20 Questions With Neal McCoy

He Talks Big Band, Short Hair and Bad Jokes

More than a decade has passed since Neal McCoy notched his two biggest hits, the chart-topping “No Doubt About It” and “Wink.” Since then, the mellow fellow has struggled with music business woes but has never quit entertaining or expanding his devoted fan base. With the release of the new album That’s Life, he can shake up the set list with new favorites, including “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On.” Here, the native Texan answers fan questions about crooning for Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, horsing around with NBA legend Karl Malone and pulling punches with comic-actor Rob Schneider.

1. When they handed you “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On,” did you think, “What if the world doesn’t like it?”

No, I thought, “If I could get the world to hear it, they’ll like it.” It’s that fun of a song. I didn’t even think anybody wouldn’t like it. I thought that everybody who heard it would like it, if I could just get it to ‘em.

2. What was it like to work with Rob Schneider on the video for “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On”?

Rob Schneider was fantastic. He flew in from L.A. one day and took time from his busy shooting schedule. We just asked him to do things, and he did them all. He was a great gag guy and very clever. He really helped tremendously with some of the people there. Like on a couple of the fight scenes, he was really good because obviously he’s done a lot of that stuff. He would show them: “No, swing at me this way. Hit me this way.” He was very patient with the people and did a great job.

3. What have you been doing in between the last album and this one?

I’ve been working my ass off! I can’t say that, can I? (laughs) I’ve been working a bunch. Between my first album and this album, I’ve been working a bunch. But the last album, nobody ever heard, so nobody even knows the last album was around. I was on Warner Bros., and it just sat there. They still own it. It never came out. We’ve just been working a bunch, slaving away.

4. If you could go back and change something concerning your career, what would it be?

I’m sure I’m going to give you the stock answer. No. Everything’s perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. I thought I would like to have had some success earlier, but now looking back, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it. I would have gotten carried away when I started having success. It probably would have been a lot worse if I had been young.

5. Who was your favorite country singer when you were a kid?

I didn’t listen to much country music when I was a kid. I really didn’t start until the teenage years, and that’s when Ronnie Milsap, Lee Greenwood and some of those people were starting to come out. … I liked easy listening stuff. Commodores. Barry Manilow. the Carpenters. I was a really mellow guy.

6. I know how much you love music from the big band era, and I have enjoyed hearing you perform songs such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” How soon will you be working on an album of that sort?

Very soon. Hopefully, this fall we can get started on it. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. If we can ever get some downtime, we going to go in and get that thing done. … “I’ll Be Seeing You,” probably “On the Street Where You Live,” maybe “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Those are pretty obscure if you’re not into musicals or old standards. It’s good stuff, though. … I love that old lyric, that old chord progression. I wouldn’t screw that up by throwing something new in. I’ll just stick with standards on this project.

7. Of all your music videos, which one was your favorite to make?

I don’t know. When we were hot through the mid-’90s, we shot a lot of location videos with Martin Kahan, our producer. We shot “No Doubt About It” in Jackson Hole, Wyo., “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” in Alaska, a song called “Going, Going, Gone” in the Florida Keys. “Wink” was shot in Santa Fe, N.M. All those were fun. It was always good to go on location because there were always beautiful sites that Martin picked. I don’t know if I have one particular favorite, but I liked it when Martin did it because we got to go to a lot of pretty places.

8. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you want to go, and why?

I don’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to go a lot of places. Australia is beautiful. New Zealand is beautiful. I’ll tell you, we just came from two of the prettiest places I’ve been in the world in about a week’s span. One was Whistler, British Columbia. Magnificent. Fly into Vancouver and then ride up those mountains and those lakes. And then Montana. If you’ve never been to Big Fork, Mont., Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park — it’s hard to beat that, and I’ve been all over the world. Those clear lakes and those mountains, that’s really pretty stuff. I don’t know where I’d want to go. Obviously, in a different mood, the Bahamas is pretty good, too!

9. Are you native American? If so, what tribe?

No, so therefore I’m no tribe. I’m Filipino. I’m Texapino — half Texan, half Filipino.

10. Are you and Karl Malone still buddies?

Oh, yeah, we’re still good friends. He’s in Louisiana, and I just recently moved to Louisiana. He’s got his kids in a school down there, and he’s building a house on a golf course. He’s doing nothing but logging, and he’s loving it. He’s driving a skidder and a loader out in the woods.

I played horse [the basketball game] with him. He won. It was at my house. He was in a pair of … I don’t even know how much these boots cost, but they were high-dollar cowboy boots. Exotic skin. He shot left-handed about half the time, too. I’m not bad, but it’s just really not fair. It would be like him entering a karaoke competition against me. I think I could handle him.

11. While you are on the road, do you tend to listen to music more or watch TV more?

Watch TV more. They showed us over at XM [Satellite Radio] this whole new [radio] where you can carry it with you. It’s really small, and you can listen all the time. I said, “You know, I just don’t like music that much!” You probably don’t need to put that in the interview. I enjoy television. I have a few artists that I like to listen to, but other than that, I’m not a big listener.

