Cody Lynn Macy's Parade
The singer bursts onto the scene from the back of the dance floor. As she struts toward the stage, her movements incorporate a kind of odd, sinless swagger, as innocent as a young girl's first goodnight kiss. Her entrance is, nonetheless, full of sassy, pop-star self-certainty.
She wears flared blue-jean hip-huggers, a white Calvin Klein shirt and platform shoes, and as she hops onto the stage, her delicate brown bangs bounce above big limpid eyes. She faces the crowd with a smile that stretches across her soft face. A smile that says all is well, and all will be well.
When she sings, everything around her--save for the worthy chimes of her five-piece backing band--comes to a halt. The laughing stops, the drinking stops, the smoking stops. Even a jaded, seen-it-all bartender puts down the glass she's washing and pays attention.
The singer tackles the ageless Righteous Brothers' hit "Unchained Melody," and the venue is crammed from floor to ceiling, entrance to exit, with her voice. Its warm, low, sexily distorted tones suddenly shoot three octaves up to a register that rings like a bell.
Goose bumps rise to the occasion.
Her voice pulls unwitting dancers to the floor. They swing, they jig in place, and mostly they stare at the source of this remarkable sound. Two children, not a day over 6, twist and gyrate, circling the grown-ups like buzzing bees.
The singer's vocal gifts are a reminder that true singing is limited to a chosen few. Her rhythm, her concept of melodic time and phrasing are instinctual.
She also possesses rare charisma, that ability to make people want to know more about her, to want a piece of her.
Most of the crowd for Cody Lynn Macy's CD-release party at Mesa's Country City know these things. Even the prepubescent boys, some of whom will stand in line to purchase a CD or a tee shirt, or wait for the singer to autograph color promo photos or even the shirts they wear.
But the uninitiated, those who aren't familiar with Cody, who just came in and give a cursory glance toward the stage, are shocked that such a full sound could come from such a tiny package. She isn't five feet tall. Juxtaposed against the boys in the band, she could be a dwarf.
But really, the diminutive singer with the huge voice is a girl, just a little 11-year-old girl, who should be in fifth grade.
A big bull noses in not five feet away from where Cody Lynn Macy sits for a photographer. She's in the yard of her Chandler home, which is also home to lots of farm animals.
As Cody preens for the camera flashes, she is asked what she thinks about the legions of boys going gaga over country stars like the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain.
She looks over to her mother, Debbie, who stands 50 feet across the yard, coyly blinks her oversize brown eyes, and says, "I hope it happens to me, that would be it."
It very well might.
Cody has recorded two CDs, and the big record labels are calling. She gets a steady stream of fan letters. Her admirers include country stars like Pam Tillis, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Dixie Chicks, LeAnn Rimes, Ty Herndon and Montgomery Gentry.
Those who surround her--whether they be established stars, published songwriters or the guys in the Tyler Guthrie Stampede band, which backs her--believe her rise is inevitable. They speak not of "if" Cody will become a national act, but "when."
And all this attention is through word of mouth, which has been building ever since Cody's first public performance, which took place when she was but 3 years old in South Dakota. The family had been invited to a friend's ranch so Cody could watch a horse being broken. Somebody asked Cody to sing for all the cowboys in attendance. Cody obliged with the one song to which she knew all the words, the Hank Williams chestnut "Hey Good Lookin'."
All the cowboy jaws dropped.
A year later, in '91, at a swap meet in Southern California, Cody stepped on a stage for the first time. She wore a cowboy hat. The band let her run through "Hey Good Lookin'," and the crowd went wild. She was invited back every Sunday. It was there that Cody earned her first professional pay--a $1 tip from a zealous audience member.
Country music has been a big part of Cody's upbringing.
Her mother, Debbie, was once an aspiring kid country star herself, but she didn't get the breaks that one of her contemporaries, Tanya Tucker, enjoyed. Debbie left the entertainment world behind at age 16 with no regrets. But she took up singing again when her daughter showed an interest.
"When Cody came along, I started singing with her in just little things until she got the nerve to do it by herself," Debbie Macy says. "I would just sing back-up, or I would sing harmony on a chorus for her little school shows, little nursery shows, Bible-school stuff. And as soon as she was brave enough to do it on her own--or even a little before that, because I never wanted her to feel like she needed me there--I just sat back. That was it."
Cody soon developed a natural style that wasn't just an aping of some countryesque mannerism. And she has yet to have a real voice lesson.
"Well, I got my voice from my mom," Cody says. "I don't know, it just comes out. I haven't really heard other kids in bands, except for a few. I think it's cool. A lot of people can be really good dancers or do other stuff others don't do. I dunno, I guess I feel kinda special."
