Guitar therapy: Alcohol sabotaged country artist Scott McCoy’s career, but he uses power of music to help others


Scott McCoy was shaking so badly that he was taken to an emergency room.

The doctor’s words seemed clear enough: If you go back to your hotel and take another drink of alcohol, it could kill you.

The power of addiction was so strong that the warning didn’t faze him.

“I remember vividly going back to that hotel, having a shot in my hand and wondering how would I die if I took this drink?” McCoy recalled during a recent interview. “Am I just going to fall over? But that wasn’t enough to stop me.”

Shaking, McCoy took a drink.

McCoy lived to talk about that night and, in fact, went on stage a few hours later to perform a scheduled gig in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo.

But the life span of his country music career was cut short by the bottle.

If the question is whatever happened to country singer J. Scott McCoy — that’s the alter ego used by McCoy when he was opening for some of the biggest acts in the industry — the answer is he’s having “by far” the best time of his life, albeit far away from the spotlight.

Sober since March 3, 2016, McCoy can be found giving guitar lessons at 12&12 Inc., a drug and alcohol treatment center in Tulsa.

“This place saved my life,” he said.

It’s where McCoy went to find sobriety — and, bonus, he found a way to give back.

McCoy is the director of music therapy at 12&12. Teaching the guitar to 12&12’s clients is mutually beneficial, according to McCoy. It helps him sustain sobriety and it gives clients a new pursuit they can embrace.

Said McCoy of the guitar lessons: “I love watching someone light up, that they are getting it,” he said. “That’s really cool.”

Does McCoy miss the days when he had friends in high places and a record deal and a tour bus with his name on the front? He said he doesn’t.

“I feel like that’s a past life, really.”

  • • •

It was just a moment in the 1980s, but McCoy remembers it so clearly.

He was 16. On a cloudy day, he was on the eighth hole of his hometown (Sapulpa) golf course. And this thought popped into his brain: “I wonder if I have depression?”

Looking back, McCoy said he thinks he suffered from depression at an early age. He’s sure he had social anxiety. Alcohol? McCoy said he didn’t drink until he was 18. He got drunk at a party about a month after his high school graduation.

McCoy said he had lots of friends in high school, yet he still felt shy and disconnected and maybe even a little timid. “But when I drank, I said, ‘This is how normal people feel.’ It became a tool after the first time I ever drank.”

Golf and music (including a prize-winning high school choir) were McCoy’s teen passions. He was interning to be a club pro at Southern Hills Country Club when he got a call asking if he would be interested in playing golf at East Central University. He accepted the invitation.

McCoy said he believes alcohol helped make him more outgoing while in college. While living in the athletic dorm, he would often sing the Clint Black song “Put Yourself In My Shoes.” He said a couple of football players overheard him and entered him in a campus talent contest.

McCoy relied on liquid confidence. He had a few mixed drinks before going on stage. He won the contest.

Burned out on golf, McCoy decided to see where music might take him. He entered a national contest, the Alabama June Jam, and finished second.

Flanked by a band, McCoy hit the club circuit. He landed a management deal in 1995 and a record deal with Edel America Records the following year.

Edel America Records introduced McCoy to the world by putting his single “Cowgirl Crazy” on “Cowboy Up,” an official PRCA (Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association) compilation album, alongside tracks like Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.”

The PRCA album paved the way for McCoy to be a go-to guy as a rodeo performer. He said his band became the official band of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

“Thirteen nights in Las Vegas is a long time for someone that has an alcohol problem at that time,” McCoy said.

  • • •

The entertainment field is fertile ground for substance abuse.

“There were probably 15 years I probably went without paying for a drink,” McCoy said. “It’s part of the scene. Now, there are a lot of artists that don’t (drink) and never had to, but for a person with a predisposition for addiction, it was tailor-made and I felt at home at it.”

McCoy believed alcohol was helping him face, and please, crowds. He once took pride that he could drink without suffering a hangover. But he felt his body eventually become dependent on alcohol. Midway through a multiday gig at Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming, he woke up with the shakes. He took a drink. The shakes went away.

“And I had never experienced anything like that before,” he said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t good.’ ”

McCoy continued drinking. The shakes returned when he was in Vegas for the NFR. The emergency room doctor advised McCoy to go to detox, but McCoy pleaded a case that he had a show to do later. That’s when the doctor told McCoy he might die if he returned to the hotel and took another drink.

Bottoms up.

“At the same time my music career was taking off, so was my alcoholism,” he said. “And they crashed.”

McCoy said alcohol caused him to miss appointments with top songwriters in Nashville.

“I was too hung over,” he said. “I lost my purpose, just the connection to what I was doing. It was all about the drink at the time.”

