March 28 2021

The Real McCoy

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“The real McCoy” is an idiom and metaphor used in much of the English-speaking world to mean “the real thing” or “the genuine article.

Harmonica Player and Grammy Award winning session musician Charlie McCoy was born on this day, March 28, 1941. McCoy was born in Oak Hill, West Virginia. At the age of eight he began playing on a harmonica his mother had bought him for fifty cents. He soon learned to play other instruments as well. Charlie became a guitarist, a drummer, and also played bass and trumpet in his teenage years.

Miami, Florida was where Charlie McCoy would spend his teenaged years attending Southwest Miami high school. It was at Southwest Miami high that McCoy would put together a rock band he called “Charlie McCoy and the Agendas.” After being coaxed by a friend to attend and play at a barn dance, the band was signed to the “Old South Jamboree,” a popular radio show in Miami.

McCoy’s original band included himself on guitar and as lead singer, Bill Johnson on steel guitar, Charlie Justice on guitar, and vocalist Bill Phillips. The other member of the Agendas playing bass was a man named Donny Lytle. Lytle would later be known to the country music world as Johnny Paycheck.

At the age of eighteen, Charlie McCoy received an invitation to come to Nashville and persue his musical career by artist Mel Tillis. After visiting many record companies and producers and not catching the big break he was seeking, McCoy returned to Miami to begin attending classes at Miami University.

Charlie McCoy majored in music education at Miami University with hopes to become a teacher. Faculty members of the university did not like McCoy’s work outside of the university. He was still playing his rock n roll music at the “Jamboree.” The university faculty members deemed this “a lower form of music.” McCoy made it known that he would quit playing the barn dance if the faculty would give him a scholarship, however, the University denied his request.

After working for several bands mainly as a drummer, Charlie McCoy’s music was heard by Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records.  “Cherry Berry Wine“, would become McCoy’s first recorded single. The track reached the 99th spot on the charts in Nashville.

In 1961, Chet Akins heard one of Charlie McCoy’s demo tapes. Akins hired Charlie on the spot. It was Chet Akins who gave Charlie the big break he was looking for.

With RCA and Ann Margaret, Charlie McCoy recorded his first song as a harmonica player. “I Just Don’t Understand.” At the discovery by Fred Foster of Monument records in his musical talents with the mouth harp, his instrumentals would back Roy Orbison’s, “Candy Man.”

Candy Man,” became a million seller. The prominent harmonics throughout the song drew notice. Fred Foster believed in Charlie McCoy’s music.

McCoy continued to record with Monument. In 1972, a release of “Today I Started Loving You Again” as a single sold 750,000 copies and reached #16 in the Billboard Charts. The Real McCoy, Charlie McCoy’s next album would win a Grammy from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His album Good Time Charlie reached No. 1 in the Billboard country chart.

Throughout the 1970’s Charlie McCoy participated in over 400 recording sessions a year. McCoy’s harmonica appears on Ringo Starrs, “Beaucoups of Blues.” While his guitar ability can be heard on Dylan’s, “Desolation Row.” His bass playing can be heard on all the tracks from Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding. McCoy also recorded with Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and The Steve Miller Band, and more.

For 19 years, Charlie McCoy was the musical director of the popular television show Hee Haw. He was also a member of the Million Dollar Band, the group of all-star session musicians who performed on the show.

Happy Birthday Charlie, you truly are the “REAL McCoy.”


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Posted March 28, 2021 by Cody Watson in category "Pancho Palace


  1. By Cori on

    Great post! I knew nothing about Charlie McCoy until I read your post- he sounds like a super talented guy. It ain’t easy playing harmonica! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


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