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Love Notes

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Photo by Angela Kohler Photo by Angela Kohler

When we still lived near the Sandpoint Airport, I often rode my bike into town. One of my favorite routes took me past Dale and Mae McCormick’s home. Invariably, while passing by and turning my head toward that big picture window, I’d see Dale relaxing in his overstuffed chair.

I always waved with a great big smile. Dale smiled and waved back.

I’ve known Dale and Mae for about 40 years. Mae and I used to work together at Sandpoint High School where their two children Julie and Todd attended. Julie (Knox) served as my Monticola yearbook editor back in 1974-75. Todd was a year or two behind her in school, and I can remember some photos of Todd holding a big fish caught from Lake Pend Oreille.

Generations of the McCormick family were good at fishing. Dale and his brothers, Larry and Gordon, also established a fine reputation in the local construction industry. They had their own contracting business for 15 years and built structures like Condo del Sol. Later, while associated with other firms, they helped build The Coeur d’Alene Hotel and the Kootenai River Inn, to name a few.

I don’t exchange waves with Dale quite so often now that we live further out in the country. From my occasional drives by, though, I know he still sits in that chair in the same spot.

 If I’d been riding by on my bike past his home the morning of Sept. 4, I would have seen a tear or two streaming down Dale’s face, along with that infectious smile.

I was glued to my television set that morning, just as were Dale and a whole lot of other people in the area.
“Papa” Dale, a well-known longtime local musician, was sitting alongside Mae, watching their granddaughter Megan perform on the “Saturday CBS Early Show.” During the “Second Cup Cafe” segment, the 24-year-old multi-talented sensation, now living in Nashville, was strumming the guitar and singing original songs from her newly released, critically-acclaimed CD “Honest Words.”

While show-casing Megan’s song-writing, guitar and singing talents, the CD collection of 12 songs features selections about love, family, addiction and, according to her MySpace page, “the never-ending search for self understanding.”

“Her skill set isn’t at all traditional,” one online bio states, “...the incisive licks she churns out on her hollow-body electric, plus the bluegrass-style flatpicking, plus the fetching melodic pop sensibilities that she easily adapts to a number of musical styles and so on.”

“Honest Words” can be ordered through Amazon online or purchased from The Long Ear in Coeur d’Alene.
In between her Sept. 4 appearances on the “Early Show,” the CBS hosts kept reminding their nationwide audience that Megan’s CD, released Aug. 17, had already received enthusiastic acclaim. Among those accolades was “Oprah Winfrey’s Midas-like touch,” and disclosure that the talk-show queen has included Megan’s songs on her personal iTunes list.

While Dale and Mae watched in their Sandpoint home, Megan’s parents Todd and Michele tuned in from a Bed and Breakfast in Soldotna, Alaska. Todd works as a surveyor on the North Slope, while Michele teaches third grade in Wasilla. Megan attended high school in Wasilla before heading off to East Tennessee State University to study bluegrass at 16 with a music performance scholarship.

“We told everyone we saw about the CBS show, the desk clerk, our waiter the night before at dinner, people in the lobby,” says Michele McCormick. Because of the time change, Megan’s parents hadn’t yet seen their daughter perform when their phones were already lighting up with calls, texts and emails from thrilled family and friends across the country.

“At around 6:30 am we saw her and cried while we watched her pour her heart out in song!” Michele says. After the CBS performance, Todd called his mom and teased her into believing that hordes of paparazzi had gathered outside their B&B door.

Well, not exactly, but since then, sold-out audiences have turned out at venues around the Midwest, East Coast and South to listen to Megan strum and sing.

“We have an overall sense of joy and pride for Megan,” says Michele. “We’re so proud of her and happy that she’s getting some recognition for her hard work. She has worked on her music forever, and we’re thankful that she’s finally reaping the benefits.”

Michele’s extended family also shared pride in Megan’s recent musical achievements. Her parents, Chuck and Norma Bell of Athol, inductees of the Western Swing Society in 1985, mentored their granddaughter from the moment she first showed interest in the family’s musical passions.

