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Music pioneer perserveres

Despite industry changes and recent fire, Jim McCoy still makes music

Despite industry changes and recent fire, Jim McCoy still makes music

April 28, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

MORGAN COUNTY, W.Va. - It's only recently that Jim McCoy, 79, has considered leaving country music alone, and even so, it's not much more than a consideration.

McCoy's spirits were dampened by a fire that destroyed the outdoor bandstand behind his restaurant and nightclub, the Troubadour Restaurant and Lounge, on April 11, his birthday. The fire caused $30,000 worth of damage, The Herald-Mail reported.

He said that for a moment, the fire made him think about retiring for good.

After all he's accomplished, it should not come as a surprise that McCoy, a living country music legend to some, might want to relax in the far reaches of Berkeley Springs with his wife, Bertha, and enjoy a cup of coffee as the sun rises over Sleepy Creek.

But then there are all the artists who record in his studio, the artists who play at the Troubador, and all the musicians he inspired on his most recent project, an album of old and new tunes.

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He can't retire. At least not yet.

Somebody's got to continue the tradition of good music.

Roots in early country music

"We're not ready to quit yet," McCoy said on a recent evening, as the sun set over the Troubadour, just before showing what was left of his outdoor stage, which he plans to rebuild in June.

McCoy's roots in the music business run so deep, it's hard to believe he'll ever be completely done with it.

In his day - in the 1950s and '60s - McCoy was known as Joltin' Jim, his band was called the Melody Playboys. At a time when the country music industry was in its early phases, McCoy was helping other artists rise while recording records of his own. McCoy had his own studio, which he still operates, and was a radio DJ up until the '80s.

As a kid, McCoy was presented the options of farming or chopping timber. McCoy didn't want to do either, so he learned how to play guitar from a man named Pat Kelly.

"He played the sweetest guitar I ever heard," McCoy said.

McCoy got his first guitar by mail-order, but had to order a replacement because the original "got busted up" in the mailing process.

McCoy meets Patsy Cline

McCoy's most famous story came about during the 1940s, when he was 17, the year he met Patsy Cline.

He had started a radio show with a few of his friends in Winchester, Va., a venture that, at times, required him to hitchhike from Berkeley Springs. That year, Cline came up to the studio and tapped the shoulder of one of the bandmates, asking if she could sing on the show. McCoy said she sang "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home."

"I guess you can say she blowed us all away," McCoy said.

Cline and McCoy formed a friendship that continued until her death in 1963. McCoy's band played at her wedding reception. He was a pallbearer at Cline's funeral. McCoy is still friends with Cline's husband, Charlie Dick.

Snapshots of McCoy's stint of more than 50 years in the country music business cover the walls of the Troubadour, which he opened in 1985 - breaking an earlier vow to retire and relax.

John Douglas, editor of The Morgan Messenger, with help from John Newbraugh, a record collector, and Dick, wrote a book about McCoy's life and music.

He created the West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in the back room of the Troubadour. Hall of famers include Patsy Cline, obviously, and other country music greats. U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is another inductee.

"He was one great fiddler," McCoy said.

McCoy has continued recording music since opening the Troubadour.

The latest chapter

Recently, McCoy worked with Hancock physician and former rock singer Matt Hahn, 44, of Berkeley Springs, to produce a new album. The record is a combination of original, new songs and old songs McCoy recorded in the 1950s and '60s.

Entitled, "The Real McCoy: Matt Hahn and Friends Perform the Music of Joltin' Jim McCoy," the CD features country music artists from across the region. The album was released in January.

McCoy said he asked Hahn to be on the album after hearing him sing at the Troubadour for a library fundraiser. Hahn, who is McCoy's doctor, said he was honored.

"This is a tribute to a guy who hasn't gotten his full due," Hahn said.

McCoy's favorite song on the album is "She's the Best," a slow song with the signature twang of a steel guitar. He wrote it a few years ago for his wife, Bertha.

Just don't ask him about the inspiration for the album's opening track, "Divorce Me," a song he recut with Hahn.

"Let's not get into that or it will probably be another divorce," McCoy said joking.

Bertha is McCoy's second wife.

With "Divorce Me," Hahn injected a bit of his own rock touch, speeding up the rhythm and giving the melody a harder edge, though the song is squarely within traditional country boundaries. Hahn also took an up-tempo song, "If the Truth is Gonna Hurt," and made it a country ballad.

Continuing the tradition

McCoy said he plans to record another album with Hahn. They plan to bring back the musicians who played on "The Real McCoy." All but bass player Danny Chalupka.

"He died before we could release it," McCoy said.

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