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Lonnie Mack (born Lonnie McIntosh, 18 July 1941, Dearborn Countymarker, Indianamarker) is a rock and blues guitarist/vocalist. In the early 1960s, he recorded several full-length rock guitar instrumentals strongly grounded in the blues, the best-known of which are "Memphis", "Wham!", "Chicken Pickin'" and "Suzie-Q". Mack's instrumentals from this period formed the leading edge of the virtuoso "blues-rock" guitar genre.

The first of these, 1963's "Memphis", was described by music historian Richard T. Pinnell, Ph. D., as "a milestone of early rock guitar" and, in 1980, was ranked by Guitar World magazine as the premier "landmark" rock guitar recording to date. In 1992, music critic Jimmy Guterman rated Mack's first album, 1963's The Wham of that Memphis Man!, No. 16 in his book The 100 Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time. Mack's solos influenced a generation of rock guitarists.

Lonnie Mack is also known for his "blue-eyed soul" ballads, and the diversity of his repertoire, which, at various times, emphasized country, blues, rockabilly, southern rock, R&B, roots-rock, bluegrass and gospel.

Mack released numerous singles and thirteen original albums from 1963 to 1990. He enjoyed commercial and critical success as a blues-rock recording artist during the 1960s and the latter half of the 1980s. However, an aversion to fame and its trappings led him to switch styles and even idle his career for lengthy periods. This may explain his simultaneous appearance, years later, in both "100 Greatest Rock Guitarists" and "Forgotten Greats and Unsung Heroes" lists. Today he is widely regarded as a ground-breaking rock guitarist, whose artistic impact far outreaches his commercial accomplishments.

Beyond his career as a solo artist, Mack recorded with The Doors, Stevie Ray Vaughan, James Brown, Freddie King, Joe Simon, Ronnie Hawkins, Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan, Dobie Gray and the sons of blues legend Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, among others.


Lonnie Mack's music career began in the mid-1950s. It included recordings of historical significance and followed a path marked by critical acclaim, periods of inactivity, rediscovery and comeback. Mack recorded as a featured artist from 1963 until 1990, and as a session musician from the early '60s until 2000. He performed often until recent years, and still appears at special events.

As a frontman, Mack has been described as rock’s first "virtuoso" lead guitarist and its first "guitar hero". Several other early rock guitarists, including Duane Eddy and Link Wray, have been described in similar terms. However, Mack's guitar recordings from the early 1960s are especially significant for having advanced the integration of blues guitar stylism (particulary in extended solos) into rock, thereby laying the groundwork of the virtuoso blues-rock guitar genre which took flight later in the decade.

By 1968, blues-rock had become the dominant rock guitar style, and Rolling Stone magazine had declared Mack to be "in a class by himself" as a rock guitarist. Today, critics view him as a pivotal figure in the history of rock guitar, having influenced every lead guitarist of his era, according to Guitar World magazine, "from Clapton to Allman to Vaughan" and "from Nugent to Bloomfield". His early vocal recordings also distinguish him amongst the "blue-eyed soul" singers of the 1960s.

Throughout his career, Mack's recordings reflected a unique mix of black and white musical roots. In a 1977 interview, Mack was asked about his merger of country and blues styles. "I think they're about the closest musics there are. They're the earth musics of the white and black people. Country is never gonna die, and neither is the blues---and rock and roll is a little bit of both." This often made Mack's music difficult to categorize stylistically. Music critic Alec Dubro summed it up: "Lonnie can be put into that 'Elvis Presley-Roy Orbison-early rock' bag. But mostly for convenience. In total sound and execution, he was an innovator".

Mack has sometimes been classified as a "rockabilly" or "southern rock" artist, for his many recordings blending roots-rock, country, rhythm & blues ("R&B") and blues styles. However, he also recorded entirely within single, distinct styles or genres, including country, roots-rock, classic R&B, soul, bluegrass, post-war urban blues and gospel music. In later years, Mack's approach to the combination of these genres was dubbed "roadhouse rock".

