whole record of his has such good songs. He was playing here every Wednesday night for a while, and I'd go down there and see him. He had all these tunes and hadn't had them recorded yet. I heard that and said 'man, that's a good tune.' I wanted my dad to do it on our last record, but it kind of fell into my court. I've been singing that one on the road a lot, more than anything - even the songs that I wrote."

Another favorite comes from Paul Williams, once a member of Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys, and now a bluegrass gospel performer.

"He sang 'Sometimes Sleep Closes These Eyes' to me in the hallway at SPBGMA (an annual Nashville bluegrass gathering) one time," McCoury remembers. "He said, 'here's a couple of songs that I probably won't ever record' - because he's just doing gospel now, you know. He sent me four or five of these songs. Well, you know, he's got one of the greatest voices that bluegrass has ever known, so when he said, 'I'd really like for you to record that,' how could I ever turn that down? He wants me to record it, and here I am struggling through this song thinking about how he sang it."

Though he's got a solo album out, McCoury is still very much a member of his father's band, and happy to be so.

"I've been in Nashville for close to 10 years," he says, "and it's really worked out well. Of course, the first year or two we were here we kept going right back out to the Northeast again, because that's where our fans were. But we came here hoping for a good central location and more television, and it really panned out. We're able to play the Grand Ole Opry, and that means a lot. Of course, we're not members, but we've got our fingers crossed for that. I wasn't able to listen to it much when I was growing up - we were too far away- but my dad heard it as a kid, you know, and it means a lot to him and to us, that's for sure. I'd love to see my dad become a member."

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