Mac McAnally’s ninth Country Music Association award for Musician of the Year tied him Wednesday night with the late, great Chet Atkins.
“I may have the same number as him, but I’m not in the same league with Chet Atkins,” McAnally said by phone Thursday afternoon from Nashville. “He was my dad’s hero, and my dad was my hero. Chet Atkins is the reason my daddy put a guitar in my hands and got me lessons.”
But don’t think for a second that McAnally, who grew up in the tiny northeast Mississippi town of Belmont, is going to return the award.
“It always means a lot, simply because of who votes on it,” he said, meaning his peers. “And it maybe allows me to keep doing what I love.
“But it is nearing an embarrassing number. Everybody nominated would’ve been a good choice to win.”
The nominees included Paul Franklin, Jerry Douglass, Dan Huff and Derek Wells.
In a town full of guitar pickers, McAnally became the first to win the award eight consecutive years, from 2008 through 2015. He didn’t qualify for nomination in 2016. “We toured too much,” he said, referring to his job as guitarist with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.
“I was actually relieved that the streak was broken,” he said. “But to come back and win it again this year is in some ways a validation because it was sort of like starting over.”
And it occurred in the year he turned 60 while playing a gig with Buffett at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Winning again also will allow him to continue using one of his favorite lines in the studio: “I’ve got a pretty good radio DJ voice, and when I make a glaring mistake — blowing a D chord that any second-grader could play — I’ll go, ‘And that ladies and gentlemen is your CMA Musician of the Year.’ ”
Following the awards show, McAnally attended a small gathering that included his three daughters, his girlfriend, his manager and family members of the late Glen Campbell, who was honored during the event. Jimmy Webb, who wrote many of Campbell’s hits, was also at the gathering.
“I worked with Glen and Glen’s kids in the studio,” said McAnally, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. “I’m good friends with his wife, Kim, and had the honor of playing at Glen’s memorial service a couple of months ago. I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s, so I know what they’ve been through in recent years. I think last night was a nice bit of closure for them.”
Wednesday night’s awards show had its somber moments, especially when Carrie Underwood sang the classic hymn “Softly and Tenderly” in honor of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting and those in the music industry who died during the past 12 months.
“Even though the genres of country music have been stretched in recent years, it felt like we were all under the same tent (Wednesday) night,” he said.
McAnally won’t take any time off to relish the award.
He is preparing to play a hurricane relief concert Nov. 19 in Tallahassee, Florida with Buffett, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.
He also is promoting his album “Southbound” — 16 of his hits and favorite songs combined with orchestral arrangements. All proceeds from the album will go to Extra Table, a nonprofit hunger relief organization, and to the University of Southern Mississippi music program.
But next up is a trip to Starkville where he will perform Friday night, then sing the national anthem Saturday — Veterans Day — before the Mississippi State-Alabama football game.
“Indeed, it’s an honor,” McAnally said. “My dad was the first McAnally to seek higher education, and he went to Mississippi State on the GI Bill. Take that and throw in 46,000 cowbells at the high note of the anthem … whew!”