As a toddler, Cody and her parents traveled the West in an RV they called home. Her father, Bob, had made a fortune in the Southwestern art and jewelry and Indian artifact business, then promptly lost it. They lost their 10,000-square-foot home in Payson and their fancy cars as Bob was forced to start over again.
Though nearly destitute--they tell of times when they couldn't afford gas to get to the next city--the roving lifestyle provided an opportunity for Debbie to tutor Cody in an atmosphere of constant scenery change and movement. And for Cody, at least, excitement.
When Cody was old enough to start kindergarten, the couple enrolled her in the academically slanted New Vistas, a nonreligious, 300-student private school in Chandler. That year the family lived in the RV with no phone. For weeks they kept it in Queen Creek, parked in somebody's back yard. For six months they rented space at an RV park.
Cody's tuition was nearly $400 a month. On months when the Macys couldn't make tuition payments, Bob Macy would do work around the New Vistas campus to compensate. But both parents agreed to give Cody the best education they could, an opportunity neither of them had. It was certainly a different existence from that of Cody's classmates, most of whom came from families in a high tax bracket.
Mom had tutored Cody well--so well, in fact, that by the time she started kindergarten, she had already mastered her multiplication tables and could read and write.
The staff at New Vistas promptly moved Cody up from kindergarten to second grade, and she has stayed two grades ahead ever since, never earning anything but A's.
"When Cody came into kindergarten for one day, and knew multiplication, we knew that we shouldn't have her in there," laughs Kyle Ogilvie, a teacher at New Vistas. "When Cody came to us, she knew so much already, and that is because of her parents.
"Cody's parents are wonderful people, wonderful parents. And if something needed fixing, then the dad was always here to help us, or if we needed an errand to run, the mom would do it. Cody is one of the most outgoing and sweetest young ladies I have ever met. We never had a problem with her. Behaviorwise, academically, there was never a problem with her at the school. She was well-liked by everyone, her peers and her teachers."
At the end of every school year, New Vistas students would put on a program. Cody always sang a solo.
"She could just sing so well at such a young age, her voice is unbelievable," says Ogilvie.
Without a phone, a car payment, an electric bill or credit cards, the Macys worked and saved enough money to purchase a home. Their business was starting to do well.
They found their current Chandler home on the market as a fixer-upper; it had been used as a meth lab, motorcycles in the living room, the whole bit. It even has secret passageways. Bob Macy managed to buy the house using more charm than credit. Since then, the value of the property has nearly tripled.
The Macys' yellow, three-bedroom ranch house sits on a five-acre grange and is bordered to the east by neoteric beige-toned sprawl and to the west by the projects. The expansive green backyard is home to a mix of farm animals, many of whom Cody helped deliver. There are pigs, goats, cows, chickens, ducks, dogs and a horse.
In the center of the yard, hay bales and a chicken coop flank a large barn.
Debbie says neighborhood kids call her husband "Mr. Farmer Man." Inside, the house has a cozy feel, one that evokes a sleepy sensation, like any moment could be a Sunday afternoon. Household scents blend with mammalian odors from outside.
The carpeted interior is done up with Southwestern motif and is decorated with antiques, kachinas and other Western artifacts. In the living room, there is a skeleton of a saguaro cactus, a wrought-iron fireplace and Western landscape paintings. In one corner sits an antiquated organ. The opposite corner is dominated by a large-screen TV.
Cody has some of her pets in cages; there's a ferret, small frogs, crabs and a couple of turtles. She says if she can't be a singer, she'll be a veterinarian.
After sixth grade, Cody wanted to switch to public school, and did. She spent the past school year in seventh grade at Willis Junior High in Chandler.
"Cody is smart in more ways than just book smart," says Willis principal Bob Bollard. "Cody as a student seems to have a sense to know when it is time to chill and know when it is time to have fun, and can separate the two. Cody's mom is a good, solid parent volunteer for the school, always pitching in to help. They are a very supportive family. I wish we had more parents like them."
Bob Macy carries himself with a Zenlike grace, the kind of carriage obliged for those who have had some sort of life reclamation, a reparation of spirit. He is at once self-effacing and self-assured.
He was born in Wyoming 50 years ago, the third of seven siblings. They all grew up in a little town called Edgerton (population 300). He graduated from high school in 1967 and went to work in the oil fields. A friend who was in the Navy invited Macy to New York City, an offer he accepted. Macy spent three eye-opening years in Manhattan, an experience he jokingly likens to Jon Voight's as the small-town kid from Texas redeeming himself on the streets of Manhattan in Midnight Cowboy.
