Happy 80th birthday to Del McCoury!

Happy 80th Birthday Del McCoury … 

Bluegrass and acoustic music musicians, young and old, have come together to help Bluegrass Today send an electronic ‘birthday card’ to Del McCoury to mark this wonderful occasion. 

Ronnie and Allison McCoury and family offer affectionate greetings … 

Rob McCoury shares a greeting from outside the Opry House, Nashville …. 

While younger brother Jerry largely pursued a separate career in bluegrass from Del, the duo recorded together for a 1987 Rounder album, The McCoury Brothers ……..  

“Del McCoury is not only a great entertainer and song-writer, he is a friend, teacher of our music, and my brother. He taught me how to play the bass with the “on top of the beat timing”. We played together on and off starting in the early 1960s thru the 1970s and 1980s. He’s the best, fond memories…”

Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, Cody Killy, Dominic Leslie, Paul Kowert and Michael Cleveland in unison …. 

Bill Emerson helped Del McCoury in the recording of Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass (Arhoolie), released in July 1968 ……

Hi Del, 

If you’re going to record, tell the band not to mess with them geese! Happy Birthday and many more. 

Your fan, Bill Emerson

A 19-year-old Chris Warner played banjo with McCoury in the Shady Valley Boys line-up in 1965, and joined him on stage for an impromptu set during the 1966 Fincastle, Virginia Bluegrass Festival. In 2016 McCoury and Grisman did a reunion show at the Birchmere, bringing together the same musicians – Billy Baker, Jerry McCoury and Chris Warner – as those who did that impromptu set at Fincastle in 1966………  

“Thanks Del for taking on a very green banjo player in 1965, who couldn’t even sing baritone.  You gave me an opportunity to play with one of the best there is early in my bluegrass journey.  I’ll always be grateful for what I learned from you, either through verbal communication or observation.  Thanks and Happy Birthday.”  

An ailing Donnie Eldreth was a member of the Dixie Pals during the 1970s. He played mandolin on three of their albums  ….

Carl Goldstein is a long-standing friend of McCoury’s… 

“Happy 80th from me and your friends at the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival. You have been with us for much of our 48 years and I still have fond memories of the Dixie Pals, trips to your house with Ted Lundy and the great times at Gloryland Park. 

Much love and good luck my friend.”

Herschel Sizemore toured Japan with McCoury in December 1979 and played on McCoury’s Leather album Take Me To The Mountains (1981)…

“Happy Birthday to a Gentleman and Friend. One of the greatest. Many more Birthdays Del.”

Larry Stephenson and his family shared this video greeting … (McCoury played on Stephenson’s 20th Anniversary release, Whysper Dream Music, 2010) ….

Ralph Stanley II speaks highly of McCoury’s always affable personality …. 

“I’d like to wish a Happy 80th Birthday to one of the best singers and most importantly one of the best men I know. You’ve heard the phrase about people being the same every time you see them. For the many years that I’ve known Del, he sure fits that saying. God bless you Del and hope you have many, many more.”

Peter Rowan was a Blue Grass Boy in the year following McCoury … 

“Dear Del, 

When Bill Keith first played me live tapes of shows of when you and he were with Bill Monroe, I listened closely to what you did with the guitar and singing.   Although you auditioned with Bill as a banjo player, he hired you to play guitar and sing lead!  You wrote the book for me to follow after you!  In the legacy of Lester Flatt, Jimmie Martin and Ed Mayfield, I was proud to follow in your footsteps as a Blue Grass Boy!

You are still the benchmark for the roots of bluegrass rhythm guitar and lead singing.  Timing, tone and tempo!  

Happy birthday dear brother Del!”

Fiddle player Tad Marks played with The Del McCoury Band from 1990 through to 1992 …… 

“The two years I got to play with you and the band were so filled with great memories. Mike Brantley told me one time it’s sort of like going to bluegrass college cuz we’re learning how to play bluegrass the right way. Even today I find myself realizing how much I learned from you like playing the melody as the basis for everything. I remember riding down the road … you and Robby would be listening to some live Flatt & Scruggs tape recorded somewhere, and you and Rob would laugh at the same time when you heard this lick that Earl played. I didn’t get what you were laughing at but I realized later that you were hearing something funny and creative that Earl was doing that you hadn’t heard before because it was a live show that was rare and not heard by many people. 