Musical influences

A few weeks before Mack's birth, his family moved from the Appalachiansmarker of southeastern Kentuckymarker to the small share-cropping farm in southern Indianamarker where he was born and raised. Mack's parents and several close relatives were musicians, who instilled in him a love of bluegrass and traditional country music. Although there was no electricity on the farm, his family had a primitive battery-powered radio, and they were devotees of "The Grand Ole Oprymarker" radio show. After the rest of the family had retired for the night, Mack would often log some radio time on his own, listening to early R&B and gospel music.

Mack began playing at the age of 7, using an acoustic guitar he had traded for a bicycle. While still a small child, he was playing guitar for tips at a hobo jungle near his home, and outside of the Nieman Hotel in nearby Aurora, Indiana.

Mack's mother was his earliest country guitar and singing influence, and a blind guitarist-gospel singer, Ralph Trotto, was his earliest musical mentor and blues guitar influence. In a 1992 interview, Mack recalled this period: "Back when I was 10 years old, my uncle, Harry Dawes, come in from Texas, and took me to see an old black man in northern Indiana. [He] played gut-bucket and slide and Robert Johnson-type guitar. I was into Merle Travis finger-pickin' style, and didn't realize I could adapt it over to some other kinds of music, but I learned from [him] how to do that. I got real happy about it, 'cause I thought I had something new. Then, all of a sudden, rockabilly came along, and I says, 'I been playin' that!' "

In several recordings, Mack refers to the influence (or his appreciation) of The Grand Ole Oprymarker, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Early in his career, Mack recorded tunes by Reed, Charles and Bland. He has also cited '50s R&B vocalist Hank Ballard and country vocalist George Jones as singing influences. Mack recorded tunes by each of them as well. Various sources have noted that Mack's playing shows influences of R&B guitarist Robert Ward of the Ohio Players, electric blues guitarist T-Bone Walker (one of whose tunes he recorded), country guitarist Merle Travis and jazz guitarist Les Paul. Finally, Mack's highest-charting single, the 1963 instrumental "Memphis", was based on the melody of a Chuck Berry tune.

Early career

Mack dropped out of school at the age of 13, after an altercation with a teacher. In his mid-teens he began performing in roadhouse venues in and around Cincinnatimarker, Ohio.

During the same period, Mack played guitar on two country recordings, "Too Late to Cry" and "Hey, Baby", with his cousins, Aubrey Holt, Harold Sizemore and Harley Gabbard. According to one source, the Sage label released these singles in March 1959, when Mack was 17. As a teen-aged solo artist in the late '50s, Mack recorded a cover of Clarence Poindexter's 1943 western swing hit, "Pistol-Packin' Mama" on the Dobbs label.These early, low-circulation Mack recordings have been out-of-print for decades.

In 1958, Mack bought the seventh Gibson Flying V guitar from the first run produced by that firm, which he used almost exclusively during his career. Mack, who is of both Scottish and Native American ancestry was attracted to the arrow-shaped instrument because of pride in his Indian heritage. The 1958 Flying V model is now considered highly collectible, only 81 of them having been shipped during that first year of its production.

By the late 1950s, Mack had assembled a band, and they were soon in demand as performers throughout Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, playing R&B-tinged rock & roll. In the early 1960s, Mack shortened his name from "McIntosh" to "Mack" and named his band "The Twilighters", after the Hamilton, Ohio club where they had a steady engagement.

About the same time, Mack started working as a session artist for Fraternity, a small record label in Cincinnati. There, he played guitar on a number of singles by local recording artists, including Max Falcon, Beau Dollar and the Coins, Denzil Rice and Cincinnati's premier female R&B trio, The Charmaines. Several of these recordings are found on compilation CDs entitled Lonnie Mack: From Nashville to Memphis (Ace, 2004) and Gigi and the Charmaines (Ace, 2006).

