Our Top 10 Lonnie Mack Songs list presents the best Lonnie Mack Songs like “Wham,” “Chicken Pickin'” “Memphis,” and many more. Born on July 18, 1941, the artist known as Lonnie Mack was primarily raised on a series of nearby sharecropping farms before he embarked on a musical career. His parents were fans of the Grand Ole Opry show and would listen to it regularly. After they went to bed, Mack stayed up and listened to rhythm and blues, as well as traditional black gospel music. These served as key influences that triggered him to exchange his bicycle for an acoustic guitar when he was seven years old. His mother taught him how to play it and he was soon playing as a bluegrass guitarist in the family’s band. Mack also taught himself how to merge acoustic blues picking with country finger picking on the guitar.
As a teenager, Mack often skipped school to play music with his mentor, Ralph Trotto. When he was thirteen years old, he dropped out of school after getting into a disagreement with a teacher. Even at this age, Lonnie Mack’s physical stature was enough to obtain a counterfeit identification card so he could perform professionally in bars in the Cincinnati area. In 1955, he averaged $300.00 USD per week as a professional electric guitarist.
For Mack, he regarded Les Paul, Merle Travis, and T-Bone Walker as the most significant influences that sparked his personal guitar style. As for vocal influences, he credited Hank Ballard, Bobby Bland, Ray Charles, George Jones, and Jimmy Reed. These combined influences spawned Lonnie Mack to become an influential trailblazer of blues rock. As a musical artist, he often mixed and switched between a range of black and white Southern roots genres making it challenging for the music industry to properly label and promote him. This is partly why his commercial success as a recording artist in the rock and roll genre was spotty. He did, however, have a much bigger influence on aspiring musicians.
Upon the start of the 1960s, Lonnie Mack became a session guitarist with Fraternity Records. In 1963, “Memphis” and “Wham!” were two singles he produced while with the Cincinnati-based label. This led to his debut album, The Wham of that Memphis Man. After this recording, Mack did produce additional musical content but it was his first studio album that stood out as an all-time fan favorite. Between 1963 and 1967, there were some released recordings but all failed to appear on the charts since his debut. However, due to the lack of commercial reach Fraternity had this did serve as a hindrance to Mack’s recording career.
Brits and Hippies
When bands like the Beatles began to sweep the nation in 1964, the musical British Invasion put Lonnie Mack’s recording career into stall mode. He remained busy as a performer, catering to an audience that preferred his brand of music instead. In the meantime, he also became a session musician for artists like James Brown, Freddie King, and Joe Simon.
When 1968 hit the height of the blues rock era, Elektra Records purchased Lonnie Mack’s contract from Fraternity. They moved him to Los Angeles, California, where he recorded three albums for the label. 1968 also marked the year of a new magazine called Rolling Stone published a rave review of Mack’s debut album. The Wham of that Memphis Man was no longer in production at the time but the article sparked Elektra to have it reissued. Mack was able to cash in on this new wave of fame by performing at major rock venues. He opened for Crosby, Stills & Nash, as well as The Doors.
Despite the rise to fame, Lonnie Mack’s rustic persona didn’t mesh with the style of music the hippie culture was into. It was the music industry’s preference at that time to target that demographic as opposed to catering to the blue-collar audience. For Mack, his time with Elektra Records was not a happy one. He didn’t care for the rock celebrity status that came with it, which prompted him to take a hiatus from the music scene as a performer.
In 1971, Lonnie Mack had one more album he needed to record for Elektra in order to complete his contract. He did this after moving to Nashville, Tennessee. While there he recorded The Hills of Indiana. It was a multi-genre album that failed to grab much attention when it was released at the time. For Mack, it wasn’t about achieving stardom at the time. It was about finishing his contract with the major record label so he could return home to Indiana and live a lower-profiled life.
Lonnie Mack’s Road
For most of the 1970s, Lonnie Mack served as a roadhouse performer and bluegrass country recording artist. He also owned and operated a nightclub in Covington, Kentucky, as well as an outdoor country music venue in Friendship, Indiana. Up until 1977, the life of Lonnie Mack was quiet enough to keep him out of the spotlight and out of trouble. This changed after he was shot by an off-duty police officer during an altercation. The end result from that incident brought about “Cincinnati Jail,” a rowdy tune that became a rockin’ guitar favorite while later performing it in concert.
