Born Hubert Neal McGaughey, Jr., July 30, 1960, in Jacksonville, TX; changed surname to McGoy, 1982, then to McCoy, 1991; married, 1981; wife's name, Melinda; children: Miki (daughter), Christian Swade (son). Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Management--Daniel Hexter, Management Associates, Inc., 3878 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite 620, Dallas, TX 75219.
Country music singer Neal McCoy achieved huge popularity in 1994 with his third album, No Doubt about It, which was certified gold and rose to Number 13 on Billboard's country chart. The album generated two Number One hit singles, "No Doubt About It" and "Wink," as well as a third single, "The City Put the Country Back in Me," that reached the Number Five slot on the music charts. McCoy had the distinctive honor of having a hit single, "Wink," occupy the Number One position on the music charts for a month and remain on the charts longer than any other single in 1994.
McCoy was born Hubert Neal McGaughey, Jr., on July 30, 1960, in Jacksonville, Texas, where he spent most of his adult life. Because he found that McGaughey was difficult for people to pronounce, he changed his name first to McGoy in 1982, then to McCoy in 1991. Country music was not McCoy's sole preference when growing up; he liked pop and disco sounds in addition to the Texas twang of Jacksonville's brand of country music. He confided to the Cincinnati Post's Mary Jo DiLonardo that pop icon Michael Jackson was one of his main influences. Seeing such a young performer as Jackson, McCoy said, "put the spark in me and made me think, 'That's what I wanna do someday.'"
McCoy sang in school and church choirs, musicals, and quartets throughout his high school years and, after earning his diploma, attended a junior college close to home. He tried his hand at various jobs in order to support himself before becoming a successful singer and musician. He sold women's shoes in a local mall, sang with a combo at local restaurants, and mowed lawns to make ends meet. In 1980 McCoy met his wife, Melinda, when she came into the shoe store where he worked. They married the following year, and several years later would have a daughter and a son.
In 1981, at the age of 21, McCoy entered a talent contest at the Belle Star nightclub in Dallas, Texas, where country star Janie Fricke served as a judge. She was employed at singer Charley Pride's management company at the time and was sufficiently impressed with McCoy to introduce him to Pride. Pride saw McCoy perform at another local country music contest and quickly decided to take the young singer under his wing.
McCoy's friendship with Pride proved to be fortuitous. McCoy was invited to open shows for Pride, which provided a much larger audience than he was accustomed to, and he began to perform before thousands of people on the weekends while mowing lawns for his livelihood during the week. When Pride left RCA Records in favor of a new Nashville label called 16th Avenue Records, McCoy was signed by 16th Avenue as well.
The new label did not fare well and let McCoy go after one year. The singer continued to tour with Charley Pride, and the two eventually parted amicably in 1990 after working together for almost six years. In 1991 McCoy signed with Atlantic Records. Company executive Rick Blackburn asked McCoy to change his surname to McCoy since fans were already pronouncing "McGoy" as "McCoy." The singer's early records, At This Moment, released in 1991, and Where Forever Begins, released the following year, generated scant fanfare, and McCoy feared a repeat of his dismal experience with 16th Avenue Records. Atlantic was just then breaking into the country music market with a new office in Nashville, and it was not until the label paired McCoy with a third producer, Barry Beckett, that the singer's talent began to shine.
Atlantic Records in Nashville eventually achieved enormous success with new stars Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery, and Confederate Railroad. Beckett, McCoy's third producer, had done work for Confederate Railroad, and Atlantic hoped he could assist, guide, and ultimately market McCoy with similar success.
McCoy told the Chicago Tribune's Jack Hurst, "Barry [Beckett] and I went out to dinner, just us two, and we really hit it off. I'm pretty loud and obnoxious and outgoing and he's the opposite, so I really listened to what he had to say." Beckett's approach was to let McCoy go into the studio and be himself, although he did help to make McCoy more commercially viable in the country music realm. Also, Beckett's R&B background--he had worked with Muscle Shoals--melded perfectly with McCoy's diverse musical influences, and together the two were able to choose songs that best suited McCoy's voice. McCoy told The Tennessean's Robert Oermann, "I don't write songs. I'm not an instrumentalist at all, not a musician.... I'm an entertainer."
Atlantic's Blackburn told Hurst, "McCoy's a natural entertainer, a guy who was working 250 dates a year without a hit, and you can't abandon somebody like that." Part of the reason Blackburn and Beckett stood by McCoy through the lean early years was McCoy's ability to bring an audience roaring to its feet and clamoring for more music. The singer's performances onstage were down-to- earth, natural, and marked by an appealing diversity. His raucous, knee-slapping laugh, Texas drawl, and polite demeanor served to endear him to audiences.
McCoy often intersperses pop standards, blues, swing, and big band with country fare during live performances, drawing upon such unlikely influences as Quincy Jones and James Ingram. He is also noted for making appearances without a set list; he prefers instead to tailor his material to a specific audience. The memorable antics, humor, Las Vegas-style acrobatics, and spontaneity in which audiences take delight had been honed while McCoy toured with Charley Pride.
Most Nashville record executives in the early 1990s were dropping aspiring country music stars after only a brief shot or two, but Blackburn and Beckett sensed that if they could stick with McCoy and find a way to translate his charm and energy while performing before an audience onto a record, they would have a hit on their hands. Blackburn told Hurst in the Chicago Tribune, "We always thought he could maybe be our biggest act, and I had no intention of not staying with him."
When No Doubt about It was released in 1994, the country music market was already flooded with aspiring Nashville stars. McCoy felt that if his third album failed to generate notice, he should probably move to Las Vegas with his wife to pursue work as a live entertainer, instead of continuing to record albums. His fears and doubts were soon dispelled with the astounding success of three of the album's singles. No Doubt about It was effective in highlighting McCoy's vocals in a deeper, more soulful manner. What kept the singer optimistic about the success of the recording was that, toward the end of the run of his second album, Where Forever Begins, a single titled "Now I Pray for Rain" had managed to crack the Top 20 of the music charts and peak at Number 19.
McCoy made his television debut on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in July of 1994. You Gotta Love That was released in January of 1995, with Beckett as the producer, and the album's debut single, "For a Change," hit Number 33 in its fourth week on Billboard's Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart. In July "They're Playin' Our Song" held the Number Seven position, while You Gotta Love That was ranked at Number 39 on the albums chart. Also in 1995, McCoy embarked on a tour with the band Alabama. The singer told Billboard's Peter Cronin, "I'm still not as home in the studio as I'd like to be, but entertaining is really more important to me than the other aspects of this business. I live for that part."
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Neal McCoy's Career
Introduced by Janie Fricke to Charley Pride; invited by Pride to be his opening act on a tour; signed by 16th Avenue Records; moved to Atlantic Records and released debut album, At This Moment, 1991; made television appearance on The Tonight Show, 1994; toured with group Alabama, 1995.
- Selective Works
- At This Moment, Atlantic,1991.
- Where Forever Begins, Atlantic,1992.
- No Doubt about It, Atlantic,1994.
- You Gotta Love That, Atlantic,1995.
May 17, 2005: McCoy won the Academy of Country Music Humanitarian Award. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Music/05/18/music.countryawards.list.ap/index.html, May 19, 2005.
- Baltimore Sun, May 13, 1994.
- Billboard, June 18, 1994; January 7, 1995.
- Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1994.
- Cincinnati Post, July 7, 1994.
- Country Music Magazine, July 1994.
- Tennessean, July 23, 1994.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Atlantic Records publicity materials, 1995.