He left New York swearing he was "never going to spend another day where it is cold," and arrived in Arizona in 1971. After numerous visits here from his parents, they, too, relocated to Arizona. He has a brother here now as well; the rest of his siblings are in Wyoming and South Dakota.
In 1982, Macy met 25-year-old redhead Debbie Rye at the same bar where, 17 years later, their daughter would have a release party for her second CD.
"I met her at Country City, then called The Silver Dollar, got married not much later, and we've been together ever since," says Macy, whose voice carries a kind of Western movie world-weariness. He looks like old cowboy character actor Ben Johnson: thin, almost tired looking, with some well-placed wrinkles.
"And when I was 40, we had Cody, and life had changed. Everything changed."
Debbie Rye, 42, was born in San Manuel, a small town northeast of Tucson. Her father was a miner. The family moved to Mesa when she was 12, and Debbie started singing on Channel 5's Lew King Ranger Show, a Saturday morning kiddie talent contest. Tanya Tucker was a frequent guest on the show as well.
"Tanya Tucker and I started singing at all the same places," Debbie recalls fondly. "Same contests, same clubs, same family fish fries, same Elk's club. Tanya was a year younger than me."
Tucker's parents told the Ryes to sell everything and go out on the road to give young Debbie a shot at a singing career. That's exactly what the Tuckers did, and Tanya scored her first country hit with "Delta Dawn" when she was 13.
"Tucker's dad was such a charmer, and he just knew the right things to say. He just was wonderful at it," Debbie says. "If some place told him, 'No kids can sing here,' I guarantee within 30 minutes she [Tanya Tucker] was singing there. He was great. And my dad had a second-grade education; he was from Arkansas; he said, 'ain't,' every other word. He was a wonderful man, but that's just the way he was. My parents wouldn't have had any idea of what to do or what to say or where to go or how to go."
Bobby Thomas--then Wayne Newton's producer--saw promise in Debbie as a singer and had her fly to Chicago to cut a 45. "White Wedding Dress" backed with "All the Rest" (both songs written by Phoenician Phil Barnes) was the result. The single didn't take off, and Debbie lost interest in singing. She says she lacked the ambition to do it right in the first place.
After her marriage to Bob Macy--on New Year's Eve, 1983, in Las Vegas--the couple, armed with Macy's burgeoning earning power and fueled with Reaganomic optimism, soared to dizzying financial heights. They had the mansion in Payson and broke ground for a second one in Paradise Valley.
Debbie got pregnant in 1985, but had a miscarriage after five months. The Macys were so saddened that they weren't sure if they were going to try again. Cody Lynn was born in 1987.
Then--almost overnight--they became homeless.
"Basically some people out of Wyoming had these coal leases," says Bob. "And a friend of mine, that's been a friend of mine forever, called me up and said, 'They got these coal leases for sale, could ya help 'em out?' I said, 'Yeah, I'll help 'em out.'"
The leases gave the rights to mine coal on state land. Macy and some of his closest friends invested heavily. But his belief in the investment outweighed his formidable bank account. He had to sell 60 acres in Chino Valley. The huge house in Payson went next. Debbie even handed over the title to her Corvette.
The Macys and their friends lost millions.
"It was downhill, and finally we hit completely to the bottom," he says. "It was greed on my part. You know, when is enough enough? When we hit the bottom, we looked at each other, and she said, 'What are we gonna do?' And I said, 'The only thing I know to do is start all over again.'"
Debbie adds, "And when you believe in something that strong, there was no way anybody could have talked us out of it. Whatever they [the coal lease holders] wanted for money, we would find. No matter what they needed, we'd sell it. We sold our cars. We sold our land. We sold everything, because we believed in it that strongly.
"That is our own fault. It was greed. We were living in a fantasy world. It didn't help living in that home in Payson, with seven bathrooms, four fireplaces, Jacuzzis in all the rooms, on the golf course. We were letting all of our friends come and stay as long as they wanted. We were living like kings. We were convinced we were gonna have it all. You couldn't have stopped us."
To this day the Macys aren't sure what happened to the coal leases and all the cash they funneled in. Never once did they retain a lawyer.
But after trying to buy happiness, they realized that working for their child's future was everything.
"It was my fault for being so ignorant," says Macy. "One thing I am not is very educated when it comes to what to do with money after you make it. That's where I lacked by not going to college.
"Money--I have a knack for making money. You know, any fool can make money. It takes a wise man to keep it."
The Macys say their plunge taught them to believe in one another.
