Songwriter Spotlight: Mac McAnally on CMA Dominance and Chesney Hits
When Mac McAnally nabbed the trophy for Musician of the Year at the 49th CMA Awards Wednesday night, it was his eighth straight win.
In an interview prior to the show, the revered singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist with a penchant for self-deprecation didn’t rule out the possibility that name recognition alone might be working in his favor.
“I have a greater understanding of how mediocre Congressmen keep getting elected,” the Mississippi native says with a laugh of consistently being honored by his peers since 2008.
Although he jokes that he keeps telling people to vote for someone else — and had words of praise for all of his fellow nominees, whom he calls “my heroes” — he takes the honor very seriously. “I don’t consider myself the Musician of the Year. I’m the third best guitar player in my band and that’s not a joke. But the fact that the people that do what I do vote on that award, and some of them see some merit in how I go about my business, it means a whole lot to me.”
In the pressroom at the CMA awards, award in hand, an elated McAnally reiterated that sentiment.
“I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say I have to give the rest of them back,” he says, noting he would have to figure out where to put the latest trophy. “It’s one of the best problems I’ve ever run into. You won’t find a luckier guy in the building.”
Or a guy happier to do what he does. “My parents are both gone, but it would mean the world to them,” he says. “They wanted me to be a musician from the time I was born. The way they said it in Mississippi is, ‘He has the call to preach music.'”
And preach it he has to great success since starting his career at 13 playing around his childhood hometown, inspired by his Chet Atkins–loving parents.
While his is not a household name, McAnally’s work has undoubtedly touched millions of households throughout his multi-faceted career. He has contributed to dozens of albums over the years as a session musician, working with a laundry list of great artists including George Strait, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Linda Ronstadt and Billy Joel. He has worked as a producer with artists like Toby Keith, Martina McBride and Jimmy Buffett, with whom he also tours as part of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. And McAnally has also penned a clutch of Number One hits, like “Down the Road” by Kenny Chesney and Alabama’s “Old Flame.”
Given all of the demands on his time, it’s a minor miracle that McAnally has time to record albums of his own as a performing artist. But earlier this year he released the excellent new collection AKA Nobody, featuring co-writing contributions from friends like Buffett, Chesney, Zac Brown and this year’s CMAs big winner Chris Stapleton.