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This Country Boy Has A Little Rock In His Soul

Country singers don’t like to admit that they haven’t always been 100 percent country, but Neal McCoy, who headlines the Opera House on Sunday, doesn’t mind ‘fessing up.

McCoy admits that when he was growing up, he listened to Michael Jackson, Boz Scaggs, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Kool and the Gang.

Not exactly your Grand Ole Opry lineup.

In fact, listen to what McCoy, 35, says about his high school wardrobe in an interview with New Country magazine: “I’d try to get what they call ‘elephant bells.’ They were the most gigantic (bell-bottoms) you could find. And I had the big ol’ high heels, the platforms. I wore the tallest ones a guy could get, about six inches high.”

All this means, is that he grew up American in the mid-‘70s.

But he also has a solid country background. He was wearing those bell-bottoms in Jacksonville, Texas, where he was born and raised. He now lives in Longview, Texas, so McCoy has one iron-clad country credential: He has lived in Texas all of his life.

He also had a pretty good country mentor: Charley Pride.

Pride took McCoy under his wing in the 1980s, and helped him hone his live act.

“I learned a lot from just watching him,” said McCoy, by phone from a gig in San Jose, Calif. “The most important thing he taught me is to just be yourself on stage.”

That has been golden advice for McCoy, whose optimistic, ebullient personality can be contagious onstage.

“I’m pretty loud and outgoing,” admits McCoy. “I try to be pretty funloving guy. I’m very happy in life. I’ve got a great wife, a great family, and the music industry treats me well.”

For a while there, he wasn’t so sure about that last part. He had been knocking people dead with his live shows for years, but when he put out his first albums in the early ‘90s, nothing happened.

“We had a couple of albums and about six or seven singles, and they didn’t do near as well as we hoped they would,” said McCoy.

He considered heading for Las Vegas and being a showman, or, failing that, going back to running his own lawn-mowing business. But then, a hit happened.

The song was “No Doubt About It,” which became a bona fide country hit in 1994, followed quickly by “Wink,” “The City Put the Country Back in Me,” and “For a Change.” His current single, “They’re Playing Our Song,” is heading up the charts.

These days, he and his six-piece band are headlining their own shows.

He has a true showman’s attitude toward his audience; he thinks they deserve every ounce of his energy. He says that he played just as hard for 13 people during one ill-fated California show, as he did for 80,000 in a big Nashville festival.

He is known for throwing surprises at his audience, such as a comedy rap version of the “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme song. He has also been known to perform the old standard “Paper Moon,” or even the occasional Quincy Jones song.

One other surprise: He is surely the only half-Filipino country singer on the charts today. His mother is a native of the Philippines.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Neal McCoy Location and time: Opera House, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $17.50 reserved

This sidebar appeared with the story: Neal McCoy Location and time: Opera House, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $17.50 reserved