O lucky man - Neal McCoy performs Sunday at Show Me Center

Friday, December 6, 2002

Though he has had five No. 1 hits, including "No Doubt About It," "They're Playing Our Song" and "Wink," country singer Neal McCoy is better known for his personality and stage act than for his recordings.

Joyce Hays of Jackson was so taken with him when they talked at a Fan Fair in Nashville in the early 1990s that she joined his fan club. "He was human," she says. "I don't know how else to say it. And that part of him has not changed."

McCoy performs at the Show Me Center at 7 Sunday night. Just returned from a USO tour in the Middle East with Wayne Newton, he will present a show that includes both his most popular songs and holiday tunes.

A song called "The Shake" defines McCoy's show as well as any. It begins: "Some men are attracted to a pair of big blue eyes/It takes a pretty face to make their temperature rise/Looks aren't that important/Just icing on the cake/What really turns me on is the shake."

"The Shake" was one of CMT's Top 10 Videos of the Year.

Getting the audience involved and laughing and crying is McCoy's nightly mission. That's his personality: "A guy that enjoys life," McCoy said in a phone interview from a tour stop in Branson, Mo.

Actually, he doesn't view his popularity as a live performer as a curse. He won the fan-voted TNN/Music City News Entertainer of the Year Award in 1998 and 1999, beating out the big boys who sell many more records.

"That's where I make my living," he said. "Records for me are nothing but advertisement."

But his newest CD, "The Luckiest Man in the World," could spur his CD sales. His first album with Warner Bros., "The Luckiest Man in the World" crosses over into territory producer Eric Silver has explored with Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. It is due to be released next month. As different sounding as the CD might be, it still contains a "wacky track" McCoy has become known for. "Elvis in the Airport" is the story of an Elvis sighting.

McCoy's striking good looks are the product of an Irish/American father and Filipino mother and haven't harmed him since the days when he was a young boy growing up in East Texas.

"I looked a little different," he said. "I think I used that to my advantage ... that I was intriguing looking. People were interested."

In 1981, McCoy was discovered by country singer Janie Fricke, who was judging a singing contest he entered in Texas. She introduced him to Charley Pride, who took McCoy on the road with him for seven years.

Pride taught him a lot, McCoy said. "I watched him on stage and saw his willingness to spill anything he's got, to become one of the people watching."

But he may have learned more from Pride when he was not performing, McCoy said. "He showed me how to treat people off stage. He was a true gentleman."

Entertaining in Bahrain and Kuwait with Newton, he played some small shows and one aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. Most of the sailors were about 20, just a few years older than McCoy's eldest daughter.

Morale is high, he said. "They're always excited to see people from home."

Cape Girardeau is not new territory for McCoy. He has performed here three times previously, most recently at the SEMO District Fair.

Both Hays and her husband, Buck, belong to Neal McCoy's fan club. Occasionally they attend one of the fan club breakfasts in Nashville. McCoy doesn't perform, just mingles, poses for pictures and holds an auction to raise money for the charity he founded, the East Texas Angel Network. The organization helps the families of children with serious illnesses.

Back when Hays first met McCoy at the Fair Fan booth, she had never seen him perform. Later he took the stage wearing a white tuxedo.

"He gave one walloping performance," she recalls.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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