Former Marco Island Artist of the Year JRobert Houghtaling always fills the stage with talented musicians for his 10,000 Songs from the 10,000 Islands shows at the Margood Theater on Goodland. But on Monday, February 6, Houghtaling outdid himself, delivering a true music legend to the Margood Stage.
Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy was the headliner for JRobert’s variety show under the stars on Goodland. The humble harmonica legend took his place among the local talent and looked at home as the lead act or while accompanying the others on his trademark harmonica.
McCoy achieved his greatest fame as part of the Nashville A-Team, a group of Nashville session players who earned wide acclaim in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. McCoy worked with music luminaries Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and Brenda Lee.
McCoy, 81, appears as humble as he is talented. He arrives in Goodland wearing a pair of blue jeans and a plaid shirt. He quickly begins accompanying the local talent without being introduced to the crowd. There was no special treatment accorded to the music legend. And that seems to suit him just fine.
McCoy played on 13 Elvis Presley albums and five Bob Dylan albums. McCoy appears on some of Dylan’s finest albums: Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and Self Portrait. He plays the famous acoustic guitar on Dylan’s epic Desolation Row. He said that Desolation Row was recorded in just two sessions.
“It was just Dylan, me and the bass player,” McCoy said. “The bass player had another appointment, so we only had two takes. The song was 11 minutes long.” It was Dylan’s longest song at that point.
Popular local artist Raiford Starke approached McCoy backstage.
“I learned to play Orange Blossom Special by listening to your recording,” Starke said humbly. “I kind of ripped you off a little bit on that, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” McCoy reassured Starke, “we all learn by listening to other people.”
“It gave me the right idea about how to do it,” Starke said.
McCoy told Starke about his early days in the music business.
“When I was a kid,” McCoy said, “and I was discovering Jimmy Reed and Little Walter, man oh man, I was going to school. Because those boys - Little Walter’s still the greatest blues player ever.”
McCoy recalled his work with Dylan.
"I did five albums with him,” McCoy said, "four of them in Nashville. Desolation Row was done in New York.”
McCoy also played bass on the original version of Dylan’s landmark All Along the Watchtower. But rock and roll was really a side business for McCoy. His work in the country music genre brought him his biggest fame.
"I’m just as proud of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette as I am the rockers,” McCoy said. “I played the bass harmonica on The Boxer with Simon and Garfunkel. I played baritone sax on Pretty Woman with Roy Orbison. I played trumpet on Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 with Dylan."
Though McCoy visited Marco Island as a teenager in the1950s, this was his first visit to Goodland.
“We went to a nice waterfront restaurant,” McCoy said. "It’s what I figured. I knew it was a very small little place - probably a fishing village.”
Marco Island was in its infancy when McCoy last visited. He was living in Miami at the time.
“I was in junior high with the boy scouts,” McCoy said. “We were going to camp out on the beach. When we got to the beach it was red tide, so man, we couldn’t stand it. The odor was just awful. That was probably 1955-56. There was nothing there. Nothing but sand. The beach was all there was."