I remember I gave you a coffee mug with a wide bottom for your birthday. On the long bus trips when you were driving instead of drinking coffee from it you were spitting something into it and then I realized that’s where the Red Man ended up after it was all consumed. It became your new spit can for a while!! 

I could tell stories all day but, it just goes to show how much I enjoyed playing in your band. It was like having a second family. You kept me on my toes and not only did I learn the bluegrass way but I learned the McCoury way. I was always proud of you guys for sticking to your guns and keeping all the music you played have that McCoury touch. 

…. Even you are playing with groups, singers and players from a totally different genres you kept it McCoury all the way. Happy 80th birthday DEL!”

Terry Baucom speaks to McCoury’s enduring youthfulness ….. 

Kathy Kallick is another who has long admired McCoury as much for his personal characteristics as for his guitar playing and singing … 

“Del McCoury has long been my hero of bluegrass singing and guitar playing. I saw him early in my own career and was drawn to his infectious good humor and affable manner. Also, he’s a nice guy!

Once, a long time ago, we were both teaching at Rockygrass Academy. I was teaching beginning guitar and Del was floating, being a mentor and a hero. I asked him to visit my class and he obliged. I asked him about barre chords, as my students had been stressing out over playing them. He said what I’d been saying to them: ‘I’ve never really played them, I prefer the closed chords.’ Yes!!!! And then I asked him to demonstrate his G run. All down strokes! Yes!!!!!

There’s room for all different ways of playing bluegrass guitar, and there’s a wide variety of laying down the groove, and Del is the master of those things. It’s pure and straight ahead, nothing fancy, just perfect. I saw him and the band not too long ago. An amazing set, as always. Wonderful and surprising choice of songs, and some of his classics. I stared at his hands playing guitar, like I always do. Every single time, I am dazzled by his incredible economy of motion and perfect timing. Every single time, his singing is filled with emotion that moves me to both laughter and tears.”

Eric and Leigh Gibson are among the very many who have found inspiration in Del McCoury and his music … 

“Of course, Del McCoury is a hero to us because of his voice, guitar playing, and song-writing. As a performer, he and his band have torn up every crowd they’ve stood in front of. But there’s more…Del isn’t just an entertainer; he is an artist, constantly pushing himself, delighting in the old sounds while embracing the new. He has charisma.  He has warmth. You want to hang out with the man. You want to be him when you grow up. Happy Birthday, Del.”

Rick Campbell enjoyed his time with the Dixie Pals ….

“I played fiddle for Del in 1986 and 1987. He still lived in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, then. If you’re going to play music on the road, you won’t find a better bunch to travel with than these guys. Happy Birthday to Del. I’m really happy that he has been so successful. No one deserves it more.”

McCoury has said of Ed Neff, he is “the best bluegrass fiddler in California.” They have often played together when McCoury has been out west …..

“Happy Birthday Del McCoury.

80 years old, most of those years giving music back to the crowd. Couldn’t happen to a better fellow! 

I first played on stage with Del when we were both touring in Japan in the early 1980s. Del was gracious enough to invite me up to play double fiddles with Warren Blair.

Since that time, I have been lucky enough to twin with Jason Carter several times at various venues. 

Each time I have been especially pleased with the vitality of the band, with Del’s dynamic guitar playing and singing and the support of his especially talented boys, Rob on banjo and Ron on mandolin, the sound just can’t be beat.

Del a has surrounded himself with like-minded players, always ready with a smile, a story and a song.

The lasting quality of his music has enhanced and guaranteed the permanence of bluegrass music as a true art form.

We have been so lucky to have had the Del McCoury and his band to show us how it’s done, encourage those who try and mostly for just doing it!”

Banjo ace Noam Pikelny remembers a time at Bonnaroo and the opportunity that he was offered on that occasion ……

Paul Schiminger, the IBMA Executive Director, remembers some of the songs that McCoury has recorded in this personal greeting …..

“From being a Logging Man and playing The Streets of Baltimore to becoming one of today’s true Nashville Cats, you have carved a path of musical authenticity and greatness that has left an indelible mark with everyone in bluegrass music and beyond.  I treasure both your music and your friendship. 

On behalf of the entire bluegrass music community, have a terrific 80th birthday, Del.”

