Mississippi native returns to kick off FestivalSouth

The son of a high school principal in Belmont, Miss., Mac McAnally didn’t stick around to finish his education. His mother, the church pianist, put music in his mind and he ran away with it, writing his first song when he was 15 years old.

McAnally still remembers those days and what his mother told him every day when he left home. But, instead of feeling the mud between his toes growing up in Belmont, McAnally now sits on the back porch of his Sheffield, Alabama, home, writes a new set of hit songs and thinks about walking down to the Tennessee River and going barefoot in the mud.

“Absolutely,” he said recently as he was packing his gear for a flight from Kansas City, Missouri, to Chicago. “There’s nothing in the way of that. I am the kid in Belmont; it’s just that I’m a 60-year-old kid in Belmont.”

For the nine-time Country Music Association’s Musician of the Year, his life is about his two families and the friends who have helped him along his 40-plus years in the music business. While the scenery may have changed for McAnally, the heart and soul of that Tishomingo County boy still remains.

“I haven’t ever changed the way I think about anything,” he said. “I have covered a lot of ground that I never expected to cover and I’m going to today. But, I’m still pretty much trying to do what my Mama told me to do when I would walk out the door in the morning, which was ‘Make some use of yourself.’ She didn’t say, ‘Behave.’ She didn’t say, ‘Be a good boy.’ She said, ‘Make some use of yourself.’ I’m glad that’s the way she worded it because it still works for me today.”

McAnally considers himself “truly one of the luckiest guys in the world,” especially after suffering a major heart attack less than a year ago.

“I had a narrow escape from early mortality, so I am in the bonus round of life,” he said. “I’m as happy a guy as you will talk with.”

Yet he stays humble when he thinks about his blessings: CMA Musician of the Year for nine years, tied with the legendary Chet Atkins, and induction into both the Mississippi and Alabama Music Halls of Fame along with the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

“There’s no way I deserve it, so I will go ahead and say that to start with,” he said. 

McAnally is also fortunate that as a member of the Coral Reefer Band; he tours with fellow Mississippian and Southern Miss alum Jimmy Buffett.“It’s like a second family, and they say if (Buffett) wasn’t overqualified, he’d be the CEO of a company because he’s really good at identifying talented people,” he said. “It’s an amazing group that we run with. He treats everybody well and we get along like a second family. We see so much of one another that it makes it that much more of a blessing. I honestly am around my second family more than I am around my first family, being so busy and going all over the world.

“I don’t want to trade places with anybody.”


Bster Wolfe is Senior Staff Writer at Hub City SPOKES, having worked 40-plus years at newspapers in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. He worked twice for a newspaper that frequently wrote articles about Mac McAnally’s hometown of Belmont in Tishomingo County.