12. Why did you cut your wonderful, long hair? I loved it when you had it.

Just got tired of it. I had big hair and it was nappy. I had to let it grow it out very long to where I could even pull down on it. I had to gel it and diffuse it and all that to make it look good. Women will know what I’m talking about. Guys who have never had long hair will say, “Gel? Diffuse?” It got to be a pain with so many outdoor things through the summertime. Some of these fairs and festivals would get hot. Then my hair would nap up and get big. It was uncontrollable. But I had it long for a lot of years, and I wanted to cut it probably two or three years before I did. Then some other acts that had long hair started cutting theirs, and I didn’t want everybody to think I was following them. “Oh, Neal’s just doing what everybody else is doing.”

13. I know that Jessica Simpson was on one of the USO tours with you, and you sang at her and Nick’s wedding. What song did you sing?

I sang Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” It was great. It was pretty cool. Pretty simple. Pretty clean, but really pretty. A lot of white. The flowers were white. One of the coolest things I thought, at the end of the wedding itself, in the chapel right at the end, an all-black gospel choir walked in and did the same bit that they did from Sister Act. Oh, it was fantastic. It was fantastic! They were great singers. (sings “Oh Happy Day”) They walked down the aisles singing. I was going, “Yea-ha-ha!”

14. What do you think of the newer artists’ style of country, for instance Big & Rich, the MuzikMafia, Van Zant or Keith Anderson. To me, they just ain’t country.

Really, coming from a guy who gets carried away a lot, I think some of it is a little too far. I’m all about having fun and entertaining folks, but I think you can maybe step over the line a little bit. But I think Keith Anderson is great. I’m a big fan of Keith Anderson. I think “Pickin’ Wildflowers” is fun. And again, coming from a guy who’s got a song called “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On,” it’s pretty risqué. They’re getting a little suggestive with this stuff.

15. Do you have any pets? And if so, how many?

I do. I just had to put one to sleep two days ago — my 14-year-old dog, Andy. He was just struggling. But I have a new pound dog called Knuckles. My son named him, and he’s a big ol’ goofy mutt. I have a miniature Yorkshire terrier named Thumbelina. We had a cat, but I think he’s gone. The coyotes must have gotten him because he ain’t been home. Booty is his name. The kids gave it to my daughter in high school because then they can say, “We’re going over to Mickey’s house and getting booty.” I thought it was not very funny. But I haven’t seen Booty in a few weeks, and they say he hasn’t come scratching at the door, so he may have got eat up by a coyote.

16. You have such a bubbly personality. Has there ever been a circumstance where you have been at a loss for words?

I’m sure there has. I can’t remember. … I enjoy talking. I enjoy being around people. I’m sure there are times when I don’t want to speak, but no one will ever know those times.

17. How do you keep your energy level up when you perform?

It’s really just a degree of professionalism. You have to remind yourself that the people coming to the shows will probably only see a handful of shows all year, and they’re excited. You owe them that same excitement.

18. What is the most unusual or wildest thing that you’ve seen at one of your live shows?

I’ve seen a few things. And it’s not even unusual anymore! (laughs) No, I’m just kidding. … At some of these festivals, people come pretty dressed up. They were a bunch of different costumes. You see everything from a giant condom to … I don’t even know the other end of the spectrum.

19. I saw you in concert a few years ago in Meridian, Miss., and you told a lot of jokes, which was fabulous. What’s your favorite part of doing concerts?

Oh, the joke part! No, just the overall experience of doing shows. There are a lot of shows where I don’t even tell jokes. That show, I guess, we needed jokes. Even if the jokes bomb, that’s the funny part — the reactions and stuff. I’ve never bombed, but the jokes sometimes bomb. But that’s OK. And if I start to bomb, it’s OK, but you tell them, “I’m dying up here. This ain’t working.” And they go, “I can’t believe you told us that,” and then they fall right with you.

20. Being a longtime fan and seeing you in concert more than 100 times now and seeing how you interact with all of your fans, what one thing would you say to all of us if we were all in one spot at the same time? (It would have to be a heck of a big spot!)

Dang! Get a life! No! Thank you. I’d just say thank you. We have the most loyal fans in the world, and I think that’s because they are not only fans, but they take the relationship further. I hope they get that feeling from me. We think we’re all friends. I mean, I’m glad they’re all fans of the music, but I think we’re all friends. That’s the relationship we try to establish. If we get a chance to say hello to them in a meet-and-greet line — or if we don’t get a chance to talk to them and we’re just onstage — we want them to leave that show going, “Man, I feel like I’m leaving a friend of mine.” That’s the attitude we’re trying to send out there. And we’ve been really fortunate that we can get that attitude across — whether there’s 200 people or 30,000. Somehow, we’ve been able to make people feel special. I think it’s a God-given talent, and we really got lucky.