For a snapshot into McCoy’s career, consider that he opened for the likes of George Strait, John Michael Montgomery, Marty Stuart, Chris LeDoux, Mark Chesnutt, Toby Keith and Exile, according to a past news release from his label. When he opened for Steve Wariner at Tulsa City Limits in 1999, a Tulsa World entertainment writer said McCoy almost “made it” with the single and video for “Cowgirl Crazy,” which received significant airplay and TV time.

“Next time around, maybe he’ll grab the brass ring,” said the review of the show.

McCoy doesn’t wonder what might have been.

“There was a long time I did, and I think that kept me out drinking,” he said. “Because I had everything in line. I had the best writers in Nashville. I had a good management team. I had a good label behind me. I had everything for stardom, and I drank it away. And so there was a long time, yeah, I was mad. And coming back to regular life, I felt like a fish out of water trying to figure out what to do with my life. I gave up golf to pursue music, and I firmly believe I could have been a club professional somewhere. And I gave all that up to pursue music. So the two things that I loved kind of went to the wayside.”

  • • •

Some who struggle with addiction bottom out before seeking help. What led McCoy to seek help?

“At first, I think I was reluctant,” he said. “I thought I could do it myself, that old pull-up-the-bootstraps thing. It has nothing to do with will power and bootstraps, the true disease of addiction. But I thought I could do it. So I tried every way to figure out a way to still drink and recapture how it used to work.”

McCoy said the first couple of times in treatment were for his family.

“Until I had tried every possible way to get sober on my own or to drink responsibly, I couldn’t come to terms with my alcoholism,” he said. “And that’s crazy if you saw what I was doing and who I was and all the ER visits and the detoxes. You would think, ‘Why is he not getting this? We all see it. Why isn’t Scott seeing this?’ But there’s a time that comes. Thank God that happened. But it took multiple treatments.”

McCoy said he was “just ready” when he got sober at 12&12. He sought treatment not just for alcohol dependency but the co-occuring disorders of depression and anxiety.

During his time as a 12&12 client, McCoy told his counselor he had a “block” that prevented him from playing music when he was sober. The counselor urged him to bring a guitar and sing everyone a song, five days a week.

“I spent 60 days in treatment, so every day I had to come in and sing a song, just to prove it to myself,” he said.

Post-treatment, McCoy got a job he said he enjoyed. But he felt a calling to do for others what 12&12 did for him.

“After taking time to focus on his personal recovery journey, Scott McCoy contacted me with a desire to work with persons recovering from addiction,” said Brad Collins, a director of programs at 12&12. “I knew immediately that he was the perfect influence to lead our music therapy program. Scott took the reins and has made our music program a popular, vital and in-demand component of our overall treatment experience. The patients rave about him and what he brings to their recovery.”

CEO Bryan Day said 12&12 is exploring how music can provide an important therapeutic role for some people involved in addiction treatment.

Playing an instrument can activate the creative side of the brain that has been dormant due to substance abuse and can bring out emotions in a safe environment, according to McCoy.

To that end, he started guitar lessons when he began working at 12&12 about a year ago. A college roommate taught him how to play Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” That’s one of the easy-to-play songs he uses to teach others.

“For people that have never played — or wanted to but addiction got in the way — (this) has gone over bigger than anything, bringing in people and just doing basic guitar lessons,” he said.

It’s a nontraditional way of staying sober, but McCoy is a believer that it is working.

“We were on the ground floor on this,” he said. “I want to see it take off. I have so much that I want to do with this program.”

Those in the music therapy program are urged to play music that does not remind them of their active addiction days. He said you won’t hear him play any of the songs he played when he was on the road.

“I love country music. I love ’90s country music,” he said. “But I’m aware of what I listen to and what I play. You won’t hear me playing many drinking songs. Hope and inspiration songs that are in the country field? You bet. I love them.”

McCoy still performs. He plays twice a week with a worship band and he’s in a recovery band (LTR, short for Long Term Recovery) with other 12&12 folks. The goal is to show you can have people performing on stage and be clean and sober and still have a good time. He once believed sober meant boring.

“That’s the farthest from the truth,” he said. “I have found so much fun in sobriety.”

McCoy said he isn’t the front man in either of his bands. He loves being on the side of the stage, free of pressure. It’s not the big time, but it is the best time.

“I’m no longer tied to that addiction,” he said. “I broke those chains. Life just means more to me today for different reasons. You know, I got to go have dinner with my daughter (recently). And that wouldn’t have happened during addiction, and it’s things like that (that make it the best time of my life).”

McCoy rediscovered his love of golf, too. He said he bought a new set of irons. Life is good.

“I am a classic country song backwards,” he said. “You ever heard that joke? What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your truck back, you get your dog back. I’m a country song backwards. I got everything back and more.”

Original Tulsa World Article can be found by clicking here.