Mac McAnally is one of the most recognized names in country music … by his peers. He may not be a household name to the general public, but he certainly should be. He’s a singer/songwriter/musician/producer who has had his hand on the pulse of many household, superstar names in country music by lending his talents to their body of work. The thing is, he feels like the luckiest guy on the planet to be in the company of so many great country superstars, having written No. 1 songs for so many (as a songwriter) and having played in their bands (as a musician), most notably with Jimmy Buffett for over 15 years.
His songwriting was his calling card, and it was Jimmy Buffett who was the first one out of the blocks to recognize his talent. Eventually, his songs would be recorded not only by Jimmy, but by the likes of Hank Williams, Jr., Alabama (took his “Old Flame” to No. 1 in 1981), Reba, Shenandoah, Ricky Van Shelton, Charley Pride, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, and, well, the list just goes on and on.
The release of his recent self-penned album “Down By the River” is his 11th CD as an artist. To order it, go to Mac McAnally and enjoy! In the meantime, we wanted to pick Mac’s brain about his life behind the scenes in the dynamic world of country music.
You’ve been a songwriter for decades penning hits for a number of prominent artists. When did you decide to write and record your new album “Down By the River” and why?
ording myself as an artist is not often on my mind since I am blessed to stay so busy in the endeavors of playing and singing and writing and producing. I love it all and don’t want to give up any because I’m musically greedy I guess. But when I accumulate enough songs that represent what I’ve learned about life over a period of years, I start thinking about putting them together on an album. “Down By the River” is just that. And I write and record the majority of my songs down by the river in Muscle Shoals.
How’d you get the record deal with Toby Keith’s label? And is he a good boss?
Toby’s the ideal boss because he’s a great writer and has spent more time wearing the hat of an artist than any of his other jobs. He’s therefore very considerate of what you need to get the job done. I think the record deal came about because of him and his staff hearing a couple of songs in particular but also because we’re old friends who share the same management. I’ve got a lot of respect for Toby that goes way beyond any deal.
You still perform with Jimmy Buffett, but do you have your own band now?
I can’t imagine not playing with Jimmy as long as he has a use for me. I mainly perform my shows as a solo but I did put together a bit of an all-star band made up of some fellow Coral Reefers and some of my best studio buddies from Nashville and Muscle Shoals to record a live CD last fall. It will be called “Live from Muscle Shoals” and was recorded at the W.C. Handy Festival down in Alabama.
What are your favorite songs that you’ve written for other artists and why do you like these songs?
Well, once again, I’ve really been blessed in that area but I’ll single out a few. “All These Years” by Sawyer Brown; “Back Where I Come From” and “Down the Road” by Kenny Chesney; “It’s My Job” by Jimmy Buffett and the one that started it for me “Old Flame” by Alabama. These are favorites because in addition to being successful they represent the best I can do. Sometimes a writer’s best work is not what ends up representing them in the charts. These were satisfying, both ways.
When you write a song like, “Down the Road” for Kenny Chesney, what part of you wishes you could have cut that record and had a No. 1 hit for yourself?
No part of me. I was born without the ambition to be the guy in the middle of the stage. The times I’ve ended up there in my life have usually been freaks of nature. I’m bashful by nature and if there’s anybody else on a stage I’ll instinctively start backing them. In the case of “Down the Road” I get to draft off of Kenny’s presence and career as a duet partner who happened to write the song. That would be the best of both worlds.
How do songwriters get breaks today?
You hear every day about how much the music biz has changed and that is certainly true. You see the veterans worrying about having to change their ways and the new guys trying to guess which hoop to jump through. But for all of the changing I believe one thing will never change. A good song will always have a place. Songwriters may have to be lighter on their feet than ever before but their main job should be to write songs that demand to be heard.
Do you think “pure” country music is as popular as it was 10 years ago, or do you think the genre is changing to pop/country?
I think there’s a cycle of popularity for all kinds of music but it’s more obvious in country because the fans of pure country music have a great deal of pride and sense of connection with the music. There’s a lot of heart and real life in there and that’s one of its main appeals. When it also becomes “fashionable” from a hit movie or a crossover hit song it brings in more people. Then corporate minded folks might get a little greedy and try to add aspects of other successful music to get even more people and eventually they offend the core fans and do a little damage. But about that time somebody like Randy Travis or Ricky Skaggs will come along and remind folks why they called it Country in the first place. I myself root for everybody, and I like when more people come to check us out. But I’ll still be here whether they stay or go.
How does touring affect your personal life? Are you married or single? Do your kids go on tour with you in the summertime still?
I’m sure touring affects all who do it. I’m a divorced Dad and although the touring life is not to blame it certainly strains the best of relationships. I have three wonderful daughters who are always welcome to hit the road with me and our touring family is just that so they love to come out. ĺŽźĺ¸–ĺś°ĺť€: Jimmy Buffett Info http://www.buffettinfo.com/showthread.php?p=4088
What do you do when you’re in a bad mood and you have to perform?
I’m kind of devoid of bad moods. I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. I’ve played so many sawdust floor, honky-tonks as a kid, nothing that’s occurred in the last 20 years seems like a bad day to me. (Laughs) I pretty much enjoy my work. I blew out a couple of vertebrae one time – we played almost a three-hour show – and I was having a numb right leg by the end of the show. That’s not a bad mood but it’s hard to deal with comparatively.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the music business?
To enjoy it. It’s music. It should be enjoyed. I think people can hear whether you’re having a good time or not. And that’s contagious. Having a good time is contagious and not having a good time is also contagious. I’ve learned it from one of the best, from Jimmy [Buffett]. The secret to him when he was playing frat parties and keg parties as a young man, he enjoyed the heck out of it. I don’t think he enjoyed it any less or more than now. He’s always enjoyed playing music. I think it’s important to do that. How many people in the world don’t have even an opportunity to something they like?
What do you do between tours?
I still play and sing and produce in the studio when I’m off the road and carry a recording rig out on tour as well so I don’t ever stop playing music. It’s my favorite pastime as well as my job. I’m as lucky a guy as I know.
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