In 1983, Lonnie Mack joined his blues-rock disciple, Stevie Ray Vaughan in Austin, Texas. While the two collaborated together, Vaughan tried to convince Mack to return as a recording artist. However, Mack was too ill to do so at the time. It wasn’t until 1985 that he would make his big comeback. Strike Like Lightning was a joint production led by Mack and Vaughan, which was followed by a concert tour. When the infamous Great American Guitar Assault Tour took place in 1986, Lonnie Mack teamed up with Dickey Betts and Roy Buchanan.
Up until 1990, Mack had a grueling schedule between concert tours and studio recordings. His final blues rock album release was Lonnie Mack Live! – Attack of the Killer V! before slowing down to play in roadhouses and festivals with a more manageable schedule. This continued until going into full retirement in 2004. As tempting as it was to return to the stage, he mostly remained retired. He did appear in a few performances during special events from time to time. He did receive an invite in 2012 to join Travis Wammack on tour but declined due to health issues. On April 21, 2016, Lonnie Mack passed away at a hospital in rural Tennessee. His remains were buried in Aurora, Indiana.
The career of Lonnie Mack was described as a talent that featured a mix of rockabilly and gospel-inspired blue-eyed soul ballads. Despite the lack of charting success achieved from the musical material he produced, Mack’s prominence among critics, music historians, and appreciative fans has been considerably higher. What Lonnie Mack left behind as a legacy was eleven studio albums and two live albums. In 1970, For Collectors Only was a re-issue of The Wham of that Memphis Man, plus two additional tunes that he recorded in 1964.
The guitar that was Lonnie Mack’s instrument of choice was a 1958 Gibson Flying V. When he was seventeen years old, he bought the seventh model from its first-year production line. What attracted him to the guitar was its arrow-shaped appearance. Naming it “Number 7,” Mack added a Bigsby vibrato bar to it which required the mounting of a steel crossbeam. Measuring six inches below the apex of the “V,” it gave the guitar a distinctively unique appearance. As of 1993, the Gibson Guitar Corporation ran a limited production of Number 7’s titled as Lonnie Mack Signature Edition. Just like Lonnie Mack, his Number 7 has also become an icon in the eyes of other guitar heroes and wannabes.
Top 10 Lonnie Mack Songs
#10 – Cry, Cry, Cry
Lonnie Mack’s electric guitar version of Bobby Blue Bland’s 1960 single, “Cry, Cry, Cry” was an awesome instrumental version that justified why he and Number 7 were considered guitar gods. The song itself became a popular number as a bluesy R&B number. An inspired Mack, who had an appreciation for soul music, turned “Cry, Cry, Cry” into a Memphis blues ballad that didn’t need words to make this an enjoyable swanky number.
#9 – The Man in Me
Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” was a 1970 song he originally performed that became one of his greatest hits of all time. The song itself is nothing short of beautiful, which is a Bob Dylan norm. For Lonnie Mack, the raw emotion of his guitar poured into this cult classic seemed to breathe that extra spark of life into what was already a euphorically powerful tune. When Mack recorded The Hills of Indiana, he covered “The Man in Me” as a track that became a guitar hero favorite among aspiring musicians who looked up to the man behind the glorified instrument.
#8 – Where There’s a Will There’s a Way
“When There’s a Will There’s a Way” was a single that received a considerable amount of radio airtime among the black community until it was discovered by the disc jockeys Lonnie Mack was a white man. The popularity of this song extended Mack’s road touring career for another five years as he performed one-night concert after another. As a balladeer, Lonnie Mack knew how to draw up raw emotion with his gospel-like approach which made him highly favored by listeners, regardless of skin color.
#7 – Farther on Up the Road
While “Farther on Down the Road” was a popular Roy Buchanan tune that was covered by a multitude of artists that were influenced by its Memphis blues style, Lonnie Mack switched it up, literally. “Farther on Up the Road” was a deliberate contrast to the song and its lyrics by Mack as he and his guitar dictated their own version of this cult classic. The album, The Wham of that Memphis Man, was loaded with musical material that featured Mack’s instrumental and vocal interpretation of various tracks he chose to record when he was granted twenty minutes of rental time at a recording studio in Cincinnati, Ohio.