“My dad was a huge influence on Megan,” Michele wrote in an email interview. “He passed away in March this year. The day he died Megan had his initials tattoed inside her left wrist [saying] ‘I want to see it and think of him every time I play my guitar, Mom.’

“I didn’t know I’d be so happy to have my daughter get her first and only tattoo,” Michele added. Megan also wrote a short dedication to Chuck Bell which appears in her album cover: Are you missing me, like I miss you?
“... she has had a lot of people around to tutor her,” says Dale McCormick who remembers giving her lessons. “She was 9 years old... [generally] I try to give enough in a half hour that it would take them a week to digest. One time at the end of the half hour, she said, ‘What’s next, Pop?’ I was kinda flabbergasted. She was kind of a natural.”

Nowadays, Megan appreciates those early days of abundant family guidance.

“Both of my grandpas being fantastic guitar players as well as my uncles and dad... My mom’s dad was more of a country-swing style guitar,” she says. “And then... Dale McCormick was more on the classical/jazz side of things. Both of them taught me so much, showing me something new and exciting every time I asked.”

It was her grandmother Norma, however, who taught Megan her first song on the guitar “Little Brown Jug.” Meanwhile, her first live performance came in third grade at Athol Elementary with cousins Emily and Nelly Bell.

“I don’t remember anything going wrong!” she recalls. “I played ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ for probably 200 kids and staff.”

Along with family influences, including a cousin who taught her bluegrass, Megan has closely followed the works of Steely Dan, Bonnie Raitt, Sting, and Jimi Hendrix, among others.

One online bio states that after two years of college, she went on the road with a bluegrass band, later “splitting her time between the bluegrass-jazz fusion group Missy Raines and the New Hip and the indie country outfit Everybodyfields.”

Later, after moving to Nashville, she decided to set off on her own, carefully selecting performance situations where she could be seen by high-profile people in the music business.

“My attorney, Tyler Middleton, was the first person on ‘my team’ really,” Megan says. “She and I came up with a ‘plan’ of doing these miniature showcases at a small club in Nashville (The Basement). Via her music industry invites and connections, she and I just invited friends, industry folks and anyone else we could think of... and slowly found my publisher, manager and eventually record label.”

Locally, radio station KPND 95.3 has featured her album. Assistant program director and music director Diane Michaels calls the CD fantastic. As a 30-year veteran of the radio business, Michaels sees a bright future for Megan.

“She has a great voice, plays a mean guitar and is ‘the real deal’ in my opinion,” Michaels says. “She is a very talented lady, and I hope she gets the attention she deserves. I think she has a solid career ahead of her.”

Aunt Julie Knox concurs.

“I knew she’d be the one to go above and beyond her ‘roots’ and would be able to share her talent in an extra large fashion,” Knox says. “Recently, Trestle Creek Band was playing for a benefit concert, and I shared with her how fun it was having the whole family together ‘pickin’ and grinnin’.

“She replied, ‘I wish I were there too, Aunt Julie, but I just met Bruce Springsteen.’”

As a little girl, performing for her family with a red electric guitar and amplifier, Megan introduced herself, “This here’s Reba McEntire right here in front of ya’all!”

Well, it appears that that the little 4-year-old has matured into an accomplished artist in her own right, with no need for pretense. Nowadays, this multi-talented singer from North Idaho can stand in front of big crowds anywhere and announce, “This here’s Megan McCormick, and I’m happy to be here.”

 On a personal note, as one who has followed Megan’s musical journey off and on over the past few years, I’ll put stock in her ultimate success by making plans right now.

When Megan McCormick appears on network television walking to the stage and accepting her first Grammy, I want to be sitting with my friends, Dale and Mae, watching joyous tears of pride stream down their faces.

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

Tagged as:

Entertainment, music, Megan McCormick, Honest Words, Dale McCormick, Mae McCormick, Julie Knox, Todd McCormick

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