Del McCoury connected with the golden standard of the genre in 1963 when he joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and performed at the Grand Ole Opry. He struggled for a while, playing music but working construction and logging jobs to pay the bills. In the 1980s McCoury was joined by his sons, Ronnie and Rob, who play mandolin and banjo and the circle was again unbroken.
Success followed over the next 20 years or so and the band was nominated for a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for "It's Just the Night" in 2004 and then won in the same category for "The Company We Keep" in 2006. Accolades continued to pile up like kudzu when McCoury was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010 and when he was elected to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
The sound is classic bluegrass, toe tappers one and all, with the traditional instrumentation of mandolin, banjo, fiddle and guitar, straight from the hollers and mountains. And then there is McCoury's voice, a perfect, reed-thin, high lonesome sound that floats above the music like the smoky fog above the piney hills of Appalachia.
Bluegrass is part of our history as a country, with songs, sounds and licks handed down from one player to the other in a way that makes all bluegrass musicians family. But in the case of the Del McCoury Band, the bonds are beyond all that; they are true to the blood and bone.
All photos by Louis Kwok