"I don't know if the shoe makes the woman all the time, but it can," says Neal McCoy, country music superstar, with three platinum albums and five Top 10 hits to his name. He chuckles. "That sounds like a shoe salesman."
It does. Because McCoy is a shoe salesman. Or rather, he was, in his pre-celebrity days, and is again on TV this Sunday, as part of GAC's new show "Day Jobs," where country music legends return to their 9 to 5 lives.
McCoy fitted and sold ladies' footwear for three of his youthful years. When the Southerner graduated junior college in his hometown, McCoy knew he needed to move out if he was going to make it.
"I knew the odds of a record producer coming through Jacksonville, Texas, wasn't very good," he told AOL Jobs.
So McCoy packed his bags and moved on out to bigger and better things. Or rather, the slightly bigger and better things of his dad's house in Longview, Texas. "I'm sure they'll come through there," he thought.
It was in Longview that McCoy found work selling women's shoes in a department store, and got some solid training for his future career.
"It's good grooming for you," he says. "In the music business, you have to deal with different folks everyday, different personalities."
But they're not always the sunniest of dispositions. Catering to the feet, and vanities, of thousands of Texan women was sometimes a test of patience. "Anytime you deal with the public, in retail or the restaurant business, you find out that people can really be jerks," he says. "There are some mean people out there."
Women would take shoes home sometimes and come back if they didn't fit or didn't match, yelling at McCoy for his alleged mistake.
"Well let me go back there and kill myself," he jokes. "True colors come out on folks when you see them buy shoes."
Did he ever spit in a fussy customer's shoe? "Not spit," he replies. "Maybe a booger."
But McCoy never really let his charm slip. "I'm gonna try to win them over," he told himself. "Either they like me or feel sorry for me. One of the two. I was working on commission."
These days, McCoy learned, it's not just about working your personality. Back on the job in 2011, he was given five or six facts and questions to slide into conversations with customers: the money they're going to save, the discount provided by a membership.
"I don't do scripts well," says McCoy, and his notoriously wild live shows seem to prove it, where he'll throw "YMCA" into a set list just for kicks. Fans voted McCoy as TNN/Music City News' "Entertainer of the Year" twice.
"If there was any justice in this business, and I mean this, Neal McCoy would be 'Entertainer of the Year,' every year," country musician and "The Voice" judge Blake Shelton once told On the Road: Weekly.
When McCoy was 23, he won a talent contest. The prize was to open for Charley Pride, one of the most successful country musicians of all time, and perhaps the only black singer to find major success in the genre. This gig involved going to Dallas on weekends, one hundred miles west of Longview. So McCoy quit the job in women's shoes and set up his own lawn business, hiring a guy to help out.
Clearly, the go-getting entrepreneurial spirit burned inside that shoe-hustler. McCoy thinks we all have it. "But only a few of us have the opportunity to explore that," he adds. "Or a lot of us have those aspirations, but when you get out there it's a lot harder, so you think 'I'll just go back and work for the Man.' "
McCoy never again went back to work for the Man, unless you count Atlantic Records.
But did his days on the store floor leave an enduring mark on his music, perhaps teaching him a thing or two about women? After all, McCoy has made something of a living musing about the opposite sex to a melody.
"Oh gosh no," he says. "I don't think there's a job that's ever going to make you understand women. If there was, I think there would be a lot of men working that job."
McCoy pauses, thinking back perhaps on the many women whose neuroses he's soothed, egos he pampered, and rages he's allayed in his years as a salesman.
"I think it helped me understand how wishy-washy women can be," he says. "Well, of course, men can be too.
"I just cut a new song called 'Crazy Women,' " he adds. "Crazy's good sometimes. Crazy's bad sometimes."
But selling shoes did teach him something about one woman in particular. His future wife and her mother came into his shoe store one day.
"I can't remember if I sold them anything. I just remembered how beautiful she was," he says. "Then I remember seeing her later at a discotheque. That's when we first started dancing, and we've been dancing ever since."
The experience also gave him a good eye for footwear. The sexiest? "High heels," he says, without missing a beat. "Stilettos. All women look better in high heels, provided a woman can walk in them. If not, then it's real awkward. High heels can be the non-sexiest thing also."
Hawking shoes again gave McCoy a taste of the life he may have had, the one where he never competed in that talent show, or never won -- if he'd never made it.
"I'd probably be in some job working with the public. I'm a people person" McCoy says, thinking about the counterfactual. "And if I wasn't singing for a living, I'd still find a way to sing."
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