"Memphis", "Wham!" and the birth of blues-rock guitar

On March 12, 1963, at the end of a recording session with The Charmaines, Mack was invited to use the remaining twenty minutes of studio rental time. He recorded a bluesy, rockabilly guitar instrumental loosely based on Chuck Berry's 1959 UK vocal hit, "Memphis, Tennessee".

By the time "Memphis" was first broadcast in the Spring of 1963, Mack had already forgotten recording it and was engaged in a nation-wide performing tour with singer-songwriter Troy Seals. He did not know the tune had been released until a friend located him on tour, and told him it was climbing the charts. In a 1977 interview, Mack recalled: "I was completely taken by surprise. I never listened to the radio. I had no idea what was happening".

By late June, "Memphis" had risen to No. 4 on Billboard's R&B chart and No. 5 on Billboard's Pop chart. Up to that point in time, only two other rock guitar instrumentals had penetrated Billboard's "Top 5".

Still in 1963, Mack released "Wham!", a gospel-inspired guitar instrumental, which reached No. 24 on Billboard's Pop chart in September. He soon recorded several more full-length rock guitar instrumentals, including "Suzie Q", "Down in the Dumps", "Nashville", "Tension" and "Lonnie On The Move" in 1963 and "Chicken Pickin'" and "Coastin'" in 1964. Mack used a Bigsby tremolo arm on "Wham!" and several other tunes to achieve sound effects so distinctive for the time that the tremolo arm became better-known as the "whammy bar". To enhance the vibrato on these tunes, he employed a variant of Robert Ward's distortion technique, using a 1950s-era tube-fired Magnatone amplifier to produce a "rotating, fluttery sound".

According to music historian and guitar professor Richard T. Pinnell, Ph. D., Mack's expression of "blues stylism" in "Memphis" was "unique" in the history of rock guitar to that point, producing a tune that was both "rhythmically and melodically full of fire" and "one of the milestones of early rock and roll guitar".

Although the term "blues-rock" had not yet come into common usage in 1963, "Memphis" is now widely regarded as the first genuine hit recording of the blues-rock guitar genre. "Wham!" soon became the second.

Many prominent electric lead guitarists were influenced by these recordings early in their careers. In 1963, 17-year-old Duane Allman played "Memphis" repeatedly in his military academy dorm-room, stopping it, starting it, and slowing it down to play along, until he had finally mastered it. As a teenager, Stevie Ray Vaughan did the same with "Wham!". Later, Vaughan recorded covers of both "Wham!" and "Chicken-Pickin'". Western Swing guitarist Ray Benson, frontman for eight-time Grammy-winner Asleep at the Wheel, recounted a similar story, describing Mack as "my guitar hero".

"Blue-Eyed Soul" ballads

Mack's first recording successes were instrumentals. However, his roadhouse performances typically included both vocals and instrumentals. Accordingly, in 1963, Fraternity allowed Mack to record a number of tunes featuring his singing talents.

Although Mack ultimately became better known for his guitar recordings, his early "blue-eyed soul" vocal recordings were critically acclaimed.

According to one critic:

R&B radio stations throughout the South played Mack's gospel-inspired version of the soul ballad "Where There's a Will" in 1963, until he was invited to give a live radio interview with a prominent R&B disc jockey in racially-polarized Birmingham, Alabamamarker. Mack recalls that when he appeared at the radio station, the DJ took one look at him, then said, "Baby, you're the wrong color", and canceled the interview on the spot.

After that, Mack recalls, there was a precipitous drop in the airplay time devoted to his vocal recordings on R&B radio stations. Fraternity delayed release of one of his signature soul ballads, "Why?" (recorded in 1963), as a single, until 1968, and then only as the "B" side of a re-release of "Memphis". As recently as 2001, one music critic characterized "Why?" as one of the "lost rock & roll masterpieces".

