It is always a challenge getting young aspiring musicians in the moment. By that I mean, a real-life moment.
“I can sing and people love me. Aunt Thelma and Uncle Berle told me so," wanders through their collective head.
OK, so, what are you going to do about it?
“I’m heading to the mall to meet some friends and when I get time, I’m going to be a star!”
Sounds far fetched, yet few understand commitment, hard work and focus.
25-year veteran Jason McCoy keeps rolling like it was day one in his career. His arsenal of work-wares includes singing, writing, recording and touring with The Road Hammers, a radio show, a camera stop as host of Smashdown (CMT/USA), two seasons of CMT’s Pet Heroes (2010/2011) and Jason McCoy Eats America. Write, record, speak and be seen. It’s all about living in the present and staying engaged.
McCoy has been tapped to host the 2017 edition of CMAOntario Awards June 11, 2017. I recently caught up with him and posed a few questions.
The CMAOntario Awards take place Sunday, June 11 at Centennial Hall in London. This year Jason Blaine and Cold Creek County are featured performers. What’s the hang backstage like at such events?
Country music, in general, is always a great hang. It’s pretty much as people would assume, “Hey man, love your new single… Where did you record that? How’s the family?” and so on… Pretty awesome.” I’m really looking forward to Jason Blaine, Cold Creek County and all the performers. Ontario country music has never been stronger!
CMAOntario was formed in 2007 by Rob MacArthur and founding patron Linda Wright. How does this kind of award show impact careers?
Award shows definitely help your profile. Just being nominated helps get the name out there or keep it in the spotlight, for sure. But, the CMAOntario is much more than a one-night celebration. All year they hold seminars, feature regional artists, and try to connect people within the industry to help build a strong future for all. It’s a much needed and well-run organization.
You’ve had extensive time hosting, doing radio and voicing the nationally syndicated Sounds Canadian and being heard weekly on KICK 106 Orillia Mornings. There’s something alluring about sitting behind a microphone and talking music rather than spending weeks away driving across the country with a band. Have you found the right balance for both?
Being on radio is just like being on stage in a way. It’s basically an audience saying, 'OK, let’s see what ya got, kid' and there’s the challenge. So, I’ve always enjoyed that. It’s a different audience interaction for sure, but it’s still performing and I’m hooked. So, it’s a good outlet! Balance? Ha, no such thing!
Have you ever taken a young artist aside and read them the riot act?
No, (not yet…ha!) I remember being a young ‘artist’ and ‘knowing it all’ and how gracious those around me were. My goodness, I must have been annoying! But I think you do need a certain amount of swagger at any stage of this business, and these young artists now really are knowledgeable about so many things a new artist several years ago maybe wasn’t. There are some great kids out there.
I remember the time I met Johnny Cash and what stayed the most with me was his humility and dignity – the stature of the man. Did you ever have an opportunity meet and speak with the man?
I never did meet Johnny, but he used to have a museum and gift shop in Hendersonville, TN. I went there with my folks when I was about twelve, and Johnny’s mother (she must have been in her 90s) was working the gift shop (for real!) and I bought a wooden whistle from her that sounded like a train, signed by her son Johnny Cash. Pretty cool.
You say it was the west and cowboy tradition that peaked your interest in country music. The music you play with the Road Hammers is hard hitting. That’s a long distance from the roots of the tradition. How did you arrive at the hard-hitting sound that is a trademark of The Road Hammers?
Well, there is quite a difference between what I do as a solo artist and what the Hammers do. The Hammers are a result of the equal contributions of all involved, and that’s just the sound that came out. I always liked the hard-edged stuff, from the rock and country side.
Country has always had a bit of that. Although the definition of ‘hard edge’ has certainly changed over the years, Waylon Jennings was the outer edge of the envelope at one time… now he’d be considered traditional!
Country radio has largely turned its back on the pioneers. There was gentleness when the pace was much slower and topics broader in the song-writing. There’s always been a formula to this yet, in these adrenaline-fueled times the range of subject matter has seemed to narrow. Are you affected by this when scripting a narrative in a song?
Sometimes… it depends on your goal. If you’re writing with radio in mind, you may try to fit that mould, but it’s better to just do your thing. Trends change so fast, and you just can’t chase them. No matter how many ‘fad-ish’ songs are out there, a great song always comes along and blows everything out of the water and these days we’re hearing some amazing stuff poking through!
What was the first song you ever sang on stage?
“If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me Her Memory Will” by George Jones
Was country music a staple in the family household. Was it talked about at the dinner table?
My one sister listened to Barry Manilow, the other Donny Osmond. My folks listened to country, so…I followed them….ha!
When you began singing was there a place you went by yourself to sing and hear yourself?
I had a little tape recorder and I used to sing George Jones songs into it. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t sound like George! I forgot about the years of whiskey and crazy living needed to achieve that effect… I’m getting closer now though!
At what point in early life did you think music was the right profession for you?
My part time job in high school was playing guitar in a local band and more than my friends were making at McDonald's. I still can’t believe I get to do it for a living.
What was your first radio gig?
I don’t recall my first kick at the radio thing, but I would always be the guy who went in for an interview and tried to make it as crazy and zany as I could. I started out as a fan of radio in general, so just to be part of it was always a blast for me. Any chance I got to talk into a mic, I took it!
You haven’t strayed too far from the town you grew up in, Minesing, Ontario. You have two children, a wife and farm. How does the day begin for you and your family?
Me pretending I’m asleep while my wife asks me to get my lazy butt out of bed to get the kids ready! Then… lots of coffee.
What do you farm?
We rent out the land, usually grain or soy. The only thing I can grow is my hair...
Do you have a sound system in the main house and if so, what would be playing most days?
I do. I had a good feed on some Vern Gosdin this morning!
When you tour, what’s the longest time you are away?
We do a lot of summer festivals these days, so we’re not away too much, which is good. If we do a tour, we’re usually gone for about ten days at a stretch.
Coming May 12, the Road Hammers are back with a new album, The Squeeze. What’s the story behind this?
Well, “The Squeeze” is the title track, and it just talks about how the ladies like to make the fellas work a little extra for their affections, and heck, that’s the way it should be! If you want the sweetness, ya gots to work for it… but, the juice is worth the squeeze! I love this track, it’s so much fun.
Will this project take up most of your summer?
For the most part, we have a busy summer of shows booked already, and the new album is the focus. It’s going to be a fun summer for sure.
What’s the perfect day at home for you?
Diggin’ in the dirt with my backhoe, and building a campfire with the family. A lazy evening, and a good sleep.