McCoury added that he'd never have given up the banjo for anyone -- except Bill Monroe --but it largely worked out for him. Over 50 years, McCoury has carved one of the most enduring and influential careers in bluegrass music.
It all began in Baltimore, and McCoury's latest record, "The Streets of Baltimore," is a nod to that city and all that it gave him.
"It's funny," he said. "I had another album lined up, but I just felt like I needed to make this record. I got my start in Baltimore when I was living in Yorktown, Pennsylvania. I played it before I met Bill Monroe. I played it a lot with Bill Monroe, and then I played it a lot after I quit, got married and moved to California. I played it a lot when I moved back."
McCoury marvels at how the music has grown and changed over the years. A lot of country performers started out in bluegrass, he remembered, adding with a laugh, "then went into country, where they can make a lot of money."
Lately, pop musicians have been incorporating bluegrass instruments into their acts. McCoury has seen a lot of guys in jam bands and rock bands add banjos or mandolins to what they do.
"And you know what? It's OK with me," he said. "I don't see myself doing it, but a lot of those bands are great at it."
Some of it is a little watered down, he thinks, but that's OK, too.
McCoury has played with or shared the stage with lots of these Americana, pop and jam bands that flirt with bluegrass -- everybody from Phish to Steve Earle. He has a hard time keeping track of everybody.
Recently, he and the band were booked to play a show in Oklahoma. They went on stage at 11 at night and, while they were going through their set, they noticed a young musician watching in the wings.
Between songs, his manager called them over and said, "Hey, he'd like to play with you guys."
"He was the lead singer in that band from England," he said, trying to remember. "The singer from the Mumford Boys was standing there."
Actually, Marcus Mumford, of Mumford and Sons, one of the hottest bands in the world at the moment.
Mumford and McCoury talked for a minute, trying to find something to play.
McCoury said, "We hadn't rehearsed anything, you know?"
But they came up with the tune, "Angel Band," an old Gospel tune.
McCoury said it was good time, but he usually has a good time playing with whoever, and he plays as much as he likes.
At 74, he could slow down, but McCoury said he still enjoys performing and trying new things. Lately, he's been out on the road with mandolin player and "newgrass" innovator Sam Bush.
Originally, the two of them were going to go out and play a series of shows with Bush on mandolin and McCoury on guitar. Bush, McCoury said, talked him into doing the shows with Bush on fiddle and McCoury on banjo.
It turned out he's still pretty good.Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.