Despite the de facto blacklisting of Mack's vocal recordings on R&B radio stations, his 1963 cover version of Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What's Wrong," became a modest crossover pop hit (Billboard Pop, No. 93), particularly in the Midwest, Fraternity's traditional distribution market.

After the 1960s, Mack recorded fewer "pure" blues and soul ballads, and more country and rockabilly vocals. Mack's mature singing style has been variously described as a "country-esque blues voice", and the "impassioned vocal style of a white Hoosier with a touch of Memphis soul". 1983's Live at Coco's contains several bluesy vocals in this style, including a version of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday". Other examples include Mack's own soul ballad, "Stop", on 1985's Strike Like Lightning, and a gospel-drenched version of Wilson Pickett's "I Found a Love" on 1990's Live: Attack of the Killer V.

The Wham of that Memphis Man!

The Wham of That Memphis Man! album cover
During 1963, after the release of "Memphis" and "Wham!", Mack returned to the studio several times to cut additional recordings, including instrumentals, vocals and ensemble tunes. Fraternity packaged several of these, along with his 1963 singles, into an album entitled The Wham of that Memphis Man!.

Mack played the guitar solos in a rapid, seamless and precise style. His vocals were strongly influenced by Black gospel music. All of the tunes were backed by bass guitar and drums, and many also featured keyboards and a Stax/Volt-style horn section. Several cuts included an R&B backup chorus, provided by The Charmaines. In his book, The 100 Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, Jimmy Guterman ranked the album No. 16, saying:

The Wham of that Memphis Man! was released within weeks of the beginning of the British Invasion. Competing with likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones was an obstacle encountered by many, but Mack faced an additional challenge: In the words of critic John Morthland, "It was the era of satin pants and histrionic stage shows, and all the superior chops in the world couldn't hide the fact that [Mack] probably had more in common with Kentucky truck drivers than he did with the new rock audience".

The Wham of that Memphis Man! has been reissued at least ten times, most recently in 2008. However, most of Mack's Fraternity recordings are not found on the album. Fraternity continued to release additional Mack singles during the 1960s, but never issued another album. Some of his Fraternity sides, including some alternate takes of tunes released in the 1960s, were first released three or four decades after they were recorded, on a series of Mack compilation albums.

Historical significance of Mack's guitar solos

In July, 1980, seventeen years after "Memphis" was first released, the editors of Guitar World magazine ranked it the premier "landmark" rock guitar recording of all time, immediately ahead of full albums featuring guitarists Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.

Mack's guitar style was a significant influence on guitarists Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dickie Betts,, Neil Young, and Ted Nugent, among others. It is also said to have had a profound influence upon the history and development of rock guitar, generally:

Transition period

In the mid-1960s, the public's musical tastes shifted radically due to the initial, "pop" phase of the "British Invasion". However, during the same period, the "folk music" movement in the US and the popularity of Black musical forms in both the US and the UK expanded the appeal of classic rural and urban blues among young whites of the baby boom generation.

Soon, a handful of predominantly white blues bands rose to prominence, including John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the UK and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the US. During the mid-through-late 1960s, a new generation of electric blues guitarists emerged, including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, most of whom were, or soon became, frontmen for blues-based rock bands. The late 1960s witnessed the appearance of many such bands, most of which showcased the virtuosity of their lead guitarists. These included the enormously successful "power trios": Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. By that point, blues-rock was recognized as a distinct and powerful force within rock music on both sides of the Atlanticmarker. In 1968, these developments led to the rediscovery of Lonnie Mack's seminal blues-rock guitar recordings of the early 1960s.

