Mack performing at Rising Sun, Indiana, in 2003
July 18, 1941|
West Harrison, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||April 21, 2016
Smithville, Tennessee, U.S.
|Genres||Blues rock, instrumental rock, blues, country, country-soul, southern rock, rockabilly, blue-eyed soul, bluegrass, gospel|
|Labels||Alligator, Elektra, Fraternity, Capitol, Flying V Records, Jewel, King, Ace, Epic, Sage Records, Dobbs Records|
Lonnie McIntosh (July 18, 1941 - April 21, 2016), known by his stage name Lonnie Mack, was an American rock, blues, and country singer-guitarist. He was active from the mid-1950s into the early 2000s.
Mack's best-known work was during his Elektra Records contract (1968-71) and the release of his most successful records in 1963 and 1985. At age 29, after a three-year period of commercial success, Mack worked as a low-profile country artist for the next 14 years. At age 48, after a resurgent five-year period (1985-1989: four successful albums, a Carnegie Hall concert and guest appearances by The Rolling Stones and Stevie Ray Vaughan), he abruptly retired from recording and spent the remaining 14 years of his career as a single-night roadhouse performer. Mack said: "Seems like every time I get close to really making it, to climbing to the top of the mountain, that's when I pull out. I just pull up and run." Music historian Dick Shurman said: "His temperament wasn't suited to stardom. I think he'd rather have been hunting and fishing. He didn't like cities or the business." Mack's friend, progressive rock guitarist Adrian Belew of King Crimson said: "Lonnie was a good-hearted country boy who would rather go fishing than be a star."William Grimes said: "He remained a cult figure, in part because of his distaste for the music business." Although he was a low-profile performer for much of his career, Mack was a "cult figure" to his fans but Daniel Kreps wrote that though he was "largely unknown to mainstream audiences", Mack was a "...Flying V pioneer influenced entire generation of guitar gods..."Rolling Stone magazine described him as a "pioneer in rock guitar soloing"; Sean McDevitt called him a "pioneering father of blues-rock"; Brian Reiser described him as a "...trailblazing pioneer of the electric guitar.... [M]uch of rock music might not have been the same - without his innovative way of treating the electric guitar as a lead soloing instrument in rock - edgy, aggressive, loud and fast." Guitarist Mike Johnstone wrote that Mack's "Memphis" caused a stir in 1963: "[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 early solos were the immediate precursors to the rise of rock guitar virtuosity in the mid-late 1960s, with such lead guitarists as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Mike Bloomfield. In 1989 Greg Kot wrote "Lonnie Mack launched the modern guitar era 26 years ago." Mack's impact on the evolution and development of rock guitar was much greater than his own commercial success. In the course of his half-century career, Mack had only two top-30 hits ("Memphis" at number 5 and Wham!" at number 24, both in 1963) and only one gold record ("Memphis"). All of the prominent guitarists cited in this article for calling Mack a significant influence or inspiration went on to become far more commercially successful than Mack. According to Guitar Player magazine, "...Lonnie Mack virtually invented blues-rock..." Blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan said: "Lonnie invented a lot of this stuff." Jess Mayhew wrote that "He became the godfather of the wild and expressive blues-rock solos that became so prevalent in the '60s and beyond." Bill Millar wrote that Mack was also known for the "depth of feeling" of his vocals, in which he blended country, gospel, blues and soul:
For consistency and depth of feeling -- the best blue-eyed soul is defined by Lonnie Mack's ballads and virtually everything the Righteous Brothers recorded...Lonnie Mack wailed a soul ballad as gutsily as any black gospel singer. The anguished inflections which stamped his best songs had a directness which would have been wholly embarrassing in the hands of almost any other white vocalist."
In his early years, Mack was often mis-identified as a black performer, both for his soul/gospel vocals and his R&B-influenced guitar style. Crediting Mack's vocals and guitar-playing, music critic Jimmy Guterman ranked Mack's 1963 debut album, "The Wham of that Memphis Man!", No. 16 in his book The 100 Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time
In early 1941, when the coal mines closed, Mack's family (Mack's mother was pregnant with him at the time) left Owsley County, Kentucky to work as tenant farmers in Dearborn County, Indiana. During the Hillbilly Highway migration of refugees from the coal mine closures in Southern Appalachia before World War II, most sought jobs in industrialized cities; the McIntosh worked instead as sharecroppers. One of five children, he was born to parents Robert and Sarah Sizemore McIntosh on July 18, 1941, in West Harrison, Indiana.
