Here's two important things to know about Neal McCoy, who just released his 12th album, XII, on Tuesday.
No. 1, although he's taken some time off between albums, he's never gone away.
"If you're not playing in someone's immediate area, and you're not getting played on the radio, everyone assumes that you've quit," he says.
The second thing? "It's OK, you can call me old," he notes cheerfully.
While his actual age--53--certainly isn't ancient by anyone's standards, McCoy's career has seen a nice stretch of longevity that can be rare in the business. And, as he says, he hasn't even come close to quitting.
Although (as he likes to point out) he didn't get his first hit until he was 35 years old, the singer has kept very busy since putting out his first album more than two decades ago. Even his most recent six-year stretch between albums has been active, mostly with doing what he likes to do best--tour and play live on stage.
"I record and travel, just so I can get to the stage," he explains. While he enjoyed getting back in the studio for his latest record, he admits that "the studio is one of those necessary--I don't want to say 'evils'--but everything is so structured. It's not quite the same vibe as getting out there and working with the musicians."
Still, this latest project has been extra exciting for him--not only for the fun of getting back into the swing of releasing records, but also because of some very special guests he'd recruited to co-produce the record. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert may be the hottest names in country music right now, but to McCoy, they're first and foremost friends he's known for years.
"I've known Miranda a long time, she's from a little town called Lindale, Texas--about 25 miles from Longview, Texas, where I live now," McCoy explains. "She just grew up around the area. Anytime anyone had a show, and she could sing, she'd be right there singing for them."
And as for Shelton? McCoy was friends with him, too, before the famous newlyweds even met each other. "He was brand-new in town and just walking around to the record labels," remembers McCoy, who was a hit-making artist for Atlantic Records at the time. "He walked in, and I was answering the phones at Atlantic."
McCoy recalls Shelton being flabbergasted that a star would be doing such menial tasks. "He said 'I walked in and there you were, and I know you have a big hit, and you're answering the phones. And, I was like oh my gosh...you gotta do all this?'"
"I was just goofy and off-the-cuff a little bit, and he was too," McCoy says. "And now look at him, he's about the hottest thing going," he adds, sounding almost like a proud dad. (Indeed, he had a special role as featured entertainer for the couple's wedding reception last year.)
McCoy came up with the idea to involve Shelton with the making of XII during a brainstorming session with his current label, the independent Blaster Records. "I texted him from the dinner table, [saying] 'Would you be interested in producing an album for me...it looks like i've got another record coming out.' And he just wrote back cuss words. And I texted him back and said "Would you? I don't know what you just said." And he texted back more cuss words."
McCoy finally called Shelton, who insisted that McCoy was goofing on him. Once it was straightened up that McCoy really did indeed want his participation, though, Shelton mentioned that Lambert would like to be involved as well. "And I thought, oh my gosh this is the greatest thing ever," McCoy says.
Indeed, there's few artists out there who could ask for a better re-emergence into the album-releasing waters after a bit of a break. McCoy enjoyed working with the pair ("They were terrific in the studio; and one of the best things they did was bring terrific music to me--from some of the great writers, because they are so hot") and is hopeful that their participation might entice some new and even some non-country fans to check out his work.
"We kind of thought about that going in, I was hoping we'd get that kind of exposure, and who knows? Maybe it will work out that way," he says.
One thing he's working on in terms of publicity is getting used to the prevalence of social media marketing. After all, when McCoy put out his last studio album in 2005, Twitter didn't even exist!
He has an active Twitter account for fans to follow, but admits he wishes he'd started with it earlier. Nevertheless, "Hopefully we can get Blake and Miranda"--both avid Tweeters--"to tweet about [the new record]."
Despite all the new and exciting aspects of his latest career move, McCoy is grounded in terms of the fact that he knows what he likes to do best...get out and perform. The seasoned entertainer, who was named as one of the top 10 USO performers (he's been on 15 tours for the organization) says he'll stop hitting the road when people stop coming to see him.
"And, right now, there's people still comin' to see us," he laughs.