Still in the mid-1960s, Mack released a succession of new singles on Fraternity, but none were major hits. During this time, Mack built a portfolio as an R&B recording-session guitarist. He worked with Cincinnati's premier record label, Syd Nathan's King Records, playing second guitar on a number of King-label recordings by blues singer-guitarist Freddie King, and lead guitar on several King-label recordings by "The Godfather of Soul", James Brown. Brown's band can be heard accompanying Mack on 1967's "Stone Fox"; beyond that, however, it was a Lonnie Mack R&B guitar instrumental. At the same time, Mack worked steadily as a session guitarist for John Richbourg's Soundstage 7 Productions in Nashville, backing soul singer Joe Simon and several other Richbourg R&B acts on Monument Records. He also played lead guitar on several Fraternity recordings of Cincinnati blues singer Albert Washington. None of the Washington tunes were major hits at home, but one featuring Mack's guitar ("Turn On The Bright Lights"), reportedly stayed on the pop charts in Japan for several years and all were later reissued in the UK.


In 1968, with the blues-rock movement approaching full force, Mack entered into a multi-record deal with Los Angeles' Elektra Records, and relocated to the West Coast. The November 1968 edition of the Rolling Stone contained a major feature article on him, including a highly complimentary ("As a rock guitarist, Lonnie Mack is in a class by himself") review of his 5-year old Fraternity album, urging Elektra to reissue it. In 1970, Elektra obliged, reissuing The Wham of that Memphis Man!, with two additional 1964 tracks, under the title For Collectors Only. An October 1970 review of For Collectors Only in Rolling Stone compared Mack's guitar work to "the best of [Eric] Clapton".

The Wham of that Memphis Man! remains Mack's most significant early album. In 1987, Gregory Himes of The Washington Post wrote: "With so many roots-rock guitarists trying to imitate this same style, this album sounds surprisingly modern. Not many have done it this well, though."

The Elektra years

Mack recorded three new albums with Elektra, including Glad I'm in the Band and Whatever's Right, both released in 1969. These were eclectic collections country and soul ballads, blues tunes, and updated versions of earlier recordings. In contrast to The Wham of that Memphis Man, both 1969 albums emphasized Mack's vocals and de-emphasized his guitar work. Only two instrumentals appear on these albums, a full-length blues guitar piece on Glad entitled "Mt. Healthy Blues", and a re-make of "Memphis". Despite the shift in musical emphasis, Mack's output from this period was well-received. This, from a contemporary assessment of Glad:

Representative of these two albums were two consecutive vocals on Whatever's Right. Mack sings Willie Dixon's "My Babe" in a soul style typical of that era. Within seconds of the closing measure on that tune, he begins his vocal on "Things Have Gone To Pieces", a country tune previously recorded by George Jones. He repeated the pattern in Glad by performing a country tune, "Old House", and the soul tune, "Too Much Trouble" in sequence. Mack continued to mix tunes in these and other genres throughout his recording career.

While still under contract to Elektra, Mack was invited to play on The Doors' 1970 album, Morrison Hotel. The original album's liner notes credited him with the electric bass parts on "Roadhouse Blues" and "Maggie M'Gill". However, in the ensuing years, some have questioned whether his contribution to the album stopped there.

Most of the speculation involves the tune "Roadhouse Blues". In an out-take (first released in 2006) from the first day of the recording session, the album's producer, Paul Rothchild, is heard bemoaning guitarist Robbie Krieger's efforts on the tune. Mack appeared the next morning, and the recording session resumed. On the take released with the 1970 album, singer Jim Morrison is heard calling out "Do it, Lonnie, do it" at the outset of a bluesy guitar break. Twenty years later, the band's drummer, John Densmore, wrote:

Did Mack play more than bass guitar on this tune? Despite speculation to the contrary, the lead guitar on "Roadhouse Blues" remains officially credited to Robbie Krieger.

Mack's final Elektra album, The Hills of Indiana, was released in 1971. Foreshadowing the next decade of Mack's career, The Hills of Indiana represented a dramatic shift of focus away from R&B and blues-rock, towards the country end of the musical spectrum.

