Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 4, 2001

An interview with Neal McCoy

By Ryan Gueningsman

Neal McCoy called me for a pre-Winstock interview on Tuesday, May 22. McCoy is headlining Winstock 2001 with a performance beginning at 10:30 p.m. Saturday evening.

Even though Winsted is just another stop on the road for country superstar Neal McCoy, that doesn't mean that we are going to get a ho-hum performance.

He is known for his exceptionally rambunctious live shows, which include everything from audience participation to climbing the support poles on the stage.

Neal McCoy was named TNN/ Music City News Entertainer of the Year in 1998 and 1999, even though he didn't have an album on the charts at all.

Born in the heart of Texas, McCoy has always let music play an important role in his life.

"Music was everything. I grew up singing in high school and elementary choir and I had dreams or aspirations of being a singer when I grew up, but I wasn't sure just quite how I was going to do it, being from a small town like Jacksonville, Texas. It was just a big part of my life," said McCoy.

Growing up listening to the radio, he heard singers such as Barry Manilow, and artists in that genre of music. He also heard country singers like Ronnie Milsap and Lee Greenwood, but his first major influence was Michael Jackson.

"Some country people might not like to hear it, but my first influence was Michael Jackson. I remember sitting in front of the TV when I was 10 years old watching him sing '1-2-3, easy as A-B-C' and thinking, 'That's just what I want to do,'" said McCoy.

"Just like every other singer, when you grow up, you know you want to sing. I didn't really know what format or anything I was going to do because I didn't know if I'd ever have a chance at becoming a professional singer for a living," said McCoy.

"In 1981, in Dallas, Texas, I entered a country music contest and I got the opportunity to meet Charley Pride, and that's who helped me get my foot in the door. That's really how I determined I was going to be in country music, because of the contest."

After winning the contest, McCoy began to tour with Pride.

"I stayed out there and, by working with Charley, I got to know some people in the record industry and some people found out I was out there working.

"I think it was, shoot, it's been a long time, I think it was 1989, early part of 1990, the head of Atlantic Records flew out and heard me. I was out playing the club circuit and was in Arizona at the time. I guess they just thought I had some potential. They signed me and we've been making records ever since," said McCoy.

Even though McCoy had himself a record deal, his first number one song didn't come until his third album.

"We struggled for years just trying to be musicians and make enough money, where I could keep my family alive, and, in 1993, on our third album, we had already put out two albums and a bunch of singles, none of them did very well on the charts.

Then, finally, in '93, "No Doubt About It" came out as a single and it kept climbing and climbing and it finally reached the number one spot. It was a real big deal. It finally made me think all this work has been worthwhile when I had that first number one," said McCoy.

After that first number one song, Neal McCoy had his ups and downs in the country music business.

He was named Entertainer of the Year for two consecutive years, and has had many hit songs, including "The Shake," Wink," "The City Put the Country Back in Me," and "You Gotta Love That," just to name a few from his hits collection.

However, following the release of his 1999 album, "Life Of the Party," McCoy was unable to chart a song. He also parted ways with his record label. They went through some hard times, but eventually, Giant Records signed McCoy and he was back to work on his latest album, "24-7-365."

"To me, this is the best album I've done," he said about his latest release. "I've never had that big sound, full and thick, before. We're probably not the best singers or musicians out there, so that's what myself and the band work very hard at is entertaining the people.

"Right before I go onto that stage, I'm thinking 'I'm just fixin' to have fun and to entertain the people that are out here watching us. When the whole thing is over, I'll walk off the stage and say 'I hope we did as good as we could, we had a lot of fun, and hopefully, all those people, when they leave say, 'Man that was one of the best shows I've ever seen.'"

Many people who attended Winstock 1998 saw Neal McCoy at his best, and many have said, "That was the best show I've ever seen at Winstock."

McCoy remembers being at Winstock last time. He said he had a blast then and is looking forward to it this year.

"People always ask me where my favorite place is to tour and I always say 'up in your area' because it just seems like the fans up there are more responsive and we feed off of the audience," said McCoy. "Up there (midwest) they always seem to be vocal and we sure do like that. We do like to have fun and we're going to have a good time again this time around!"

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