Rev. Sarah Mccoy
Songwriter, Piano, Vocals, Guitar
The Oopsie Daisies
by: Jan Ramsey
Publisher, Editor-In-Chief, OffBeat Magazine, New Orleans.
You’ve heard about the “Real McCoy”? The authentic, the real? Sarah McCoy is just that—a voice, a songwriter, an emotional truth-teller.
She’s a little bit Bessie Smith; a little bit Amy Winehouse—maybe a touch of Fiona Apple, with a soupçon of Janis Joplin and a touch of Tom Waits—and some Aretha thrown in for good measure. That’s Sarah. But Sarah’s voice and music is the Real McCoy.
McCoy has traveled all over the US from New York to Charleston, South Carolina, to Santa Cruz to Monterey, California, and finally in what is arguably the country’s most musical city: New Orleans.
McCoy’s parents must have seen something musically important in their daughter because they insisted that she learn to play the piano, but not until she was 11 years old. Getting a piano to further her interest in music came about in a roundabout way: “My parents used to go to Maryland, and they made a friend in Ocean City who was a carny. His name was Jay, and I remember him as a really nice guy who would come and crash with us overnight every once in a while. His wife passed away and left him a piano, which he offered to the McCoys. So Sarah’s parents thought they’d take advantage of a good thing and insisted that she take piano lessons. She did, and became seriously grounded in classical music via lessons from a “church lady” who trained Sarah so that she could audition for the Charles County School of the Arts, which she attended from eighth through the 11th grades. “I focused on piano,” she says, “and in theater at the end.”
“I knew I wanted to be an entertainer from a really young age,” says McCoy. Even though neither of Sarah’s parents were particularly musical, she also loved to sing (“I used to walk around the house singing as a little girl,” she says. “I loved it.”). When she was about 19, she discovered she liked to play and sing. She never had voice lessons, but she always liked to sing “anything that popped into my head.”
Her favorite song was [Don McLean’s] song “American Pie.” “I loved that song; it was the first song that I really ‘heard.’ That song was the first one where I really understood and ‘got’ the lyrics; plus, it was a little bit rock ‘n’ roll and made me want to dance!”
“I was 19 and working in a deli, and I knew that one of the patrons owned a piano bar. “I had a lot of self-confidence,” she says, “so I boldly asked him for an audition. It was either that or work in that hellhole deli.” He agreed to the audition, and Sarah played two of the songs she had written, plus eight cover songs. “He told me that no one wanted to listen to original music in a piano bar,” says McCoy.
But he was wrong. People liked her original music. “People liked hearing what I had to say. I knew I was going to play my own music.”
After high school, the rebellious artist in McCoy demanded that she leave Charleston, and she hit the road when she was 20, hitchhiking all over the country with a girlfriend. “I wanted something else in life than the close-mindedness that I experienced in Charleston,” she says. “I knew I was a free spirit. I thought being an entertainer meant you could be what you wanted to be; dress the way you want. And do what you want. That’s what I wanted. But I wanted to earn my keep; I didn’t want to be a bum. So I started singing to make money.”
McCoy was a sunny street person who beaded and sold jewelry and sang to make ends meet. She met a boyfriend who played guitar and she would sing. “I learned to play the guitar, too,” she says,” from some of the bums I met on the road in San Diego and up the California coast. “ So she could play the guitar and sing. Then she started writing and performing her own songs.
Life wasn’t easy on the road. “I turned 21 in the redwood forest of Northern California,” McCoy says, “and I ended up in Monterrey and working in a pizza restaurant. For a while I lived in my van. My boss at the restaurant was named Alyssa, we became best friends, and now she’s the glockenspiel player in my band.” McCoy also met Brooklyn-born guitar player Sal Geloso through a friend. “Sal was living in Santa Cruz, but regularly traveled to New Orleans. And then so did McCoy. And she was hooked.
“New Orleans is endlessly inspiring; there’s just so much: the look of it, the smells, the rusty ironwork, the music everywhere, like hot butter pouring out of the doorways. The people; the delusions, the madness, how it comes and goes. Always someone dancing or making a new friend. There’s a sound track behind everything in New Orleans, someone’s dancing, laughing, a brass band. It’s a painting in movement. It’s inspiring to someone like me; it gives a me a lot to write about in my music.”
Sarah found her musical home in New Orleans when she scored a regular gig at Frenchmen Street’s Spotted Cat, and a few other local taverns. “I’m having so much fun,” she says. “I’m doing what I love to do and being able to really connect with my audience.”
McCoy’s distinctive voice and phrasing is totally unique. “I always liked Fiona Apple,” she says,” but everyone says I sound like Janis Joplin. I think I sound like Tom Waits” she laughs. “On a good day, I’ll even take a swing at Aretha—and I can hit the high notes.”
“But the thing is, when you write songs and perform them, you gotta mean what you say. When you write something you have to emotionally connect with the words, and you really have to feel it. If there’s a day when I hurt inside, when I let it out, it feels better. You feel as though you’re sharing yourself with the audience and you’re not alone. My songs are little short stories about yearning and heartbreak, about hope and how people treat each other. Those are the things that inspire me. I write about things that make me feel: nostalgic things, memories, stuff that I feel is important. I can share an emotion with you, no matter what you or I believe. I have a cup that I want to share with you.
But McCoy’s music isn’t about sadness or the past: “I’m a lucky person. I’m doing what I love to do. I’m a lucky person. I have a fat healthy dog, cool friends and a good life. I’ve already won the lottery.”
Sarah McCoy is working on expanding her reach to international horizons. She performed in world-renown music festival Les Nuits de l'Alligator in France in February 2014.