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The Glory Days of Country Live on at Jim McCoy's Troubadour
[Originally published in the November 2004 Graffiti, Volume 15, Number 11]
November 2004 cover of Graffiti
Cover of November 2004 Graffiti
Free West Virginia Entertainment Guide
1427 Lee Street
Charleston, WV 25301

 


 

 

The Days of Cline and Tubb
By Robin Boyd

 

Jim McCoy knows where he wants to spend the rest of his years. Tucked away in the majestic mountains of Morgan County, his Troubadour Lounge and Park is a little piece of paradise where, every day, the 75-year-old musician drinks coffee watching the sunrise - and bourbon watching the sunset.

For the last 20 years, this is where McCoy, who served as Patsy Cline’s longtime guitarist and became close friends with country stars like Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff, and his wife Bertha call home. It’s also where they invite locals to spend evenings listening to live music.

It’s a typical Saturday night and people are dancing outside in the field behind the club to a local country western band. A moonlit mountain serves as a striking backdrop to the stage. As usual, McCoy is barbecuing chicken and hamburgers on his outside grill. The trees are sparkling with strings of white lights as patrons gather around picnic tables. As the mountain air cools, McCoy starts a bonfire. It’s hard to tell where McCoy’s business ends and his home begins. It’s hard to tell the difference between his customers and his family. It’s hard to tell if what McCoy does is work or play. And that’s exactly how he likes it.

“I tried to retire and get out of the business,” said McCoy, who most recently worked as a DJ in Winchester, VA. “But I came here and built a house and, before I knew it, I was in the music business again. It’s too much a part of my life. I can’t leave it behind.”

 

Jim and Bertha McCoy Relaxing
Jim and Bertha McCoy relax in their little bit of "hillbilly heaven."
Photograph by Danny Boyd

 

McCoy clearly remembers when Cline - then Virginia Hensley - was just 14 and was asking him for a chance to sing with his band.

“We had a live radio show with a small band that would play into one microphone,” he recalled. “She came to us and wanted to sing. We let her and I remember thinking `Boy, can she sing!’”

McCoy and Cline performed together on a live radio show called “Country Fair” and in a band called Melody Playboys. Later, he toured the country with Cline as her solo career took off.

“Our friendship was just really something. We could talk aboutanything,” said McCoy, who served as a pall bearer at Cline’s funeral after she was killed in a 1963 plane crash.

“I had to call her mother and tell her she’d been killed. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“In many ways, the Troubadour is a shrine to both Cline and to McCoy’s other idol, Ernest Tubb. Cutout likenesses of the two greet guests as they drive up to McCoy’s country music mecca.McCoy’s interest in music dates back more than six decades with a story that sounds too classic to be true. When McCoy was 14, he began a 40-mile walk from Winchester, VA, to Hagerstown, MD, where Tubb was to perform. Fortunately, someone picked him up after six miles and drove him the rest of the way.

“I first heard Ernest Tubb on an old battery radio,” he said. “I just really liked his voice. I wrote him letters all the time. I couldn’t wait to hear him in person.”

When McCoy was growing up, his family earned much of its cash by cutting timber. One day, he decided, “There has to be a better way to make a living than holding this old crosscut saw.”

When he was 13, McCoy learned to play guitar from Pete Kelly, one of his neighbors on Highland Ridge. Two of the songs he recalled learning from Kelly were “Wildwood Flower” and “You Are My Sunshine.” It was the contemporary hillbilly music of the 1930s and ‘40s, which they mostly learned from records and radio.

Inspired by Tubb’s deep voice and the new, amplified country sound emerging in the 1940s, McCoy began singing and playing with his pal Ken Hoffman at Jack Waugh’s tavern in southern Morgan County. Before long, McCoy hooked up with Slim Belford. Belford went on to play with bluegrass greats Bennie and Vallie Cain who also got their starts in Berkeley Springs. In addition, McCoy performed with regional favorite Sammy Moss and fiddler Sonny McCumbee, a member of a well-known Berkeley Springs musical family.

As a teenager, McCoy’s first “on air” performance was on WJEJ in Hagerstown, MD, around 1945. He remembered his father driving him to the radio station in the family’s 1934 Studebaker for the 6 a.m. broadcast so he could perform two songs with Bud Messner and his Saddle Pals, a popular band from nearby Pennsylvania.Of the hundreds of photographs that cover the walls of the Troubadour, one is very dear to McCoy - a picture of McCoy next to Tubb at the concert he attended as a young boy. McCoy later became a DJ and got to know Tubb well when he booked shows through the radio station.