"I tell Bob all the time that I wished we would have never gone through it. But on the other hand, if we hadn't gone through it, we wouldn't be the couple we are," Debbie says. "I wanted that great life as much as he wanted it. We both wanted to have life be easy. But you know, there is no such thing. Yet, I found out by being broke, by being out on the street, by having no car, no credit. We went from the very top of the hill, driving beautiful cars, living in beautiful homes, down to asking people if we could stay with them."
The loss sent Bob into a downward spiral, a kind of nervous breakdown that gave him ulcers and eventually contributed to a life-threatening infection. He wound up in the hospital in quarantine. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong.
"The nurses, the doctors, nobody would even come in my room because it stunk so bad," says Macy ruefully. "And they were afraid, because nobody knew what I had. Debbie would literally have to come in and clean me and wait on me."
At one point, he was told he wouldn't survive the night.
Debbie got on the phone and frantically called other doctors for help. Miraculously, she found one who could identify what was wrong with her husband--he had a fissure in his lower intestine that required an immediate and risky operation.
The doctor Debbie found saved Bob's life.
By 1998, the Macys had hooked up with some musicians in west Phoenix and Cody was making regular guest appearances on early slots around the Valley. She appeared with a band called Mogollon at Country Thunder and caught the ear of a well-connected ex-country musician by the name of Dudley Calhoun.
Calhoun was floored by what he heard, introduced himself to the Macys and hooked them up with Bobby Charles, a Dallas-based songwriter/producer.
Charles and Calhoun produced a four-song CD that Macy paid for, with Charles writing or co-writing all four songs specifically for Cody. The record was hastily done at a studio in Garland, Texas. Cody learned the songs just before laying down the vocals.
The disc, Spoiled Rotten, was meant as a calling card to sell locally at shows. The initial run of 1,000 has nearly sold out. Though inconsistent, the recording is remarkable, considering it is the first time Cody, then 10, had ever recorded.
Charles, 53, has worked with LeAnn Rimes and countless others in his decades in country music. He was a staff songwriter for Mel Tillis' publishing company out of Nashville and has written songs that did well on the country charts. His son, Bobby Charles Jr., is the Dixie Chicks' bass player.
Charles says that Cody's first record "wasn't all that good, to be honest with you. I produce those kind of things all the time, and I didn't really think this would be any different, which it really wasn't. She has just come along leaps and bounds in the time between that first little four-song CD and the one we did in Nashville."
The second CD, Love in Motion, recorded earlier this year in Nashville--and again paid for by Macy--is sonically superior and more focused than her first. Charles put together a cast of first-rate Nashville session cats to back Cody. But this CD, too, was done on a shoestring budget--$9,000, a paltry sum in the world of record-making.
This time, Charles brought in a young songwriter named Dave Smith to help with some of the writing and engineering, a move that has most of the songs, with Cody's voice attached, ringing like the sound of 10,000 cash registers.
On "My Babe," which is stroked by a soaring steel guitar line and driven by pounding Jerry Lee Lewisesque piano, Cody exercises her love of Shania Twain, with the ending line talked out like any gym class locker-room patter: "He is sooo hhhot!"
The disc's best track, "If I Gotta Be a Memory," is a classic Bob Wills-style country ditty sped up with plenty of fiddle and acoustic guitar. The attention getter, "Love in Motion," is pure hitsville country-pop and invites inevitable comparisons to LeAnn Rimes. The song's lyric opens with this bit of funny, if, perhaps, prophetic self-referencing:
"Jody slips out her window to the chill of the midnight air/Her daddy said that boy was trouble but tonight she didn't care."
Some of the album's nine songs find Cody straddling the pitch with difficulty, a problem she doesn't have live. Then again, the songs here--most of which were learned on the flight to Nashville--were cut in only two vocal sessions, a feat unheard of for 99 percent of the singers making records today.
Also, both Macy and Charles wanted to capture the essence of the girl and her voice, so they eschewed studio trickery; no devices were used to correct her pitch and rhythm.
"Cody is pretty strong-willed as far as the ideas of how she wants to have her voice sound," says Charles. "Especially since we didn't have all that much time to work, I just kinda let her have her hand on that."
The Macys and Charles approach their business relationship like country boys; a handshake is sacred. No lawyers or contracts are used. As dubious as it sounds, they trust one another implicitly, from publishing to songwriting to producing. By this fall, if no major labels have made offers for Cody--which seems unlikely, as the labels have already started calling--they'll take this record to Nashville and shop it.
For the rest of the summer, after a trip to Disneyland with her classmates, then to Nashville for the weeklong country festival called Fan Fare, Cody will be doing gigs here and there. She will be backed by the able Tyler Guthrie Stampede--a group of seasoned yet young vets who began backing Cody this year.
Cody also will be going shopping and reading and having sleepovers with her girlfriends.
