Guitarist, singer, songwriter
Lonnie Mack is regarded as one of the first electric guitar virtuosos of rock ‘n’ roll. Blending elements from blues, R&B, funk, and country, Mack developed a distinctive sound with his Gibson Flying V guitar, which he amplified through a Leslie cabinet along with extensive utilization of the guitar’s vibrato—whammy—bar. His music often is compared to rockabilly, but, unlike that hybrid of country and rock, Mack’s music also exhibits blues and R&B influences. From his first single, an instrumental version of the Chuck Berry song “Memphis,” Mack was recognized as a versatile player; he later influenced a generation of rock and blues hybrid guitarists, including Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mack also distinguished himself as a talented singer of blues-, gospel-, and country influenced music; he credits his vocal influences as Bobby “Blue” Bland and George Jones.
Mack was born Lonnie Mclntosh on July 18, 1941, in Harrison, Indiana, near Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Kentucky state border. Growing up, he heard a variety of music on Midwestern and Southern radio stations—R&B stations in Memphis, Tennessee; blues from Chicago, Illinois; and country music from Nashville, Tennessee. He learned to play guitar when he was five years old, emulating the style of country guitar pickers Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, and electric guitar pioneer Les Paul. He quit school during sixth grade after a disagreement with his teacher.
During the 1950s Mack was influenced by a local guitarist named Robert Ward, who achieved a distorted guitar sound by running his guitar through a Magna-tone tube amplifier. This produced warm, liquid guitar tones that also became part of Mack’s signature guitar style. In 1958 he purchased the seventh Gibson Flying V ever manufactured, and began playing the Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana saloon circuit with a band named Lonnie and the Twilighters and, later, the Troy Seals Band. By 1961, Mack had become a solo artist, and also began doing session work for such Cincinnati-area labels as King Records and Fraternity Records. For the former, he supplied guitar parts for recordings by Hank Ballard, Freddy King, and James Brown.
While playing session guitar for a Fraternity Records’ recording act in 1963, Mack cut the single “Memphis.” The recording begins with Mack fingerpicking, with extensive sustain and vibrato. The song also features Mack employing a Leslie cabinet (usually used by keyboardists) to create an even more distinctive sound. This technique has since become a staple of blues, rock, and psychedelic guitar players from Duane Allman and Eric Clapton to Albert Collins, Davey Johnstone of the Elton John Band, and Vic Mizzy in his music for the television series Green Acres. The song “Memphis” was released as a single on the Fraternity label, rose to number five on the Billboard charts, and remained in the top 40 for eight weeks during the summer of 1963. The single’s flip side, “Down in the
Born Lonnie Mclntosh on July 18, 1941, in Harrison, IN.
Formed first band, Lonnie and the Twilighters, late 1950s; played lead guitar in Troy Seals Band, early 1960s; recorded hit instrumental version of Chuck Berry song “Memphis,” 1963; followed up with debut album on Fraternity label, The Wham of that Memphis Man, 1963; performed session work for Freddie King, James Brown, and the Doors, 1960s; released Glad I’m in the Band, 1969; Whatever’s Right, 1969; signed with Alligator Records, released Stevie Ray Vaughan-produced Strike Like Lightning, 1985; performed with Albert Collins and Roy Buchanan at Carnegie Hall, New York City, NY, 1985.
Addresses: Website —Lonnie Mack Official Website. http://www.lonniemack.com.
Dumps,” was an original instrumental composition by Mack that featured a horn section.
He followed the single with a full-length album, disingenuously titled The Wham of that Memphis Man, released on the Fraternity label in 1963. The album featured an instrumental single, “Wham,” noted for its use of a brass section in a hard-rock setting. Another single, “Where There’s a Will,” displayed Mack’s R&B vocal prowess. The song achieved steady airplay on African American music radio stations until it was discovered that Mack was white. The flipside of “Where There’s a Will” was a remake of blues singer Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What’s Wrong,” which was a regional hit in the winter of 1963 and 1964.
While he continued to tour and record for Fraternity throughout the 1960s, much of his material was not released until much later and his career had begun to decline. A 1968 article in Rolling Stone magazine reinvigorated interest, however, and he signed a recording deal with Elektra Records. In 1970, Mack contributed session guitar to recordings by Elektra artists the Doors on their 1970 blues-based album Morrison Hotel. Some sources are unsure whether he played bass or lead guitar on the album’s standout track “Roadhouse Blues.” Jim Morrison’s shouts of “Do it, Lonnie, do it,” before a guitar solo played in a markedly different style than the Doors’ lead guitarist, Robbie Krieger, however, seem to suggest that Mack performed lead guitar duties on the song.
Mack recorded three critically acclaimed albums for Elektra: Glad I’m in the Band (1969), Whatever’s Right (1969), and The Hills of Indiana (1971), which unfortunately failed to produce commercial interest. Mack also worked for Elektra’s artists and repertoire department, but quit when the label merged with Warner Bros. He signed a recording contract with Capitol Records in the 1970s and released two country-influenced albums.
Mack also spent three years writing, playing, and recording with a band named South, which also featured keyboardist Stan Szelest and singer/songwriter Ed Labunski. Labunski and Mack had planned to produce an album by a young Austin, Texas-based guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan, but that plan—and South’s future—were canceled when Labunski died in a car accident. (Mack eventually released the South recordings on his own label in 1998.) After Labunski’s death, Mack toured for a summer with Canadian roots-rocker Ronnie Hawkins.
In 1983 Stevie Ray Vaughan invited Mack to Austin and the two played together in the town’s many blues clubs. Vaughan subsequently coproduced, played, and sang on Mack’s debut album for the Alligator Records label, Strike Like Lightning. Concerts promoting the new album attracted such guitar stalwarts as Ry Cooder, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood to join Mack onstage. The tour climaxed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, where he played with Roy Buchanan and Albert Collins. The concert was taped for broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) television network, and has been since released on the videocassette Further on Down the Road.
Mack recorded several more albums for Alligator in the 1980s that spotlighted his singing and guitar playing, and signed with Epic Records for 1988’s Roadhouses and Dance Halls, which was reissued by Sony Records/Lucky Dog Records in 2001. In the 1990s Ace Records released much of the unreleased material that Mack recorded for Fraternity in the 1960s.
The Wham of that Memphis Man, Fraternity, 1963; reissued, Elektra, 1970.
Glad I’m in the Band, Elektra, 1969.
Whatever’s Right, Elektra, 1969.
The Hills of Indiana, Elektra, 1971.
Home at Last, Capitol, 1977.
Strike Like Lightning, Alligator, 1985.
Second Sight, Alligator, 1987.
Roadhouses & Dance Halls, Epic, 1988; reissued, Sony/Lucky Dog, 2001.
Attack of the Killer V: Live, Alligator, 1990.
Lonnie on the Move, Ace, 1992.
Memphis Wham, Ace, 1999.
From Nashville to Memphis, Ace, 2001.
The Alligator Records Twentieth Anniversary Collection, Alligator, 1991.
The Alligator Records Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection, Alligator, 1996.
The Alligator Records Thirtieth Anniversary Collection, Alligator, 2001.
Logan, Nick, and Woffinden, Bob, editors, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony Books, 1977.
Nugent, Stephen, and Gillett, Charlie, editors, Rock Almanac : Top Twenty American and British Singles and Albums of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Anchor Books Doubleday, 1978.
Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 2001.
“Lonnie Mack,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (February 20, 2002).
Lonnie Mack Official Website, http://www.lonniemack.com (February 20, 2002).
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