Mac McAnally Likes Being a “Nobody”
Growing up in rural Mississippi Mac McAnally was raised to blend in and not try to be the center of attention. And it was that manner of upbringing that inspired the title of his latest release AKA Nobody.
“I’ve actually had people say ‘You got that from the Dalai Lama, right?’” McAnally admitted during a recent conversation. “I guess the Dalai Lama has a saying, ‘It takes a lot of effort to be a somebody, but it takes more effort to be a nobody.’ But that’s not where I got it from, I actually got it from my mom.
“We were raised, as farm kids, to not really call attention to ourselves, to not say ‘hey, look at me’. That’s not really a quality characteristic (to have). The irony of that is that I try to make a living in show business, where are there are all kinds of penalties for not calling attention to yourself.”
“The album’s title is a little bit about my life in this industry, having been raised the way that I was. And it’s still my nature. Although we are publicizing an event today (with this interview), it’s still not my nature to say ‘hey, look at me’.” Even though he considers himself a “behind-the-scenes” kind of guy, McAnally has garnered plenty of attention and accolades for his work as a songwriter, musician and record producer:
- Voted CMA Musician of the Year eight straight years
- Member of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame
- Member of the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame
But you won’t see McAnally tooting his own horn all over the various media outlets.
“The way that I carry myself in business has always been to try to do some work that calls attention to itself, so I wouldn’t have to,” McAnally said. “Most of my career has been as a sideman, whether it’s been onstage, or in the studio, recording with other people, or producing other people. My nature is that if anyone else is onstage, I’m a sideman.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since his self-titled debut album came out and all along the way, McAnally’s reasons for putting records out has been pretty simple.
“I’m primarily a songwriter,” Mac said, “and my songs are me saying what I want to say. As far as sales go, I have a small fan base, and I don’t think it’s just my family. But I hope that my songs mean a lot to them. People come up to me at my shows and tell me that they do.
“I tend to put out a collection of work when I have something to say. I don’t put out very many, just when something builds up enough pressure in the pipeline that it works its way out! And this (album) is one that I am very proud of.”
AKA Nobody was released late in 2015, and to help promote his new album, McAnally made a decision that he said proves that as a businessman, he is a better songwriter.
“I’m the worst business man in history because I decided to give it away over the holidays last year” McAnally admitted. “I put it up for free!”
Over 30,000 people took up Mac’s offer to download AKA Nobody for free. And while he may have not made money on such a decision, McAnally is a happy man just the same.
“I’m a fortunate man,” Mac said. “It’s been a goal of mine to put out the best of my abilities, given my God-given limitations (laughs). I don’t ever want to sand bag, to put a record out just because I’m going out on tour or because I’ve got a group of employees who need me to put a record out.”
And when it came time to come up with material for AKA Nobody, McAnally had some help on seven of the album’s tracks from a few other songwriters people might have heard of: Jimmy Buffett, Zac Brown, Kenny Chesney, Chris Stapleton, Sonny Landreth and Al Anderson (NRBQ).
“All of these guys are great songwriters,” McAnally said, “and in Nashville I guess I’m thought of as a guitar player and songwriter, more than as a recording artist.
“In the case of Jimmy, Kenny and Zac, we’re usually writing together for one of their projects. We’ve written together for their records before, and it just becomes good friends hanging out and songs come out of it. Some of those songs end up on their records.
“The song that Jimmy and I wrote together that’s on this album, Coast of Carolina, was actually recorded by him first for his record License to Chill.
Zac recorded Last But Not Least, which is on this album, before I did as well. And Kenny recorded ‘Back Where I Come From’ and ‘Down the Road’ that we did as a duet, both of which are a couple of old songs of mine.”
McAnally added that “I’ve actually got my fingers crossed that someday Chris Stapleton will sing our song (A Little Bit Better) because he’s one of my favorite singers on earth. I would much rather hear Chris sing it than me (laughs).”
While McAnally concedes that he likes being a sideman onstage, he has become comfortable with going on tour to perform his own material.
“I will admit it to you that I love performing more than I ever have in my life,” McAnally said. “I was such a bashful kid early on that it was a nerve-wracking thing for me. At this point I’m still a bashful kid, but I have come to terms with what my voice sounds like and what my playing sounds like. I want it to be better, and I keep practicing. But I’m okay with what it is, so I enjoy myself when I’m playing more than I used to.”
A long-time member of the Coral Reefer Band, McAnally once considered himself a “temp” employee of Mr. Buffett.
“I’m one of the later guys to join the band, but I would say that my status has been upgraded,” McAnally joked. “I’ve known Jimmy for a long time. It’s not like I felt that I didn’t belong, I just had other jobs that were going on at the time. And Jimmy was gracious enough to excuse me.
“Honestly, I’m fairly serious about being a good dad. Until all my kids turned eighteen, I never missed one of their birthdays. I would fly home from the road and miss a show just to attend a birthday party.”
Mac added that he was the only member of the band at that time that received time off to attend to such important moments in his family life. It’s another reason that McAnally speaks highly of Jimmy Buffett, whether it’s as a musician, songwriting partner or the man in charge of the Coral Reefer Band.
“Jimmy is a great boss, and I would recommend him to anybody!”
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