Sierra Hull delights in McCoury’s contagious presence …..

“Happy Birthday, Del! You are such an inspiration in every single way. You light up a stage like no other and your love of life and music is completely infectious. It’s a total honor to call you friend!”

One of Britain’s bluegrass music pioneers, Tom Travis, speaks of McCoury’s ability to make others feel the more important than he …. 

“I have nothing but affection and high regard for Del McCoury. Not only is he a brilliant bluegrass musician and singer but also a man of principle and a true gentleman. On the occasions that I have met him, I learned that with his gentleness comes kindness and wisdom. I telephoned him once at his home for an interview for a magazine that I was writing for. We chatted like old friends for over an hour in a relaxed and unhurried manner and not only did I get all the information I needed for my magazine piece, I was also made to feel very special. I think he must have that same effect on all the other people he meets. His music might be in the stratosphere but, his feet are planted firmly on the ground.”

McCoury recorded for Dave Freeman and Rebel Records in 1984. Prior to that they released a compilation album of earlier Rebel recordings. Rebel Records re-released McCoury’s Leather recording also ….. 


Congratulations on your 80th birthday! You are a true original and have always remained a champion of traditional bluegrass music. We are honored to call you a friend and an integral member of the Rebel Records family.

Dave Freeman”

Tim O’Brien and Jan Fabricius sing Del McCoury’s praises from Scotland ….

Jon Glik played fiddle with the Dixie Pals and remembers the challenges of touring in Europe in the 1980s …. 

“Hey Del, Happy Birthday !!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen you but, you are always in my heart. 

I loved traveling and playing music with you. There are so many great adventures I had with you and the band. In 1983 we went to Europe and visited at least seven countries in a few weeks’ time. It was Ronnie’s first big tour. Back then Europe still had borders and each country had its own currency. I’d been to Europe a couple of times before and helped out with the exchanging of money and the ordering of food. On a trip to Belgium and Luxembourg we had to take a couple trains to Dover, England, where we were to catch a passenger boat to Belgium. We arrived late and missed our ship. Fortunately, we were able to get passage on a cargo ship. After a six-hour voyage we reached Belgium after midnight. Our show was to start at 8:00 p.m. From the docks we got a cab to the train station, rode the train for an hour and a half, took another cab ride, and finally arrived at the Pub at 2:00 a.m. When we entered the pub we found a full house of folks smiling and eager to hear us perform. Even back then people knew that a good thing is worth waiting for!

Love you Del.”

Katy Daley has shared a radio studio with Del McCoury on many occasions. She remembers sharing a stage with him …..

“Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to ‘have the best seat in the house’ when Del would come into WAMU to play live or do interviews. Those times don’t compare to Summer 2009 at a listener’s picnic in Cape Cod. Maybe you’ll get an idea of how fancy the annual picnics were when I tell you that every year the entertainment was the Del McCoury Band and Uncle Earl.  

One year as I was leaving the party, the hostess said to me and Del, ‘Katy, next year bring your banjo and you can play with Del.’ What????? That’s crazy!!! The most I can say about my banjo playing is that I own one. All that year when I saw Del he would ask if I was going to be there that summer. I would say, ‘Oh yes! Don’t you remember, I’m supposed to play with you.’ He would smile but he never said much when I would remind him of that. 

As the picnic date got closer, I put in some serious practice time with the help of John Kaparakis. I picked out two songs: My Old Kentucky Home and Wildwood Flower. The day of the party I ran through both songs with Jason Carter. When Del invited me up on stage, Jason and I kicked off the song, just fiddle and banjo first time though the A and B parts. Sounded pretty good. I thought that’s what it was going to be, just the two of us.  

Next time as we hit the A part, the entire band came in. They sounded so great it lifted me off my chair. What a thrill! At the end of that song, the applause was pretty good as it was late in the afternoon and the audience was full of liquid refreshments. Del invited me to stay for one more song. We did Wildwood Flower with Del taking a break. Again, what a thrill for me. I still go back and look at the photos of that day because I can’t believe I was fortunate enough to play with the Del McCoury Band. 

I love Del and I love his music. Always have; always will. Happy Birthday, Del. You’re a treasure.” 

