b. Oak Hill, West Virginia, March 28, 1941
Best known for his harmonica technique—distinguished by speed, clarity, and exceptional phrasing—Charlie McCoy is a multi-instrumentalist who has been recorded on bass, guitar, keyboards, percussion, saxophone, trumpet, and tuba.
McCoy’s ability to quickly summon up creative musical parts impressed Bob Dylan at a New York session and helped convince Dylan to travel to Nashville to record his album Blonde on Blonde. McCoy became a crucial contributor to all of Dylan’s Nashville recordings, switching between bass, guitar, harmonica, and trumpet while making a last-minute call to recruit a trombone player for “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”
A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, McCoy is just as proud of his role in many other classic recordings, from the haunting harmonica in George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today” to the blue notes on Waylon Jennings’s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” to the touching intro on Tom T. Hall’s “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine.”
McCoy played in Nashville rock band the Escorts and session-player group Area Code 615. He also can be heard on recordings by Eric Andersen, Gary Burton, Gordon Lightfoot, Clyde McPhatter, Nancy Sinatra, and the Steve Miller Band.
“Going to the Country” first appeared on the Steve Miller Band’s 1970 album, Number 5. The song, which features Charlie McCoy on harmonica, also was included on Anthology, a 1972 compilation album. McCoy received this gold album when Anthology sold more than 500,000 copies.
Courtesy of Charlie McCoy
Listen to Charlie McCoy
Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row” (Bob Dylan)
The musicians featured on this recording are Charlie McCoy, guitar; Bob Dylan, guitar and harmonica; Harvey Brooks, bass. From the album Highway 61 Revisited, 1965. Produced by Bob Johnston at Columbia Studios, New York.
Johnny Cash, “It Ain’t Me, Babe” (Bob Dylan)
Among the musicians featured on this recording are Charlie McCoy, harmonica; Luther Perkins, guitar; Norman Blake, guitar; Marshall Grant, bass; W.S. Holland, drums; June Carter, vocal.
From the album Orange Blossom Special, 1965. Produced by Bob Johnston at Columbia Studios, Nashville.
Gordon Lightfoot, “Walls” (Gordon Lightfoot)
Among the musicians featured on this recording are Charlie McCoy, harmonica; Red Shea, guitar; John Stockfish, bass; Kenny Buttrey, drums.
From the album The Way I Feel, 1967. Produced by John Court at Columbia Studio B, Nashville.
Steve Miller Band, “I Love You” (Steve Miller)
The musicians featured on this recording are Charlie McCoy, harmonica; Steve Miller, guitar and vocal; Bobby Winkelman, bass; Tim Davis, vocal.
From the album Number 5, 1970. Produced by Steve Miller Band at Cinderella Sound Studios, Madison, Tennessee.
Charlie McCoy and the Escorts, “Harpoon Man” (Wilburn, Moss, Gayden, Stembridge, Butler, Buttrey, McCoy)
Among the musicians featured on this recording are Charlie McCoy, harmonica; Mac Gayden, guitar; Wayne Moss, guitar; Chip Young, bass; Kenny Buttrey, drums.
Single, 1964. Produced by Fred Foster at Cinderella Sound Studios, Madison, Tennessee.
Tom T. Hall, “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine” (Tom T. Hall)
Among the musicians featured on this recording are Charlie McCoy, harmonica; Harold Bradley, guitar; Ray Edenton, guitar; Pig Robbins, piano; Bob Moore, bass; Buddy Harman, drums.
From the album The Storyteller, 1972. Produced by Jerry Kennedy at Mercury Custom Recording Studio, Nashville.