Before Del McCoury enjoyed status as one of THE eminent bluegrass musicians of the late 1990s and early 2000s, he built a career as a disciple of the high lonesome sound. It was the perfect vehicle for his high pitched, razor sharp vocals and riveting guitar work. He apprenticed under Bill Monroe in the middle 1960s and by the end of the decade had launched his own band, the Dixie Pals. By the middle 1970s, he had recorded four album projects for as many labels and came to the attention of Rebel Records.
Del had a solid group when he landed at Rebel. His Dixie Pals included Donnie Eldreth on mandolin, Bill Runkle on banjo, Bill Poffinberger on fiddle, and Dewey Renfro on bass. It was with this group that Del recorded his first two albums for Rebel. A self-titled 1975 release (Reb-1542) added several several classics to his repertoire. Chief among them were two Ola Belle Reed compositions, “Springtime of Life” and “I’ve Endured.” Others included his take on a traditional ballad called “Rain and Snow” as well as two of his own compositions, “Loggin’ Man” and “Rain Please Go Away.” A year later, he was back in the studio to record Our Kind of Grass which contained “White House Blues,” “Evil Hearted Woman,” “Drifting With the Tide,” and “Two More Years.”
Take Me to the Mountains first saw the light of day on the short-lived Leather Records. When that label’s driving force developed health problems, Rebel acquired the master and afforded it national distribution for the first time. The album ushered in a new line-up of Dixie Pals (banjoist Dick Smith, mandolinist Herschel Sizemore, fiddler Sonny Miller, and brother Jerry McCoury on bass) as well as several new classics such as the title track, Ola Belle Reed’s “Undone in Sorrow,” and three Del McCoury originals: “Dreams,” “This Kind of Life,” and “A Good Man Like Me.”
Rebel’s handling of Take Me to the Mountains set the stage for Del’s return to the label with a new project, Sawmill. The album introduced Del’s son, Ronnie, as a new member of the group as well as banjoist Paul Silvius, fiddler Jon Glik, and bassist Mike Garris. Two more Del McCoury originals – “With You in My Dreams” and “Don’t Let My Love Get in the Way” – found a home in this collection. Also noteworthy was his rendition of “Eli Renfro” and two songs by budding songwriter/bass player Mike Garris: “Loneliness and Desperation” and “I’ve Been Crying.”
Del’s last addition to the Rebel catalog was actually a re-release of one of his earlier, out-of-print albums. In 1971, he recorded a master tape that was released in 1976 on the Grassound label of Troutville, Virginia. The album remained in print for a short period of time and by 1992 – when it appeared on CD as Livin’ on the Mountain – was a scarce collector’s item. Appearing on the album were early band members Dick Staber on mandolin, John Farmer on banjo, Dewey Renfro on bass as well as guest fiddlers Buddy Spicher and Jim Buchanan. Standout performances included one of Del’s signature songs, “Don’t Stop the Music,” along with “How Long Blues” and “The Bluest Man in Town.”
Some of Del’s best material dates from the days of vinyl. The choicest of these tracks, along with several other gems, were combined in three retrospective (“best of”) collections. These included The Best of Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals (Reb-1610), Classic Bluegrass (Reb-1111), and My Dixie Home – Rebel Vault Masters (Reb-7503). Taken as a whole, the Rebel output of Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals represents exciting listening and documents an important segment of one of bluegrass music’s most dynamic and visible performers.