While he is younger, Joe Mullins copies Del McCoury’s coiffeur as best he can. Mullins’ recording of The Guitar Song, with McCoury as special guest, debuts today   

David “Dawg” Grisman gets together with McCoury as they can, often touring as Del & Dawg    

“Big Birthday Greetings to my long-time friend and duo partner, Del McCoury who has taught me so much about bluegrass music.

We played our first two gigs together in 1966 and I’m happy to say that we’re both still kicking it strong! Much love to a true bluegrass patriarch and one of the best musicians this genre has ever produced, from me and Tracy.

Doctor of Philosophy, Irena Pribylova, now retired from the Department of English and American Studies, Faculty of Arts, Marasyk University, Brno, Czech Republic, spends her time writing about music matters. She is bluegrass pioneer, from the mid-1980s she brought together bluegrass music enthusiasts in Europe and beyond …. 

“Happy Birthday, Del – and thank you for your singing and smile!”

Tim Newby delved into McCoury’s early musical life for the book Bluegrass In Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and its Legacy …. 

“Happy Birthday to a man, who by always staying true to who he is and playing the music he loves has been able to effortlessly blur generational and genre lines, becoming the only person who can say they played in the dive bars of Baltimore with some of bluegrass’ early royalty, graced the hallowed stage at the Ryman, shared the stage with Phish, jammed with Leftover Salmon, and recorded an album with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Happy Birthday to a true legend!”

Dick Laird played music with Del in about 1966 when McCoury led the Dixie Pals…… 

“Happy Birthday Del. Have a great day. Hope to see you at this year’s family reunion.”

Del McCoury played on Nathan Stanley’s My Kind of Country, a 2011 release, singing with him on Love’s Gonna Live Here Again…. 

“Wishing my friend Del McCoury a very Happy Birthday! Del is a giant to whom I have so much respect and love for. I hope you have a great one sir.”

Jon Weisberger produces Hand Picked with Del McCoury on SiriusXm’s Bluegrass Junction … 

“If there’s one thing I’ve heard over the years from listeners to Hand-Picked, it’s how much they enjoyed all the laughter on the show. Del, you’ve got a great sense of humor, and I think that’s one of the things that’s drawn so many people to you and your music. I know I’m just one among many who appreciates the way you blaze your own musical trail and encourage others to do the same, too; you’re a real role model and leader. You’ve already done so much in your 80 years, and I know you’ve got a lot more yet to do – I’m looking forward to following along! Happy birthday!”

Like Herschel Sizemore, banjo player Dick Smith also toured Japan with McCoury in December 1979 and played on McCoury’s Leather album Take Me To The Mountains (1981)… 

“I expect on your 80th Birthday you will be surrounded by so many friends and family that you won’t be able to count them all. 

I have often been asked: ‘Does Del smile all the time?’ I would tell them: Yea, he even smiles in his sleep! 

Wishing you the best Birthday.”

Ronnie Bowman shares a guitar lick with McCoury .. 

Russ Hooper and Del McCoury (banjo) played on a Keith Daniels (and The Blue Ridge Ramblers) recordings in 1960…. 

“Happy Birthday my friend, it was good to see and pick with you last year, we’re going to have to do this more often.”

In their greeting to McCoury the Steep Canyon Rangers also reference a signature guitar lick … 

“Wishing the happiest of birthdays to the coolest and most kind man to ever crush a G run! Thank you Del for the inspiration!”

Alecia Nugent has noted something that we, perhaps, take for granted ….

“To the bluegrass legend we all know needs no last name, just three letters…happy birthday Del!”

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent hold McCoury in high esteem … 

Dave Johnston of the Yonder Mountain Stringband recognises McCoury’s influence and expresses his gratitude for that while sending a greeting on behalf of the entire crew …… 

“It’s difficult to say where I’d be without Del and the Del McCoury Band. When I first heard them, and the honesty and feeling in his voice, it was so immediate and true the whole world flew by. So, everyone here in Yonder Mountain just wants to say thank you, thank you, thank you for all you’ve created and will continue to create. Our very best to you on 80!”

Steve Thomas worked for Del McCoury in the late 1970s …. 

David McLaughlin played mandolin on The McCoury Brothers album … 

“Happy birthday, Del. As the years go by, I still often think about the good times we’ve had together, from dinners at your home in Glen Rock many years ago, to sharing the stage together a good number of times over the decades! Love to you and your family on your birthday!”

