‘We whooped it up’: Bob Dylan session meant switching to trumpet for Nashville legend

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A veteran of countless sessions, Nashville legend Charlie McCoy is perhaps best known for his work on harmonica. So how did he end up on trumpet with Bob Dylan?

Yes, that’s McCoy playing the boozy brass line on “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35,” the opening cut from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde. The switch came at the request of album producer Bob Johnston — who said he wanted the sessions performers to “whoop it up — and we did. We whooped it up.”

In fact, McCoy tells Dave Lefkowitz that he was uniquely qualified for this particular request.

“He said we need a couple of horns, a trumpet and a trombone,” McCoy said of Johnston. “I said: ‘Well, do you need the trumpet to be good?’ He said: ‘No, it needs to sound (like the) Salvation Army.’ I said: ‘OK, I’m your guy!’ Then I called in a buddy of mine, a trombone player. But I wouldn’t classify myself as a legitimate trumpet player, like a Herb Alpert or anything like that.”

McCoy is quick to note, however, that while Johnston wanted them to sound liquored up, no one was actually drunk during the Blonde on Blonde sessions.

“We don’t really do that here,” McCoy says, referring to the professional environs of Nashville. “It’s kind of not permitted. But we pretended real good!”

McCoy also plays bass, guitar, keyboards, sax and vibraphone and has, over the years, backed Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley and Ween, among others. He’s had some 13 songs of his own enter the Billboard country charts, as well.

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