He was raised nearby on sharecropping farms along the Ohio River. Although his childhood homes had no electricity, the family used a primitive radio powered by a truck battery to listen to the Grand Ole Opry country music show. Continuing to listen after the rest of the family had retired for the night, Mack became a fan of rhythm and blues and traditional black gospel music.
He began playing guitar at the age of seven, after trading his bicycle for a "Lone Ranger" model acoustic guitar. His mother taught him the rudiments of acoustic guitar and country-style singing. An uncle showed him how to merge a fast-picking Merle Travis country sound with traditional blues-picking styles. He was mentored by a local country gospel singer, Ralph Trotto.
He also cited the vocal influences of R&B artists Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and Hank Ballard, country singer George Jones, country-gospel singer Martha Carson and traditional black gospel singer Archie Brownlee.
As an adult, he recorded tunes associated with each of these artists.
In 1954, at the age of thirteen, Mack dropped out of school after a fight with a teacher. He soon began performing professionally with a succession of local bands, using a fake ID. He played guitar on several low-circulation recordings in the late 1950s. One, "Hey Baby" (Sage, 1959), a bluegrass/rockabilly tune by two of his cousins, was reissued by Bear Family Records in 2010. Album, "That'll Flat Git It", V. 27, track 17, ISBN 978-3-89916-577-7. It was published in the U.S. as "That'll Flat Git It! Vol. 27: Rockabilly & Rock 'n' Roll From The Vault Of Sage & Sand Records: Various Artists" On it, seventeen-year-old Mack can be heard providing a Travis-picking guitar accompaniment, punctuated by a brief rockabilly solo.
Mack went on to release thirteen original albums over the course of his career. His recordings drew from black and white American roots music genres, including blues, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, R&B, soul, country gospel, and traditional black gospel. In Rolling Stone, Alec Dubro wrote, "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."
In the early 1960s he became a session guitarist with Fraternity Records, a small label in Cincinnati. In 1963, he recorded two hit records for Fraternity, the proto-blues-rock guitar instrumentals "Memphis" and "Wham!" He soon recorded additional tunes (both instrumentals and vocals) to flesh out his debut album, The Wham of that Memphis Man (Fraternity, 1963). Mack produced some notable recordings later in his career: the albums Strike Like Lightning (1985), and Lonnie Mack Live: Attack of the Killer V (1990), were commercially successful and drew critical acclaim.
Mack then recorded several additional batches of tunes for Fraternity in 1964 and 1965. However, their distribution was limited by Fraternity's financial difficulties. The label was ultimately sold to a new owner for $25,000 but never recovered, and their sales potential was further undermined by the sudden popularity of The Beatles-led British Invasion that had begun in late 1963 and intensified thereafter. Apart from "Memphis" (Billboard #5) and Wham!" (Billboard #24), only two additional Mack Fraternity singles charted: "Honky-Tonk '65" (#78) and "Baby, What's Wrong?" (#93). Many of Mack's mid-1960s Fraternity recordings weren't released until Ace Records (UK) acquired Fraternity's original master tapes in the late 1990s. In the mid-1960s, with his career in a slump, Mack turned to R&B session work (mostly for other labels), playing guitar on recordings by James Brown, Freddie King, Joe Simon and others.
In late 1968, the newly-founded Rolling Stone magazine published a retrospective review of his five-year-old Fraternity recordings. He soon moved to Los Angeles to execute a three-album contract with Elektra Records. While contracted to Elektra, he performed in major rock venues, including the Fillmore East, the Fillmore West and the Cow Palace, where he opened for The Doors and Crosby, Stills & Nash and shared the stage with Johnny Winter, Elvin Bishop and other popular rock and blues artists of the time. While contracted with Elektra, Mack also played bass guitar on The Doors hit record, "Roadhouse Blues".
