Three Bridges founder Elliott McCoy’s famous family roots will take him back home for gospel celebration in 2020
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
I was walking the exhibits at the National Quartet Convention in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., a few weeks ago when my friend, Larry Briscoe, got my attention.
“Let me introduce you to Elliott McCoy,” he said of the founding member of the gospel trio Three Bridges. “He’s from Kentucky and has a story you might be interested in.”
We made it over to the Three Bridges booth where we exchanged pleasantries and I was told that McCoy was a native of Pike County, deep in the Appalachian Mountains and the place where much of the world famous Hatfield and McCoy feud took place from 1863-1891.
“Yes, I was born in Burnwell, Ky.,” McCoy said. “It was up on the Tug River. My dad grew up on the farm where the feud took place.”
Yes, a man who has been singing for over 40 years about the peace Jesus gives descends from the most famous family feud in history. The McCoys lived on the Kentucky side of the river while the Hatfields were in West Virginia.
“My grandpa was actually the last McCoy who was alive during the feud,” Elliott said. “He passed away at 100 years of age in 1981, I believe it was. His funeral was in Burnwell with a population of maybe 150. There were over 300 reporters there (for the funeral) because he was the last McCoy alive during the feud.”
It’s a unique family history for someone who still has a hint of Tug Fork twang despite leaving the mountains for Columbus, Ohio more than 50 years ago. “My grandparents raised me,” he McCoy remembers. “My dad got killed in the coal mines of eastern Kentucky and they moved to Columbus, Ohio when I was 15.”
And it was in Columbus where McCoy met Christ and was subsequently introduced to the music he loves.
“I grew up wanting to sing rock-and-roll,” he smiles. “That was where I was headed until 1967. I gave my life to Christ and it changed my whole direction. Saved my life, saved my marriage and saved me. Then in 1969, I was introduced to gospel music. Up until that time, I had never heard gospel music and I will never forget that night.”
He’d been a fan of rhythm and blues but that night in a sold out Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Elliott McCoy thought,
That night in Columbus in 1969 would have been memorable for any fan. “The Speer Family sang it up and they were pretty good,” McCoy chuckles. “The Blackwood Brothers came on. There was a trio called The McDuff Brothers. They were fabulous. It doesn’t get any better than those guys. Then the Statesmen came out. I grew up liking R&B rhythm-type music and I thought, ‘They are singing it.’ They took black spirituals and brought them into southern gospel but it had an R&B feel to it. That caught my attention and I have been a fan ever since.
“I was a big Elvis fan. They said when he died, in his bedroom, there was a turntable with a Statesmen record on it.”
And he’s been singing that kind of music ever since, first with some regional groups, then, after moving to Nashville in 1993. “That group didn’t work out, but I think God got me where He wanted me,” McCoy says. “A few years later, He spoke to my heart to organize this group about 20 years ago.”
McCoy says Three Bridges’ unusual name has a distinct meaning. “We get asked that a lot,” he said with a big smile. “I wanted to have a name that nobody had ever used. I love the word ‘bridge.’ So I wrote down ‘bridge’ and thought of every word that could go with ‘bridge.’ My thought was we have bridged our life to Christ and want to be a bridge to Christ for others. I thought ‘three’ because I wanted to have a trio, not a quartet.”
Three Bridges a trio that has released a string of critically-acclaimed hits and presents energy-filled concerts of praise and worship. “We work about 130 dates a year,” McCoy says. “That’s all we want to work because when you have travel dates, you are gone about 200 days a year. That’s a lot of time away from the family.”
And 2020 is looking good for Three Bridges, he says. “We are working on several dates in Kentucky next year. I like it when we work in Kentucky because I tell people that’s the Holy Land,” he laughs.
And perhaps the date with the most bang will be tied into Elliott McCoy’s roots. When Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton starred in the Hatfields and McCoys miniseries on The History Channel, Three Bridges sang at a concert in Pikeville promoted in conjunction with the award-winning production.
Plans are in the works for another big day of gospel music near McCoy’s childhood home. “Pike County Tourism called me and asked if I would come back to do a concert in Pikeville the third weekend in September of 2020,” he says. “We will be doing a concert at one of the auditoriums in Pikeville and I am trying to line up the talent for that.
“We are going to call it the Hatfield-McCoy Heritage Days Gospel Sing. It’s going to be a big event for us.”
And it will be a big day for gospel fans in Kentucky as well.