Saturday, June 5, 2021

Harum Scarum: The Charlie McCoy (Guitar) Interview

Interview with Charlie McCoy who played guitar on the Harum Scarum soundtrack.

In my recent interview with Ralph Strobel, who played the oboe on the Harum Scarum recording sessions on February 24-26, 1965, he had, among other things, this to say about the soundtrack:

“I believe that other than myself there is only one other living musician that performed in the soundtrack of Harum Scarum. That musician is outstanding guitar player Charlie McCoy. Charlie was born March 28, 1941. I was born September 23, 1940. We are both 80 years of age.” 

In an email to me, Ralph Strobel suggested that perhaps I could contact Charlie McCoy to see what he remembers regarding the Harum Scarum sessions.

I thought that was a great idea and sent Charlie McCoy an email, mentioning the interview with Ralph Strobel, and asking him if he would like to answer a couple of questions about those recordings back in February, 1965. I was happily surprised when he wrote back to me within a couple of hours. That really made my day!

He started his letter with mentioning Rufus Long, who played the flute on the Harum Scarum soundtrack. Here goes:

Rufus Long was a very good friend of mine. He has played on one of my solo CDs. I’ll try to answer your questions here. 

How did you become a musician?

I came to Nashville in 1959 to audition as a singer. I was turned down but was then invited to watch a Nashville recording session for 13-year-old Brenda Lee. When I watched that session, I decided that I didn’t want to be a singer. I wanted to be a studio musician. 

So what happened then?

I moved to Nashville to stay a year later and on May 9, 1961, I played on my first session as a studio musician. (With a new singer from Sweden named Ann-Margret.) This past May 9, I celebrated 60 years as a studio musician and I’m still going.    

Charlie McCoy's first recording as a harmonica player was the song "I Just Don't Understand", by Ann-Margret for RCA.
How did you end up playing on the recording session for the Harum Scarum soundtrack?

The movie company changed dates on the sound track and all the regular musicians who usually played on Elvis’ recordings were booked. We were the relief band.  

I believe this was the first time you worked with Elvis. What were your thoughts when you said yes to play on an Elvis recording?

I was thrilled. He had been one of my favorites growing up as a rock and roll guitar want to be, loving those Scotty Moore sounds on his records. 

And how was it to meet him?

He was so very nice, shook everyone’s hand and said, “Thanks for helping me!”  

Do you remember how the recordings took place?

Like normal Nashville sessions, hear the song, learn it on the spot (no charts) and within 30 to 45 minutes, you have a record. The only rehearsals were to learn each song, perhaps 20 minutes.  

How was it to work with Elvis?

It was great, we, the substitute band, were thrilled to be working with him. 

What did you think of the songs that were recorded?

I thought the songs for Harum Scarum, overall, were probably way below the average in his other movies.  

Elvis singing "So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise)" in a jail cell after being apprehended in King Toranshah's palace.
“So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise)” is often seen as the highlight of the session, what do you think of it?

I’m sorry to say that after about 14,000 sessions, no I don’t remember that one. 

You continued to work with Elvis through the 60’s, as well as on his studio recordings from 1970 and 1971. Any memories you’d like to share?

I ended up on 13 Elvis albums. My main instrument is harmonica, and I got to solo on “Big Boss Man”, “High Heel Sneakers”, “I washed My Hands In Muddy Water” and in Frankie and Johnny on “Hard Luck”.

Additional reading:

1 comment:

Kees said...

This is starting to be a nice series, who's next? :-)