However, it was the "hippie" era in the U.S., and Mack's "Kentucky truck-driver" persona was an uncomfortable fit with commercial rock's target demographic. John Northland wrote: "[All] the superior chops in the world couldn't hide the fact that chubby, country Mack probably had more in common with Kentucky truck drivers than he did with the new rock audience." In addition, his rustic sensibilities were unsuited to urban living, stardom, Los Angeles' psychedelic music scene, and major-label corporate politics. Stuart Holman, Mack's bass guitarist in the early 1970s, said that Mack "had no tolerance for the internal politics of the music business." Unhappy and disillusioned after three years in the commercial rock spotlight, Mack relocated to Nashville in 1971 to record his final (and mostly country) Elektra album, then returned to his birthplace in rural southeast Indiana, where, for the next decade, he operated as a low-profile country music recording artist, sideman and session musician. In 1973, Mack and Rusty York released an all-acoustic bluegrass LP, Dueling Banjos. It contains sixteen bluegrass standards in a dueling-banjos format, with guitar and fiddle. Mack played guitar on all sixteen songs and provided the sole vocal track (the gospel tune "I'll Fly Away") on this otherwise instrumental album. In 1974, Mack played lead guitar in Dobie Gray's band. Mack's guitar work from this period can be found on Gray's 1974 country-pop album Hey, Dixie. Mack wrote or co-wrote three tunes on the album, including the title track. In March 1974, he performed as Gray's lead guitarist at the last broadcast of The Grand Ole Opry from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. In 1977, Mack recorded Home at Last, an album of country ballads and bluegrass tunes. In 1978, he recorded Lonnie Mack with Pismo, asomewhat faster-paced album, of country, southern rock and rockabilly tunes. Leaving commercial rock at age 29 may have burnished Mack's image as a pop-music "cult-figure", but, over time, it also left him "largely unknown to mainstream [rock] audiences".
In 1983, Mack relocated to Austin, Texas, home of his friend and blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1985, with Vaughan's help and encouragement, he re-emerged as a rock artist with his indie comeback album, Strike Like Lightning and a promotional tour featuring guest appearances by Vaughan, Ry Cooder, and The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Attendees included Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. The tour culminated in a Carnegie Hall concert with Albert Collins and Roy Buchanan. He released three more albums over the next four years, including his recording career epilogue, Lonnie Mack Live - Attack of the Killer V! (Alligator, 1990). Thereafter, he retired from recording as a solo artist. He made guest appearances on albums of two other artists in 2000, and put out some "kitchen-table" recordings on his website in 2010, but continued to intermittently tour the roadhouse and music festival circuits at home and abroad. In 2004, he retired from performing, except for a few one-off events over the next six years.
On March 12, 1963, at the end of a recording session backing up The Charmaines, Mack and his band were offered the remaining twenty minutes of studio-rental time. Not expecting the tune to be released, Mack recorded a jaunty rockabilly/blues guitar take-off on Chuck Berry's 1959 UK vocal hit, "Memphis, Tennessee". He had improvised the guitar solo in a live performance a few years earlier, when the band-member who always sang the tune missed a club date. Mack's instrumental homage to the Berry tune was well-received, so he adopted it as part of his live act. He shortened the title to "Memphis". As recorded in 1963, "Memphis" featured a then-unique combination of several key elements, including seven distinct sections and an unusually fast twelve-bar blues solo, augmented by an aggressive rock drum-beat. Interviewed in 2011, the recording engineer on "Memphis", Chuck Seitz, recalled that it took ten minutes to "set up" and less than ten minutes to record the tune twice.
"Memphis" was first broadcast in the spring of 1963. By late June, "Memphis" had risen to No. 4 on Billboard's R&B chart and No. 5 on Billboard's pop chart. "Memphis" was the fourth rock guitar instrumental to reach Billboard's "Top 5", preceded by "Twang" and "Surf" classics, such as The Virtues' "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" (1958), The Ventures' "Walk, Don't Run" (1960), and Duane Eddy's "Because They're Young" (1960). In 1964, Johnny Rivers released his own version of "Memphis", recombining Berry's vocal treatment with signature elements of Mack's instrumental. Rivers' version reached No. 2 on the U.S. Hit Parade. According to The Book of Golden Discs, "Memphis" sold over one million copies. The popularity of "Memphis" led to bookings at larger venues, tours in the UK and performances with Chuck Berry.
Still in 1963, Mack released "Wham!", a gospel-inspired guitar rave-up that reached No. 24 on Billboard's Pop chart in September. He soon recorded several more rock-guitar solos in the same style, including "Chicken Pickin'" and an instrumental version of Dale Hawkins's "Suzie Q".