“We became great friends,” McCoy said of Tubb, who died in 1984. “His son, Justin Tubb, came to the Troubadour on Father’s Day of 1988 and dedicated Troubadour to his father’s memory.”

McCoy said he always admired Tubb for “taking the high road” and avoiding the problems with drugs and alcohol that plagued so manyof his peers. Almost an entire wall of the Troubadour is covered with photographs from Tubb’s funeral. Above the photographs, someone has written “Hillbilly Heaven.”

“A friend of Willie Nelson’s knew how much I loved Tubb and gave me these photographs,” said McCoy, who attended the funeral.

Aside from pictures of Cline and Tubb, the walls of the Troubadour feature the faces of just about every other performer imaginable from the early days of country music.

He pointed to a snapshot of himself with Tex Ritter. “We got to be good friends. He loved to talk about Patsy.”

Another - McCoy with George Jones and Charlie Dick, Cline’s husband - made him chuckle. “We were on an elevator in Nashville and Charlie said `Give me five,’and George pulled out five hundred dollar bills and gave it to him without flinching.”

“I know all these fellows, and I can tell you there’s something unique about all of them,” McCoy said as he pointed to a photograph of Bertha sitting with Roy Acuff in front of the mirrors in his dressing room.

McCoy is particularly fond of a snapshot of himself with Ray Price and Dottie West taken in Winchester, VA. “I had a wonderful photo of just me and Dottie West,” he said. “She was wearing a pretty dress and a cowboy hat. Someone stole that picture right off the wall.”

Many of the photos at the Troubadour are of McCoy and Dick, one of his longtime best friends. “Charlie and I really had some great times,” McCoy said, adding that he visits the Troubadour once or twice a year.

Dick, who now lives in Nashville, said of McCoy, “He’s indescribable. He’s my old friend from the mountains. I’ve known him for a long time and I hope to know him for a lot longer.”

Dick said he and McCoy became especially close after Cline died. “He was a great friend to her and he’s been a great friend to me. He’s a good person.”

In the early ‘60s, McCoy would bring tour buses (sponsored by the radio station where he worked) to Nashville. “Jim and I would have dinner and hang out together,” said Dick, who admitted he had to hold back some stories about their early party days.

“I trust him like I trust no one else,” he said. “I know that I can call on him for anything.”

Dick, who married Cline in 1957, recalled how much McCoy meant to Cline. “She was little more than a kid when she met him. He was doing a Saturday morning radio show in Winchester, and she just begged him to let her sing. He finally did, and they were friends from then on.”

Dick makes a yearly trek to the Troubadour during Labor Day weekend when Patsy Cline fans gather at the bar. Sadly, he was ill this year and was unable to attend.

“The Troubadour is a great tribute to both Patsy and Ernest,” said Dick, who added, “God, it’s in the middle of nowhere - but it has the atmosphere of a true Nashville honky tonk bar.”

Dick described the Troubadour is a “true musicians hangout.” “You feel like you’re in Nashville with pictures of all of the famous musicians on the walls.”McCoy’s favorite photograph of Cline has her in her red dress and her skinny white boots. “That always makes me think of Patsy,” he said. “Those white boots - that’s Patsy.”

McCoy said the photographs are part of the reason people love to come to the Troubadour. “All of these old-time stars looking down from the photographs - it’s all part of the atmosphere. You feel like they’re here.”

McCoy hosts a “West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame” at the Troubadour that features Kathy Mattea, Johnny “T” Triplett, Rudy Lewis, Sen. Robert C. Byrd and himself - “Joltin’” Jim McCoy, as he was known in the early days.

McCoy also operates a recording studio at the Troubadour under the name Winchester Records. He is currently recording a CD titled “Remembering Ernest Tubb,” in which he, Charlie Dick and George Riddle will all perform. The CD is expected to be released in 2005.

The Troubadour offers live shows every Saturday night and DJ music every Friday night. The restaurant, lounge and museum are open Tuesday-Sunday. 1 p.m.-10 p.m. For more information on the Troubadour visit: www.troubadourlounge.com.

 

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Last modified: 11/11/06