Flying "under the radar"

As the '70s began, Mack briefly assumed a "Chet Atkins-Eric Clapton role at Elektra, doing studio dates, producing and A&R."

In this capacity, Mack introduced Elektra to a number of artists from Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Elektra flirted with the idea of starting a new label to record them. Mack also became involved in producing gospel singer Dorothy Combs Morrison, formerly lead vocalist for the Edwin Hawkins Singers of "Oh Happy Day" fame. Mack recorded Morrison singing a gospel version of "Let It Be" before The Beatles released their own version, and urged Elektra to release it immediately. However, corporate red-tape at Elektra delayed the release, and The Beatles were first-to-market. Undeterred, he urged Elektra to capitalize on The Beatles' success by releasing Morrison's version next. When further delays at Elektra allowed the next release to be Aretha Franklin's own gospel version, Mack resigned his corporate job.

By that point, Elektra had put together an old-fashioned whistle-stop tour of Mack's band, along with Mack's Memphis and Muscle Shoals artists, to be billed as "The Alabama State Troupers and Mount Zion Choir". According to Elektra producer Russ Miller, Mack disappeared six days before the tour was to begin. When Miller found him holed-up on a rustic, backwoods farm in Kentucky, Mack refused to join the tour, citing a dream in which he was hounded by the Devil, and from which he awoke to find his Bible opened to the passage: "Flee ye from Mount Zion". Years later, Miller recalled: "[Lonnie's] a real country boy. [T]hat was it for Lonnie".

Thus began a lengthy period of near-seclusion, during which Mack performed only sporadically, and recorded almost exclusively in a markedly pastoral, country-inflected style which reportedly disappointed his fans from the '60s. Fourteen years were to pass before Mack released another blues-rock album. The lyrics of several Mack tunes shed light on his decision to withdraw from the spotlight at age 29, accolades in hand and his star as a rock guitarist still rising. According to one tune, he yearned for the simple, anonymous, country life of his youth. According to another, "L. A. made me sick". In a third, Mack equated the pursuit of "fortune and fame" with selling one's soul to Satan. In a 1977 interview, Mack added:

In 1973, Mack teamed up with Rusty York on a traditional bluegrass LP, Dueling Banjos (QCA No. 304). Unavailable for over 30 years, Jewel Records re-issued it on CD in 2009 (JRC 920011). It contains 16 bluegrass standards in a dueling-banjos format, with guitar and fiddle. Mack played guitar on all 16 cuts and provided the sole vocal track ("I'll Fly Away") on this otherwise instrumental album.

In 1974, Mack played lead guitar in Dobie Gray's band. Gray is best-known for his hit tunes, "The 'In' Crowd" (later covered by The Ramsey Lewis Trio and others), "Drift Away" and "Loving Arms". As a Nashville-based black artist who wrote and performed both country and R&B material, his career can be seen as a mirror-image of Mack's. Mack's guitar work from this period can be found on Gray's 1974 album Hey, Dixie. Mack wrote or co-wrote four tunes on the album, including the title track. In March 1974, Mack performed as a member of Gray's band at the last broadcast of The Grand Ole Opry from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

In 1975, Mack was shot during an altercation with an off-duty police officer. Mack's account of the incident is preserved in one of his better-known late-career tunes, "Cincinnati Jail". According to the lyrics of that tune, the officer's car narrowly missed Mack while he was walking across a city street, whereupon Mack hit it on the fender, shouting "better slow it down!"; the officer stopped, emerged from his car, shot Mack "in the leg", then hauled him before a judge who threw him in jail. Mack recovered, but once again virtually disappeared from the music scene. During the next two years he neither recorded nor toured, but ran the "Friendship Music Park" in rural southern Indiana, which featured local bluegrass and traditional country artists.

In 1977, Mack signed with Capitol Recordsmarker. There, he recorded Home at Last, a showpiece for his country ballads and bluegrass tunes. In 1978, he recorded another Capitol LP, Lonnie Mack with Pismo. A somewhat faster-paced album, Pismo featured country, southern rock and rockabilly tunes.