#6 – Suzie Q
Originally performed as rockabilly in 1957 by Dale Hawkins, “Suzie Q” achieved even further legendary status after Lonnie Mack applied his guitaring genus to it in 1963. The Louisiana spirit behind the song shared the same Southern blues-rock style Mack was notorious for, making it seem easy for him to perform his own version. His “Suzie Q” was among the highlighted songs Rolling Stone mentioned in 1968 as it shared positive reviews of Mack’s debut album, The Wham of that Memphis Man.
#5 – Cincinnati Jail
In 1977, Lonnie Mack was shot by an off-duty police officer due to an altercation. “Cincinnati Jail” was a rowdy guitar and vocal classic that owed its source of inspiration to the incident. Towards the end of Mack’s career as a performer, it became a favorite tune that was played before a live audience. “Cincinnati Jail” is a classic that beautifully demonstrated what happens when you’re on the wrong side of the law and have the songwriting talent to sing something about it.
#4 – Asphalt Outlaw Hero
“Asphalt Outlaw Hero” was a song featured on The Hills of Indiana that showcased Lonnie Mack’s guitar talent. Released in 1971, both the song and the album received little attention at the time. As for the American trucker, this song served as an unofficial anthem. Among the blue-collar community, Mack achieved iconic status as he used his talent as a rockin’ guitarist and vocalist with a rare style of blunt honesty.
Instead of selling out just to keep his name in the spotlight, Mack’s “Asphalt Outlaw Hero” seemed to care more about paying homage to the underappreciated hardworking American. The song was originally written by Don Nix, who somewhat shared Mack’s obscurity as a Southern multi-genre musician that also contributed to the Memphis Soul circuit.
#3 – Chicken Pickin’
In 1965, “Chicken Pickin'” was a song recorded and released by Lonnie Mack while he was still with Fraternity Records in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s been suggested it served as a source of inspiration for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Scuttle Buttin’,” which was released in 1984. Mack and Vaughan were close as Mack was someone whom Vaughan considered his mentor. The two even worked together as it was Vaughan who coaxed Mack to get back into the recording studio in the 1980s. Nothing says Southern blues-rock better than a song dedicated to chicken and how some people love to eat it.
#2 – Memphis
“Memphis” was a 1963 recording that earned its inspiration from Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” When Lonnie Mack was offered twenty minutes of studio rental time after a session recording with The Charmaines, he took advantage of the opportunity. The energy poured into his guitar turned this tune into an unintentional hit, which later became a cult classic. Although Mack knew how to play the song instrumentally, he didn’t know the lyrics. Mack’s recording featured a mix of Memphis-style blues and Southern-style rock.
What made Mack a legend among the fans and peers who followed his journey as a musician was his rock guitar virtuosity. “Memphis” became a number four hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It also peaked as high as number five on the US Billboard Hot 100. Due to the popularity of “Memphis,” Lonnie Mack suddenly found himself catapulted to stardom. It also turned him into a legend, as pointed out in a 1980 publication by Guitar World magazine. It was regarded as one of the landmark recordings that revolutionized the role of rock and roll’s lead guitarists.
#1 – Wham!
“Wham!” was a song Lonnie Mack recorded in 1963 while making good use of rental time at a Cincinnati-based recording studio. On the US Billboard Hot 100, this gospel-like tune became a number twenty-four hit. Mack’s frenzied finger-picking guitar play was fast and furious. If there was that one song that served as the perfect example of pioneering guitar-based blues-rock music at its best, “Wham!” is it. The emotional explosion that came from Mack’s guitar play raised the bar as a rock music standard. While “Wham!” may not have peaked as high as “Memphis,” this was the track that remains the most identified song that turned Lonnie Mack into a rockin’ guitar god.
The term, “whammy bar” came as a nickname after Lonnie Mack used the Bigsby vibrato arm to toy with the electric guitar’s amped-up pitch. Mack’s ability to manipulate instruments to produce sounds that were unheard of at the time was what set him apart from the rest of the recording crowd.
Top 10 Lonnie Mack Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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