LONNIE MACK: MEMPHIS MAN BRINGS THE WHAM!
By Todd Beebe
The world of Blues and Blues/Rock has been graced with talented musicians from day one. Guitarists, harmonica aces, piano/keyboard wizards- there has never been a lack of talented players within the field. However, finding a gifted player with the vocal power to go with their musical chops is often a rarity. Insert the name Lonnie Mack here! Lonnie has been inspiring guitarists and vocalists alike since the 1950’s. His awesome blend of Blues, Rock, Country and Soul has made an undeniable impact on countless artists. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and many others have named the man as an influence on their playing and singing styles.
Lonnie McIntosh was born in Harrison, Indiana in 1941. His family often had get-togethers that included sing-alongs. Country music was the choice at these sing-alongs, and Country became strong in Lonnie’s blood from early on. This is where Lonnie’s powerful vocal style and keen sense of harmonizing came from. The family always wrapped up evenings listening to The Grand Ole Opry out of Nashville. Lonnie loved the music, and fervently continued listening even after the Opry went off the air. That is where he was exposed to R&B, Gospel and Blues. He was struck with a powerful urge to learn to play the Guitar; and at age 7, he traded a bicycle for an acoustic guitar. Lonnie’s Mother actually got him started, showing him a few chords. From there, he was off and running!
Lonnie loved Ray Charles, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Jimmy Reed as much as he did Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers and George Jones. In his world, there was no difference – it was all great music. Mack started playing professionally at the age of 13 when he had a fight with a schoolteacher and dropped out. From then on it was all music all of the time, and Lonnie started working hard in clubs and roadhouses throughout Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
1958 was an important year for Lonnie. He bought his famous Gibson Flying V guitar, the same model he plays to this day. Besides Albert King, no other artist is associated with the “V” as much as Lonnie Mack. The two are a perfect match! By the early 60’s Mack began working sessions for the Cincinnati based Fraternity and King labels. In 1963, he cut an instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” that sky rocketed to the Top 5 on the charts. That same year also saw the release of the instrumental “Wham!” Everyone from Duane Allman to Stevie Ray Vaughan had cited “Wham!” as a major learning tool in their progress with the guitar. Vaughan once said he played the record so many times that his father actually broke it! Vaughan wasted no time though, rushing right out to buy another copy. Lonnie cut several more recordings in ‘63; and by ‘64 Fraternity Records had most of these packaged in a now classic LP entitled, The Wham of that Memphis Man!
Lonnie Mack was suddenly in big demand! He spent the next several years touring the country. By the end of the 1960’s, both American and British musicians were listing Mack as a major influence on not only their guitar playing, but their vocal styles as well. Many people through the years have sadly misheard the lyric in The Doors “Roadhouse Blues” as “DO IT ROBBIE! DO IT!” thinking Jim Morrison was yelling out to the Doors Guitarist. Morrison is actually yelling “DO IT LONNIE! DO IT!” Yes – that is none other than the great Lonnie Mack we hear playing the solo in “Roadhouse Blues.”
Mack’s career continued to see its ups and downs for the next decade. Never one to follow trends or try to be something he’s not, Lonnie often walked away from the music business, disappointed with what it had become.
In 1985, Lonnie signed with Chicago’s own Alligator Records and released Strike Like Lightning. Stevie Ray Vaughan produced the album and re-recorded “Wham!” as “Double Whammy.” Trading licks with Lonnie on the track, Vaughan finally pays homage to the man whose record he drove his Dad to break so many years ago! Strike Like Lightning is a Blues/Rock masterpiece that everyone should own. Lonnie’s voice and guitar are in top form throughout the album. Second Sight and Attack of the Killer V followed, and both are must haves in any Blues/Rock education.
“Double Whammy” indeed! The Double Whammy attack of Lonnie Mack’s guitar and vocals have been influencing generations ever since he came on the scene. Great artists come and go, but Lonnie Mack is truly a one of a kind.