Among the most distinguished practitioners of traditional bluegrass, Del McCoury was the epitome of the "high lonesome sound" for over three decades.
Born Delano Floyd McCoury, he was raised in Bakersville, North Carolina. In 1941, he and his family moved to Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, where he got his start as a five-string banjo picker with Keith Daniels & the Blue Ridge Ramblers. Later he played with Jack Cooke's Virginia Mountain Boys in Baltimore. McCoury got his first big break in 1963 when Bill Monroe hired the Virginia Mountain Boys to play a few New York gigs. Monroe was impressed by the young banjo player and invited him to join his Blue Grass Boys. Shortly after accepting Monroe's offer, McCoury became the group's lead vocalist and took up rhythm guitar. In early 1964, he recorded one single with Monroe, but a month later returned home to marry.
Following his marriage, he and fiddler Billy Baker spent three months in California playing with the Golden State Boys. Upon his return back east, McCoury began playing and recording with the Shady Valley Boys. McCoury left the group in 1967 and founded the Dixie Pals with Bill Emerson, Wayne Yates, and Billy Baker. McCoury & His Dixie Pals, which underwent several membership changes, played together for over 20 years and recorded on such labels as Rounder, Revonah, Leather, and Rebel. In 1987, the unit was renamed the Del McCoury Band following the additions of his sons Ronnie on mandolin and Robbie on banjo along with fiddler Tad Marks and bass player Mike Brantley.
The period following the formation of the Del McCoury Band proved to be very productive, with several terrific releases for Rounder. The band carefully bridged the gap between the interesting song choices and instrumentation of the best progressive bluegrass groups, while still retaining the high lonesome style of traditional bluegrass. In early 1999, the band reached a whole new group of listeners when it backed singer/songwriter Steve Earle on his successful traditionally themed album The Mountain. Around that time, McCoury and sons amicably ended their relationship with Rounder, moving to Ricky Skaggs' Ceili label for the Family and Del and the Boys records. The band released It's Just the Night in 2003, followed by The Company We Keep in 2005, the gospel-influenced Promised Land in 2006, and Family Circle in 2009. Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe appeared in 2011. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi