“If you want to build a house, you’ve gotta learn to use a hammer.”
For Jason McCoy, the tools of the trade are singing, playing guitar, and songwriting. The house is show business.
It turned out to be a very strong house. The award-winning country singer and founding member of Canada’s highest-selling country band is now a Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee.
McCoy was born and raised in small-town Ontario, listening as his dad played Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and George Jones. His dad’s reverence for these country legends sparked something in McCoy. A short move to Alberta around the age of four filled his earliest memories with farm life and solidified his inner country boy.
“I had one sister who was into Donny Osmond, the other was into Barry Manilow at the time, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m into country, that’s what I do.’ My dad played a couple of chords on guitar, and that was it,” he says.
But when he moved back home to Ontario, kids weren’t wearing cowboy hats to school. The new wave of the ‘80s had crashed in.
“It was Howard Jones and Duran Duran on one side, and it was metal and AC/DC on the other, and I was taking Ricky Skaggs cassettes to school,” says McCoy.
With a voice for country and a guitar in hand, he decided to get on down the road as a performer.
“I used to hold little backyard talent shows around the neighborhood because I liked show business, I liked putting on a show. I learned to play guitar, learned to sing, and learned to write songs just so I was able to do that. That’s all I wanted to do,” he says.
He got a part-time job playing guitar in bands on the weekends. While other teens were working at fast food joints, he made his bucks playing legion halls, dances, and clubs in nearby towns.
“That entertainer thing was very addictive. If I had done anything else, I would have been a pilot, but I would have been such an annoying pilot,” laughs McCoy, knowing he’d make the cockpit his stage with an endless supply of dad jokes.
Instead, he gathered his tools and took his passion for entertaining all the way.
“When you’re starting out as an artist, you don’t get a lot of great songs. You gotta cut a lot of stuff you don’t really believe in, or you write your own. So I wrote my own. That actually forced me to have to try harder and write better songs,” he says.
After releasing his debut album, he was signed by MCA to record his self-titled sophomore album, which hit No. 2 on the Canadian country charts and gave him three No. 1 singles in 1995.
McCoy followed that up with the Canadian Gold-certified album Playin’ for Keeps. He continued to deliver hits like “Born Again in Dixieland,” “She Ain’t Missin’ Missin’ Me,” and “Still,” earning numerous wins and nominations at the CCMA Awards, JUNO Awards, and more.
But his impressive solo career is just part of the story. Following his 2001 CCMA Male Artist of the Year win, he found himself looking around at the wide landscape of country music and wondering, “What’s next?”
“I was kinda listening to my old vinyl from being a kid, and I had an LP called Diesel, Smoke, and Dangerous Curves, and it was all about trucking classics, and I just wanted to do that,” he says.
It started as an idea for a reality TV performance, and then a trucker tribute album, and then a full-blown band. The Road Hammers were born.
Founded in 2004, the country-rock outfit of McCoy, Clayton Bellamy, and Chris Byrne, along with original drummer Corbett Frasz and producer Scott Baggett, were like-minded musical friends who just wanted to have some fun with it. They had no idea how successful the project would become.
“We were just trying to do a thing,” says McCoy. “There was not any plan, and it just happened to work.”
It definitely worked. Their first album, The Road Hammers, debuted at No. 1 on the Canadian country albums chart, won them CCMA Group of the Year and JUNO Country Recording of the Year, and produced four Top 10 singles at country radio. They’ve released a total of six albums with six Top 10 hits, selling more than any Canadian country band in history.
The group’s rock ‘n’ roll attitude and drive to “just go for it,” without any reputation to live up to or bar to meet, was key to their unexpected success.
“When you’re a solo artist, you’re making all the decisions yourself, so there’s a bit of trepidation,” says McCoy. “The reason we were able to face a lot of this stuff fearlessly is because it was like ‘Why not, let’s try this, sure.’ That’s it. If it felt right we did it, and that’s the way music should be, and that’s kind of the way life should be.”
Hitting the road with The Road Hammers has brought McCoy to worldwide stages, performing for audiences from North America and Europe to Australia and Asia.
“I think the most memorable thing would be the fact that we have second homes wherever we go,” he says. “It feels like your neighborhood is expanded because of music, and I think that’s probably the coolest thing.”
His resume as an entertainer doesn’t end there. You might have found him on your TV screens starring in shows such as CMT’s The Road Hammers, Jason McCoy Eats America, and even an episode of Mantracker, or on your airwaves as a radio host at Pure Country 106 in Orillia and host of the nationally-syndicated show Nothin’ But The 90’s.
“I just like to entertain, and I don’t care if there’s two people or 200 or 2,000. It’s just fun,” he says.
Just as he did when he reached those earlier career milestones, being inducted into the Hall of Fame has him wondering “What’s next?” again.
“It’s not lost on me that I’ve had great success in every arena of the industry. My only question is ‘What am I being trained for?’” asks McCoy. “It feels like something’s coming that I can be part of, that I’m acquiring this knowledge for, and I don’t know what it is.”
“Or I could be getting kicked out soon, who knows,” he adds with his trademark sense of humour.
McCoy has been playing guitar since age seven, writing songs since age 12, and singing on stage for decades to build his indisputably successful career as an entertainer.
“Now, I feel like I should be creating to challenge myself, to do something beautiful, as opposed to just to entertain. I’ve worked out enough that now I’ve got the muscle to do what I think I’m supposed to do. It feels like now I’m getting ready to do something,” McCoy says.
Jason McCoy will be celebrated as the newest inductee into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame this week in Hamilton, ON during Country Music Week 2023.