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Neal McCoy pays tribute to Charley Pride and the value of hard work

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Today's country music industry isn't the same industry Neal McCoy joined more than three decades ago.

"The loyalty is gone," the former TNN/Music City News Entertainer of the Year says. "In the past, if you liked a certain artist, you'd buy his album. Now, if you like a song, you just buy the song. It's what pop and rock used to be."

Breaking in isn't the same, either. "It was tough back then but now it's even tougher. Artists have to have a huge financial backer to even be able to approach a label. You need a million dollars just to promote a single."

In the 1980s, when McCoy broke into the business, record labels took risks with talent. Today, they want to make sure someone else is in the hot seat.

"To be in the game, you have to play the game. There are a lot of parking lot party songs getting played. So if you've got a truck partying song, you're in luck."

Established artists like McCoy? "We're not getting played on the radio," he says.

And that's OK.

The short-term memory has enabled him to record albums that have personal meaning. Earlier this year, he released "Pride: A Tribute to Charley Pride."

In 1981, McCoy opened for Pride and got to see how he crafted a show.

"He took me under wing and every night I got to hear how he sang his songs. They were never quite like what you heard on the record. He was quite an inspiration."

More important, Pride taught McCoy how to handle the business end of entertainment. "My wife and I patterned our business the way Charley and (his wife) Rozene did. He never told me what to do or not to do. He never risked breaking my confidence or pride." He just set an example.

McCoy, in fact, didn't even talk to him about life as a minority in country music. "I'm sure it was hard, but he didn't harp on it. I didn't learn many things until he wrote his book."

Of Filipino and Irish-American descent, McCoy learned that being different could help him stand out in his business. "I realized at a young age I looked different than most people around me. And I knew that was going to help people remember me."

For anyone, the 55-year-old says, an entertainment career is brutal. "It's similar to being a professional athlete. You have your window. You have to go and do. If you put on a great show every night -- not almost every night -- you can work a long time. The problem some people have is they get high on the hog and full of themselves. They figure they don't need to make the extra effort."

That, of course, isn't true. In later years, McCoy says, those artists who never phoned it in still get work.

"When it comes down to choosing between you and another artist of equal value to them, (promoters) are going to remember the one who was nice to the caterers and a joy to be around."

While McCoy hasn't given up on another chart-topper, he is looking at other mountains to scale.

Working a sitcom, he hopes to star in a show that gives fans a look at the "comedic side of Nashville."

"It's pretty well-written and I think fans will get a kick out of seeing the crazy things that go on."

First, though, he needs to get the right backers. Then, it's Neal McCoy, TV star.

An easy transition? "I've had to learn a lot of lyrics, so I think I could remember lines," he says. "I understand how hard it is. But I think I could do it."


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