Song-writer Jeff White of the Earls of Leicester looks forward to wishing Del McCoury a ‘Happy Birthday’ in person …


The Infamous Stringdusters is another group whose members are great fans. Chris Pandolfi sends this greeting on behalf of the band ….  

“We have been all been huge Del fans since before the Stringdusters were a band. From the driving sound of his banjo during the early years of the music, to the unmistakeable tone of his voice that continues to rock us all to this day, Del is the absolute best of bluegrass music, and beyond. His influences and collaborations span such a wide range of genres, showing us all that music with such deep soul can really take you anywhere. But perhaps his biggest influence, beyond just the music, is Del’s unmistakeable vibe—always positive, always encouraging, always wide open, and always such a joy to be around. We’ve been so lucky to make a lot of music with the McCourys over the years, and it’s always a highlight. Thanks Del, for your music, your spirit, and for inspiring countless musicians out there, one thunderous G-run at a time! Happy Birthday!

Love, The Infamous Stringdusters”

Chris Thile, Chris Eldridge and Gabe Witcher also send a musical greeting … 

Doug Hutchens, the guardian of the Blue Grass Boys, remembers his first encounter with McCoury …  

“I think back to my first meeting with Del. I had gone to Berryville alone, it was during what Carlton’s called his Blue Grass School advertised during the week prior to the festival, and on Thursday afternoon I met with a fiddle and mandolin player from New York. We were standing at the back of my car picking some when this guitar player came up and joined with us.  After a tune or two he said Dewey go get your bass. We didn’t even know each other, we were just picking. Carlton came a little while later and said, ‘Del who do you have in your band,’ to which he said, ‘I don’t know, we just met and started picking.’ Carlton asked each of us our name and where we were from. As it turns out, the fiddler was Kenny Kosek, a guy name Jim who I’ve never really found out his last name on the mandolin, myself on the banjo, and Del with his regular bass player Dewey Renfro. Carlton was taken aback with us from different parts of the country just falling in and picking together having never played together before. Carlton said ‘This is my dream, I hoped that we would create the festivals so that guys from around the country could come and play together…’ Carlton then asked if we all were going to be there on Friday night, we all nodded yes, then he said, ‘JD Crowe is supposed to close out the show, but he has to go to DC to do something for the Smithsonian. Would you guys close out the show?’ We did, that was my introduction to Del McCoury and we have been great friends ever since. I’ve talked to his lovely wife Jean time after time at the record table and saw Ronnie and Robbie grow and become ever so wonderful musicians. My life is so so much richer for being able to say that Del McCoury is my friend. Love you and the family……”

Greensky Bluegrass is another group of young bluegrass musicians that follows McCoury’s lead …..   


Russell Moore has long vied with McCoury for the IBMA’s Male Vocalist Of The Year award but, Moore still thinks that he has a way to go emulate McCoury … 

“Del, I’d like to extend a VERY happy 80th birthday wish to you!! You’re a true stylist in every sense of the word and, like a fine wine, you just get better with age…if that’s even possible!! When I grow up, I hope I can be just half the player and singer that you are (LOL!!) and I’m thankful to consider you a friend!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND BEST WISHES FOR MANY MORE!!”

The ‘Bluegrass Buddies’, Sonny Osborne, JD Crowe, Ronnie Reno, Bill Anderson, Larry Stephenson, Kenny Ingram, Paul Schiminger and Steve Chandler send a greeting. Just two words … 


Toshio Watanabe is another pioneer in the world of bluegrass, playing with the Japanese band Bluegrass 45 and being proactive in early days of the IBMA   

“The first time I met Del was 1971 at Carlton’s festival and after that see him several times, and came to Japan too. 

Happy Birthday Del.”

And Happy Birthday from all at BluegrassToday.com. We hope that you’re having a fantastic day and enjoy your party at the Ryman Auditorium later this month. 

From Terry, John, Chris, David, Richard, Lee, and everybody!

We would like to thank Allison and Ronnie McCoury, particularly; Robbie and Lisa McCoury, Katy Daley, Tim Newby and Peter Thompson for all their help in making this a ‘birthday card’ worthy, I hope, of the man and the occasion.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.