According to musicologist Richard T. Pinnell, Mack's upbeat, fast-paced take on electric blues-guitar in "Memphis" was unprecedented in the history of rock guitar soloing 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". Today, Mack is widely considered rock's first genuine "guitar hero" Many consider "Memphis" and "Wham!" to be the earliest genuine hit recordings of the virtuoso blues-rock guitar genre. Blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan said: "Lonnie invented a lot of this stuff." 
Mack's early solos inspired several generations of rock guitarists who rose to prominence beginning in mid-late 1960s, including Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Ted Nugent, and Stevie Ray Vaughan]]. Vaughan said that Mack was "a big idol of mine" "ahead of his time" and a "very big influence" Vaughan began playing guitar the year "Memphis" and "Wham!" were released, honing his early guitar skills by playing along with "Wham!" ("the first record I ever owned"  incessantly until his father finally destroyed the record. The young Vaughan simply bought another copy and resumed his practice. Regarding his own style, SRV said that Mack had "invented a lot of this stuff" and that "I got a lot of the fast things I do from Lonnie". Three years before his death, Vaughan listed Mack first among the guitarists he had listened to, both as a youngster and as an adult.Jeff Beck said that Mack was "unjustly overlooked as a major influence on him and many others". Beck's 1966 Yardbirds-era showcase "Jeff's Boogie" has been called[by whom?] "a deliberate nod to Mack", and in 2015, Beck included Mack's "Lonnie on the Move" and "Strike Like Lightning" in his touring set-lists.Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes and Dan Toler and rock lead and slide guitarist Duane Allman played along with "Memphis" in his military academy dorm room, starting, stopping, and slowing the turntable with his foot, until the young guitarist had mastered the tune. Dan Toler of the Greg Allman Band and Dickey Betts & Great Southern was similarly influenced by Mack's "Memphis". His Allman Brothers band-mate, lead and rhythm guitarist Dickey Betts, said, "Lonnie is one of the greatest players I know of. He's always been a great influence on me. and "I was really gettin' tired of "Little Deuce Coupe" and all the beach songs, and "Louie, Louie" -- which are great songs -- but I'm talkin' 'bout guitar-playin. And here come Lonnie Mack, right down the middle of it all. God, what a breath of fresh air that was for me." Lead guitarist Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts Band, Gov't Mule) said, "Between the era of Chuck Berry and the era of Hendrix there were a handful of guitar players like Lonnie Mack who were making ground-breaking music that paved the way for the Revolution. People like Dickey Betts and Stevie Ray Vaughn would tell you that without Lonnie they wouldn't be who they were. That goes for all of us."Ray Benson frontman for eight-time Grammy-winner Asleep at the Wheel, declared Mack "my guitar hero". Funk bassist Bootsy Collins said "For me, at that time, Lonnie Mack was the master. Every note that mutha played, was, like, 'Man!'. I would try to mimic all the notes he played. Same thing with [Collins' brother] Cat. A Lonnie Mack song come out, he'd learn it backwards and forwards".Adrian Belew (progressive rock),Ted Nugent (hard rock), and Tyler Morris (multi-genre).
After recording his final album, Attack of the Killer V (1990), Mack continued to perform on the roadhouse circuit until 2004.
On November 15, 2008, he was a featured performer at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's thirteenth annual Music Masters Tribute Concert, soloing on "Wham!" in a 93rd birthday salute to the concert's honoree, electric-guitar pioneer Les Paul.
|Year||Award or recognition|
|1992||Music critic Jimmy Guterman ranked Mack's first album #16 in his book, The 100 Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time.|
|1993||Gibson Guitar Corporation issued a limited-run "Lonnie Mack Signature Edition" of "Number 7", Mack's 1958 "Flying V" guitar|
|1998||Lifetime Achievement "Cammy" ("Cammy" is the nickname for the Cincinnati Enquirer Pop Music Award, which is presented annually to musicians identified with the tri-State area of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana)|
|2001||Inducted into the Southeastern Indiana Musician's Association Hall of Fame|
|2001||Inducted into the International Guitar Hall of Fame|
|2002||Second "Lifetime Achievement" Cammy|
|2005||Inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame|
|2006||Inducted into The Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame|
|2011||Mack's "Number 7" was judged among the world's 150 "most elite guitars"|