The passing of blues-rock legend Lonnie Mack on April 21, 2016 affected the music world drastically. The early 1960s saw Mack bringing the amalgam into the fold years before the British Invasion. His iconic instrumentals “Wham” and “Memphis,” along with his soulful voice, made a huge impact on singers and guitar players worldwide.
Mack can probably be best summed up by his 1988 song “Too Rock For Country” in which he proclaimed he is, too rock for country/too Country for rock and roll. Lonnie always spanned multiple genres and as the song said he kept on playing the songs he loved to play/that’s all that mattered anyway!
Mack’s career had its ups and downs and in 1985 he released the great comeback album Strike Like Lightning on Alligator Records. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a huge disciple of Lonnie’s, and he sat in the producer’s chair for the LP. “Hound Dog Man,” the leadoff autobiographical tune, showed the world that Lonnie was back with a vengeance. It’s the perfect segue into “Satisfy Suzie,” an up-tempo Blues number that Mack kept in his live sets throughout the remainder of his career.
“Stop” is a great slow ballad that Mack often stretched to the limits live. His unique use of the Bigsby whammy bar on his iconic Gibson Flying V guitar was a trademark sound of Lonnie’s, and you can hear it in full force on “Stop.” “Long Way From Memphis” is another autobiographical tune explaining Mack’s life, often of excess, during the twenty-plus years since he had massive record sales with the instrumental remake of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis.”
Being that Stevie Ray Vaughan produced the album, it was only natural that he would jump in and play on some tunes. “Double Whammy” is a remake of Mack’s 60s instrumental smash, but this time it’s double the action as Vaughan and Lonnie trade lightning licks like two men possessed. If there is a standout track on the album, this is it. You can almost hear the respect that both men have for each other in every note. Vaughan has often said that Lonnie was like a father to him, and Mack constantly spoke of his love for Stevie Ray.
The title track shows Mack’s rock side and then he brings it back down for a gorgeous slow ballad, “Falling Back In Love With You.” Revered as a guitar slinger, Lonnie Mack’s voice was also to die for, and this is one where he really lets it rip vocally and his soulfulness comes through loud and clear. Vaughan steps back in for “If You Have To Know,” and the two trade vocals on this great tune about minding your own business.
As if to reassure us that he can still rock Lonnie throws in one more up-tempo rocker, “You Ain’t Got Me,” a song about being free from a possessive woman. The album ends with the great acoustic tune, “Oreo Cookie Blues.” Mack often did this in his live sets when he would pull out acoustic guitars. The lyrics are to die for and I’ve often wondered why Nabisco has never endorsed this and used it in their commercials. It’s just a great tune all around and shows Lonnie’s love for the iconic stuffed cookie. (Can’t we all relate?)
Lonnie Mack released a couple more studio albums in his life along with the classic live album Attack Of The Killer V. Indeed, his influence never got the public recognition that it deserves. Long before the Beatles and the Stones brought the blues to the masses, Lonnie Mack was there. He kicked down the door for many. This album is as good as it gets and spotlights an era in Lonnie’s life when he showed the world that he still had some of that 60s fire left in him. If you don’t own Strike Like Lightning, do yourself a favor and get a copy. Now. Blues-rock doesn’t get any better than this.