In 1979, Mack began working on an independent recording project with a friend, producer-songwriter Ed Labunski. The intended result was a country-pop album ultimately entitled South. However, Labunski died in an auto accident before the project was completed, and the unfinished album was not released for almost 20 years. Labunski's death also derailed Mack's and Labunski's plans to produce a young Texas blues-guitar prodigy named Stevie Ray Vaughan, who nonetheless was soon to become a key player in Mack's blues-rock comeback.

Shortly after Labunski's death, Mack traveled to Canada, where he entered into a six-month collaboration with American expatriate rockabilly artist Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins is best known for having founded The Hawks, a popular Canadian roots-rock group which was later known as The Band. Mack's guitar work from this period can be heard on Hawkins' 1981 solo album, Legend In His Spare Time.

Comeback: Strike Like Lightning

By the early 1980s, Mack had been largely absent from the blues-rock music scene for over a decade and his visibility as a recording artist had waned considerably. He chose this low point in his career to resume performing and touring, adopting a hard-driving blues-rock/rockabilly fusion style that became the cornerstone of his sound for the rest of his career.

His first album from this period was Live at Coco's, recorded in 1983. It is Mack's only mid-career roadhouse performance preserved on disc. Originally a "bootleg" recording, Mack sanctioned its commercial release in 1998. On Coco's, Mack and his band can be heard playing familiar tunes from the Fraternity era, lesser-known tunes from the '70s, tunes which appear on no other album (e.g., "Stormy Monday", "The Things I Used To Do" and "Man From Bowling Green") and tunes which did not appear on his studio albums until several years later (e.g., "Falling Back In Love With You", "Ridin' the Blinds", "Cocaine Blues" and "High Blood Pressure").

Still in 1983, Mack relocated to Texas, where he played regularly at venues in Dallas and Austin. Early in this period, Mack entered into a performing collaboration with the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Little known outside of Texas in 1980, Vaughan's own career took off during this period; by 1985 he was an international blues-rock guitar sensation. Mack and Vaughan had first met in 1979, when Mack, acting on a tip from Vaughan's older brother, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, went to hear him play at a local bar. Vaughan recalled the meeting in a 1985 interview:

Mack and Vaughan became close friends after that first meeting. Despite the generation gap between them, Mack said that he and Vaughan "were always on the same level", describing Vaughan as "an old a young man's body". Mack regarded Vaughan as his "little brother" and Vaughan said Mack was "something between a daddy and a brother". When Mack was stricken with a lengthy illness in Texas, Vaughan put on a benefit concert to help pay his bills; during Mack's recuperation, Vaughan and his bass-player, Tommy Shannon, personally installed an air-conditioner in his house.

In the purely musical sense, the relationship between Mack and Vaughan had begun long before they met. Vaughan had idolized Mack since his teen years, and often said that "Wham!" was "the first record I ever owned". Vaughan called Mack "the baddest guitar player I know", and said that Mack "really taught me to play guitar from the heart". Vaughan's musical legacy includes four versions of "Wham!"---two solo versions and two dueling-guitar versions with Mack. He also recorded Mack's "If You Have To Know", and a take-off on "Chicken-Pickin", which Vaughan called "Scuttle-Buttin'".
Strike Like Lightning cover

Mack signed with Alligator Records in 1984, and, upon recovering from his illness, began working on his blues-rock comeback album, Strike Like Lightning. Mack and Vaughan co-produced the album. It became one of the top-selling independent recordings of 1985. Mack himself composed most of the tunes. Consistent with his live performance style, most of the cuts featured his vocals and driving guitar equally. Vaughan played second guitar on most of the album, and traded leads with Mack on "Double Whammy" and "Satisfy Susie". Both played acoustic guitar on Mack's "Oreo Cookie Blues".

