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Neal McCoy Swaps Lambert-Shelton Wedding Stories, Talks New Music and Lying to Women

Neal McCoy
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Some of the best advice Neal McCoy ever received came from Charley Pride, who said, “If you put on great shows and are nice to people, you can work in this business forever.” The ‘Wink’ singer had just about resorted to relying on that advice to finish out his career before a record label out of Cleveland, Ohio and two country superstars came to his rescue.

McCoy’s new album ‘XII’ is set to be released in January on Blaster Records. Longtime friends Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert produced the album — his first in six years — and Lambert sings harmony on a song McCoy calls one of the project’s highlights, a song called ‘Every Fire.’ “I really wasn’t sure if I’d ever get another shot to record,” the 53-year-old tells Taste of Country. “And then Blake and Miranda get involved and I realize, “You know what, I got a real shot. Not just from having their names involved, but they brought some wonderful music to the table.’ When you’re hot like they are, you get the ‘A’ stuff from the great writers and they pass some of that along to me.”

McCoy, who just celebrated his 31st wedding anniversary, is one of the nicest men in country music. It’s a rare moment when he doesn’t have an ear-to-ear grin across his face. Despite not having new music available until releasing the single ‘A-OK’ this fall, the singer has kept busy recording ‘Day Jobs’ for GAC and providing the entertainment for the Shelton/Lambert wedding. He generously shared his favorite memories from all of those experiences during a phone conversation, including a story about the superstar’s first dance that had never been told.

Compare this stage of your career to the mid to late ’90s.
I think it’s harder because I’m older. I think I’m having as much fun as I’ve ever had, only because now going into the studio, even with Blake and Miranda — although it’s pretty intimidating to be in there with them as hot as they are and as big as names as they are — I think I’m more at home because I know what I’m doing in there. In the younger days, when I go in the studio I was so intimidated by the musicians, by everybody in there and how good everybody was [that] I don’t know that I ever relaxed and really just enjoyed it. I was always so worried about having to be good.

Is coming back after six or seven years away from recording and making music comparable to an athlete who’s coming back from the injured list?
I think that’s probably a pretty fair comparison in that we’re still out doing a lot of shows, but although our show is as good as anybody’s we think, maybe we’re still kind of in Triple A. We’re putting on great shows but we’re not at the same level. I think this will get us back into the major leagues again. Because I thought I was gonna be a minor leaguer the rest of my life. We were in the majors. But we got sent down [laughs].

Did Blake and Miranda help you with what works and doesn’t work in 2012?
Yeah. I think that’s the proper way to put it because the songs I had hits with, some of them will live forever — like ‘Wink’ and ‘The Shake’ … but some of the stuff, maybe, like ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ or some of those groove things may not be as effective today as they used to be. So they brought some music to the table. I found some stuff and they brought some music that we think is probably just a little more current maybe [in] subject matter, and especially more current from a production standpoint — just a little more powerful, a little more hip.

I’m not sure there are a lot of people in your position who would ask for help from younger artists.
Yeah, and that’s right. And I’m fortunate enough that those kids would even work with me. Our relationships go way back, but with their schedules and as hot as they are and as popular as they are, they run all the time and they really appreciate their off time. For them to take a lot of their off time off and come in the studio with me and help produce and sing on some of this stuff, it’s just a huge feather in my cap. And I think the reason that they do it — and hopefully if you talk to them that they would say the same thing — is that they like me. They grew up with me and they like me and they still think there’s a lot to offer there.

What is Blake like as a record producer?
You know what, he’s pretty dang smart. It’s crazy. As goofy as he wants to come off and as off the cuff as he wants to come off, a lot of his things are very calculated. He is a very smart person, and he’s not near as drunk as he comes off to be on his Twitter page [laughs]. And Miranda is the same way. They’re both great musicians, very knowledgeable about music and were wonderful in the studio. And I think one of the most wonderful things is that they can shuck-and-jive with the best of them but when it comes time to work, they go to work. And that’s what I like because I’m about working. I’m about effort. It should be about effort, no matter what you’re doing. If you’re pumping gas or digging a hole you should dig a whole better than anybody else. And they get that.

Talk about the song Jamey Johnson wrote.
It’s a song called ‘Mouth.’ [Sings] “Well I can stick my foot in my mouth / I mean all five toes don’t even leave the heel stickin’ out.” It’s a country western swing kind of thing about how he stuck his foot in his mouth, about how he approached a pregnant woman on the dance floor and asked when she was due and she wasn’t pregnant. It’s fantastic. And it’s Jamey singing the demo because it’s so good. I’ve had this song seven or eight years, probably before Jamey had come out really on his own as an artist.

Fans loved watching you go back to work as a shoe salesman on the GAC show.
It’s only been 32 years since I sold ladies shoes.

Were you a good salesman?
Yeah, yeah I was because it’s just about being able to talk and flirt and lie. If you work on commission, which I did, I would lie to those women. I mean, anything for the sale. I know that’s terrible to admit now. If the shoe was too small I told ‘em it’d stretch. If it was too big I told ‘em just wear it a little while; it’ll form to your foot. I mean I told ‘em anything to try to get that sale. I was trying to support me and a new wife.

You met your wife through that job?
Yeah … she was working down the mall at another store and she came in the shoe store with her mother. And I just thought, “Oh my gosh, who is this girl? She’s the prettiest girl in the world.” She had to be. I’d never seen anybody prettier. Then I got to know her, I met her at a discotheque, asked her to dance and she said, “No.” And I got shot down and walked back to my buddies — they were all laughing standing against the wall giving me a hard time. But she told me, “No, I don’t dance with guys I don’t know on slow songs.” And about an hour later there was a real fast song. She came over and said, “Well, you still wanna dance?” And of course after I gave my guys the ‘uh huh.’ I went and danced with her, and we’ve been dancing ever since.

Is there a story from the Blake and Miranda wedding that people haven’t heard that you can share?
I tell you one of the best moments for me was I had been in touch with Blake and Miranda for two months before the wedding started and kept saying, “Do y’all want a first dance? Do you want a father-daughter dance?” And they kept telling me, “No.” They said, “You just have the party you have at every Neal McCoy show, that’s what we want. People enjoy it and that’s what we’ll do.” … And they started talking, and then they were gonna turn around and introduce me and I turned to my band and said, ‘No Doubt About It,’ which was our very first No. 1 song and a love song in not such a sappy way, and I think that’s maybe what they were scared of … So they started into it, and if everything worked perfectly I thought, “Maybe I’ll get them to dance on this song.” They walked from there to the dance floor, and everybody just separated and they danced their first dance. And I saw them singing to each other … so I walked offstage and put the mic to them, and they sang a little bit of it to each other so it was really a special moment for me.

Listen to Neal McCoy’s ‘A-OK’

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