Mac McAnally: Six-Time CMA Musician Of The Year Could Make History At Country Music Awards (HNGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW)
There's a very good chance you've seen Mac McAnally. The guitarist, songwriter and producer is on the road constantly playing in front of people all across America.
You may have seen him playing his guitar as part of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. Or you could have watched him playing on stage with Kenny Chesney - who had a No. 1 smash with "Down the Road" - a song that McAnally wrote and had chart success with as an artist 20 years before Kenny asked him to come to the studio so that they could record it. And, of course, you could have gone to a Mac McAnally show, where fans get to hear him put his own touch on the hit songs he's penned for Buffet, Alabama, Steve Wariner and others, while listening to some of McAnally's new songs.
Now, Wednesday night (Nov. 5) on the televised 48th annual CMA Awards, you'll have another chance to see McAnally - and you could watch him make history. The multi-talented performer has already won seven CMA Musician of the Year awards - six in a row - and he's once again nominated in the same category. First nominated in 2007, he's won the award each year since 2008, tying the consecutive-win record set by fiddler Mark O'Connor (1991-96). If he picks up another CMA award for his artistry with a guitar Wednesday night, he'll become the record-holder for most consecutive wins in the category.
The 48th annual CMA Awards will be broadcast live from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on ABC-TV at 8 p.m. EST.
HNGN caught up with McAnally at his Nashville home. He had just come off the road and was heading out the next day to perform with Jimmy Buffett. He is a longtime member of the "Margaritaville" singer's Coral Reefer Band, and he recently produced Buffett's "Songs from St. Somewhere" album, as well as co-writing seven of its tracks.
"I love being on the road," McAnally explains. "I love playing. I love music. I love the fact that I get to call it a job and I haven't unpacked my suitcase in about five years and I'm fine with that. I like coming and going.
"The way Jimmy Buffett works is great. We go out for ten days or two weeks and then we come home for three weeks - and then it do it again. So, you're always ready to go when it's time to go, and you're always ready to come home when it's time to come home. Jimmy is a smart man, that way."
So, how does McAnally feel about the fact that he has already won CMA Musician of the Year six times in a row?
"That's pretty unbelievable, " he confesses. "You know, it says 'Music City' on the billboards around Nashville, but it really is. There's such a wealth of music and musicians in this town that to be somewhere in the middle of the pack is fine by me. I have no illusions that there aren't better guitar players here. But it is an honor to have some of my peers think that I did something worthwhile.
"Honestly, my approach to playing is that I'm not ever going to be a big blistering guitar solo guy. My approach to playing is that I'm more of an accompanist. because I'm a songwriter, I try to play some part that benefits the singer and the song. And that's more of a subtle thing to get recognized for, so I am especially appreciative."
McAnally touts the talents of the other musicians up for the CMA award.
"I am big fans of Jerry Douglas and Paul Franklin and Sam Bush and Dann Huff - who are just the best in the world at their instruments and who I'm nominated with. I am a peer and a fan. And I feel particularly fortunate to be in their company."
And, if he does make history at the CMA Awards by walking away with his seventh consecutive award, has he thought about how that achievement might feel?
"I don't have any comparison to it," he acknowledges, "but Chet Atkins won nine of those and he deserves to have won more than anybody else. I feel like I'm probably the least deserving of any of them, but it would be something that hasn't been done - and I would definitely be grateful and honored and fortunate."
He pauses and laughs.
"And, at the same time, I would probably have a better understanding of how mediocre congressmen get re-elected seven or eight times."
McAnally has worked with Toby Keith, George Straint, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown, Martina McBride, Chris LeDoux, Amy Grant and many others. In addition to producing Buffett's album, he also produced the late Jesse Winchester's final album, "A Reasonable Amount of Trouble." Plus, he can be heard singing and playing a variety of instruments on Lee Ann Womack's new album, "The Way I'm Livin'."
Earlier this year, McAnally fulfilled a life-long dream. After performing on the historic stage of the Grand Ole Opry many times with other artists, he made his debut as a featured performer in February.
So, how did this prolific songwriter from Belmont, Miss., get started writing songs when he was just 15 years old? It involves a very dark church. A nighttime curfew. A grand piano. And Jesus.
"My hometown had a curfew. It was strictly obeyed, but you really weren't suppose to be out after eight at night. We had a nice grand piano in the First Baptist Church of Belmont, where I'm still a member. And the church didn't lock the doors, so, around curfew time, I would go to the church to play piano.
"My mom was a gospel piano player and I played piano at home all the time, too, but they had a better piano at church. So, my first songs were written in the church late at night when I was by myself in the dark."
His first song, "People Call Me Jesus," was created in that dark church. "Created," not "written" - but that's another story. And HNGN has that story, too. Read on.
"That first song, which has a bit of a comedic tint, was written because I was in a church because I was playing piano because it was dark and because I had never written a song before. It came out of me to try to see things from Jesus' vantage point. That's one of my favorite things about songwriting - trying to see from different vantage points. I try to put myself into character.
"Now, I certainly don't think of myself as any kind of deity, but I tried - for one night - to think that if I was Jesus looking at us I'd be a little sarcastic about a couple of us, myself included. So, it's sort of a funny, sarcastic song. It makes a point or two, but it has some humor in it, as well.
"I had no idea how to write a song, and I had no idea that is what I was doing. I just sat down at the piano and started playing and that fell out of my mouth."
So, how did McAnally write down the words to the song in the ebony darkness of the church? He didn't.
"I didn't write any of the words down. Never have. Over the years, my whole mindset from the beginning has been that if I couldn't remember the song, I had no right to inflict it on the public. So, I never did write things down. And I can say that at 57 years old and having written songs since I was 15, that is a terrible way to go about it (laughing).
"It was sort of a noble thing in the beginning and when you only have half a dozen songs in your life, it's easy to remember them. But at this point I have a whole lifetime catalogue of songs, plus 75 things that are in varying stages of unfinished and repaired. And in addition I'm trying to remember the Jimmy Buffett show, the Mac McAnally show and the Kenny Chesney show and all the folks I get the pleasure of playing life with, so at this point not writing songs down makes me forget the names of my aunts and uncles - 'cause there is only a certain amount of random access memory and I have overfilled mine. Even though I have a large head, it's over full. My advice to songwriters is not to do it the way I do."
When McAnally isn't making music with other artists and performers, he records his own critically-acclaimed albums. The most recent is "Mac McAnally Live in Muscle Shoals." You can check it out on his website, macmcanally.com, as well as iTunes and other music outlets. And he reveals he's ready to do a new album.
"I don't make albums of my songs often," he admits, "but I've got an album worth of 'Mac' songs that have been finished for about three years now that I haven't recorded. I feel that I am not writing new songs, because I've been dragging these other songs around. And until I get them recorded their kind of stuck in my head. So I need to download those songs into recordings.
"I think over the Christmas holidays and in the first couple of months of next year, I'm going to have some time to do it. And I'm looking forward to doing it, selfishly because I want to get them out of my head, but also because I've got a few songs I'm proud of and nobody's heard 'em."
Sounds like some of country's best known artists are about to have a new batch of McAnally songs to send to the top of the charts.