"I can't wait to go to Nashville," says Cody. "I am so excited."
The Cody Lynn Macy phenomenon seems too good, like there must be a catch somewhere. Not surprisingly, some people suspect the Macys are forcing Cody into her country singing role.
"A lot of people at the shows are happy," says Debbie. "They say that because Cody . . . is not a JonBenet style of girl. And that's the biggest thing. Goodness gracious, if Cody put on heels and a little bit of makeup, they would run me right out of the city. They would say I am definitely off my rocker. They really accept her."
But the Macys have heard some sniping as well.
"People are gonna say that I didn't make it, so I want her to. They all say that," Debbie says. "Well, I don't even know what to tell them, because I let her do what she wants. So if she said she wanted to stop, we'd stop. I walked away from singing and am very happy with my life. But they all say that, you know, 'I know you gotta be forcin' her to make it 'cause you didn't make it.' But that was so many years ago. I quit singin' when I was 16. I'm 42 years old!
"But Cody has so much more desire to sing than I did, and she didn't quit where I quit. If I didn't win a contest, I would get all upset and embarrassed; she doesn't. She'll say, 'Oh man, I didn't win, I gotta try harder,' or, 'Oh well, she was lucky she won. Maybe I'll win next time.' I didn't have that kind of attitude. So Cody has done this with our support, not our force, and that's it.
"There is always somebody that'll be in a nightclub, and they'll have had a few drinks, and they'll come up and say, 'What is she doing in here? She is 11 years old.' Usually when I ask them where their kids are, they'll say something like, 'Well, I don't see my kids; they live in California with their mother, but I bet they are home with their mother.'
"Ya know, and Bob and I are sittin' with her, her friend is with her, she's drinking pop, playin' video games, then jumps up and sings, jumps down and leads the line dancing, and we are out of there by 11:00 at the latest, before it gets crazy. It is usually never women saying this stuff, it is mostly the men. The last guy I asked where his kids were, the bartender jumped in and said, 'He doesn't know, 'cause he's here every night by 5:00!"
If anything, it appears that the Macys are approaching Cody's potential career with kid gloves. It isn't like they are pushing Cody places where kids shouldn't be pushed; it's more like what is happening with Cody is something that can't be stopped.
"Raising Cody is scary," says Bob Macy. "At times I don't know if I am doing the right thing. But I can't stop it [the singing]. She loves it. She really does. But she just wants to do it then go and do her own thing. She's an exceptional child; I don't know what to say--I'm just thankful."
The parents are managing Cody's career now, but they recognize it may become necessary for somebody else, an individual or company with heavyweight connections, to take the reins.
"I know at one point you have to have a management company take over," Macy says, "but we haven't thought that far ahead, because it hasn't got that far yet."
And should things go swimmingly for little Cody, mom and dad's plan is to do the kid star thing and hire a tutor to accompany her on the road. But they say if Cody would rather stay in school, then she'll stay in school.
Cody is nervous the night of her National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony. Unease looks strange on her.
The bleachers in the school gym are crowed with proud parents, grandparents, siblings and other students. Some are holding video cams, others handkerchiefs to dry away tears. A woman delivers hand signals for the hearing impaired. The 70 or so inductees are in chairs placed on the gym floor. Boys sit in starched white shirts. Girls with minimal makeup wear pressed floral dresses or skirts. Each is called to a makeshift podium to receive a certificate. Some of the students receive thunderous cheers depending on the size of their clan.
Debbie Macy cries when Cody's name is called, then cheers loudly when her daughter steps up to receive her certificate.
Cody is one of the brightest kids in this school, and she is the youngest seventh grader here by two years.
With her friends, all of whom are older, Cody has a kind of Pied Piper mien. She laughs and jokes and talks about boys, but there is a sense that she wields leadership. And it's a power she has without knowing.
Even after the honor society ceremony, where but a few kids and parents know of her CD releases and stage life, people are still drawn to her. A cadre of kids hangs around her.
A week later, at a junior high dance, Cody performs choreographed dances with her stylish dance troupe, Heatwave. Some girls in this assemblage are also on Cody's state championship-winning pompom team.
The Heatwave girls--seventh and eighth graders--wear blue shorts, white tee shirts and white hair ribbons. They run through a series of Busby Berkeleyesque gyrations and kicks to the tunes of Britney Spears and the Offspring.
Of the 20 girls, Cody is the most diminutive, her limbs shorter, a size difference that keeps her slightly behind the beat of the others. But her motions are rhythmic, athletic and even graceful. At one point, Cody shoots to the front of the line, arms outstretched as if she's the group's bellwether. And it all makes sense.
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