Strike propelled Mack back into the spotlight at age 44. Much of 1985 found him occupied with a promotional concert tour for Strike which included guest appearances by Vaughan, Ry Cooder and both Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, among others. Videos of Mack and Vaughan playing cuts from Strike are found on YouTube and similar websites. In 2007, Sony's Legacy label released a 1987 "live" performance of Mack's "Oreo Cookie Blues" featuring Mack and Vaughan trading leads on electric guitar.

The Strike Like Lightning tour culminated in a Carnegie Hallmarker concert billed as Further On Down the Road, a tip of the hat to Mack's 1964 recording by the same title. There, he shared the stage with blues guitar stylist Albert Collins and blues-rock guitarist Roy Buchanan. The concert was marketed on home video and remains available from Flying V Records on Mack's website.

Late career: Attack of the Killer V

In 1986, Mack recorded another Alligator album, Second Sight, which featured both introspective and up-tempo tunes as well as an instrumental blues jam. In 1988, he moved to Epic Records, where he recorded the critically-acclaimed rockabilly album, Roadhouses and Dance Halls.
Live!: Attack of the Killer V

album cover
In 1990, Mack returned to Alligator to record a live blues-rock album, Attack of the Killer V, featuring two extended guitar solos and expanded renditions of earlier studio recordings. From one review: "This disc has everything that a great live album should have: a great talent on stage, an exciting performance from that talent, a responsive crowd and excellent sound quality...This is what live blues is all about!"

Although Attack remains Mack's most recent recording as a featured artist, he continued to tour for several years. His most recent work as a session player can be found on the album Franktown Blues, recorded in 2000 by the sons of blues legend Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Mack played electric blues guitar on two cuts, "She's Got The Key" and "Jammin' For James".


Despite reports of his demise, Mack lives in rural Tennesseemarker, and is working on a memoir of his experiences as a rock & roll artist. Mack has not toured since 2002, but still occasionally performs at special events. On November 15, 2008, Mack was a featured performer at the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker's 13th annual Music Masters Tribute Concert, honoring electric guitar pioneer Les Paul.

Guitar style and technique

In the context of early '60s rock, Mack's extended guitar solos displayed exceptional speed, dexterity and improvisational skill. In Skydog: The Duane Allman Story, guitarist Mike Johnstone recalled the impact of Mack's playing upon rock guitarists in 1963: "Now, at that time, there was a popular song on the radio called 'Memphis'--an instrumental by Lonnie Mack. It was the best guitar-playing I'd ever heard. All the guitar-players were [saying] 'How could anyone ever play that good? That's the new bar. That's how good you have to be now'."

Mack's guitar style is distinguished by "fingerstyle" and "chicken picking" techniques traditionally found in country, folk and bluegrass music, as well as lightning-fast runs and machine-gunned, whammy-fired climaxes pioneered by Mack himself. He manipulates the whammy bar with the little finger of his right hand, while picking at a 45-degree angle with the remaining fingers of the same hand, and bending the strings on the fret-board with his left. Stevie Ray Vaughan: "Nobody can play with a whammy-bar like [Mack]. He holds it while he plays and the sound sends chills up your spine". Although capable of "every finger-twisting blues lick, he doesn't show off; for most songs, he [plays] sustained melodies, and uses fast licks only at an emotional peak". In the early 1960s, Mack combined these stylistic and technical elements with powerful phrasing and "driving, complicated rhythms", to produce a radical new guitar style "now blues-rock".


Career recognition and awards

Year Award or Recognition
  • Gibson issued a limited-run "Lonnie Mack Signature Edition" of Lonnie Mack's iconic 1958 "Flying V" guitar
  • Lifetime Achievement "Cammy" (presented annually to musicians identified with the tri-State area of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana)
  • Second "Lifetime Achievement" Cammy
  • Inducted into The Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame

See also


External links

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