by Mike Breen
35 days ago
Rock & Roll guitar legend and area native Lonnie Mack passes away
Yesterday marked the passing of not only Prince, but
another music legend — Lonnie Mack. Mack, who was born in Harrison,
Ind., and cut his teeth in Greater Cincinnati’s nightclubs, died
Thursday at his home in Tennessee from natural causes. The influential
guitarist was 74.
Recording locally and releasing early material on
Cincinnati’s Fraternity label, Mack’s guitar playing is said to have
been a major influence on many Rock superstar players, including Keith
Richards, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. The pioneering guitarist
was the second artist to receive the Michael W. Bany Lifetime
Achievement Award from the Enquirer’s former awards program, the
Cammys, accepting the award in 1998. Bootsy Collins, who won the award
the year before, has said Mack was a giant influence on the development
of his style.
Mack is considered one of Rock & Roll’s first “guitar
heroes.” He’s in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the International
Guitar Hall of Fame, and should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Here’s the press release sent out by Alligator Records (Mack’s final label) late last night:
Groundbreaking guitarist and
vocalist Lonnie Mack, known as one of rock’s first true guitar heroes,
died on April 21, 2016 of natural causes at Centennial Medical Center
near his home in Smithville, Tennessee. His early instrumental
recordings – among them Wham! and Memphis -- influenced
many of rock's greatest players, including Eric Clapton, Duane Allman,
Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was 74.
Rolling Stone called him “a pioneer in rock guitar soloing.” Guitar World
said, “Mack attacked the strings with fast, aggressive single-string
phrasing and a seamless rhythm style that significantly raised the
guitar virtuoso bar and foreshadowed the arena-sized tones of guitar
heroes to come.” The Chicago Tribune wrote, “With the wiggle of a
whammy bar and a blinding run of notes up and down the neck of his
classic Gibson Flying V, Lonnie Mack launched the modern guitar era.”
Drawing from influences as
diverse as rhythm and blues, country, gospel and rockabilly, Mack’s
guitar work continues to be revered by generation after generation of
musicians. He recorded a number of singles and a total of 11 albums for
labels including Fraternity, Elektra, Alligator, Epic and Capitol.
Mack was born Lonnie McIntosh on
July 18, 1941 in Harrison, Indiana, twenty miles west of Cincinnati.
Growing up in rural Indiana, Mack fell in love with music as a child.
From family sing-alongs he developed a deep appreciation of country
music, while he absorbed rhythm and blues from the late-night R&B
radio stations and gospel from his local church. Starting off with a few
chords that he learned from his mother, Lonnie gradually blended all
the sounds he heard around him into his own individual style. He named
Merle Travis and Robert Ward (of the Ohio Untouchables) as his main
guitar influences, and George Jones and Bobby Bland as vocal
He began playing professionally
in his early teens (he quit school after a fight with his sixth-grade
teacher), working clubs and roadhouses around the tri-state border area
of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. In 1958, he bought the guitar he would
become best known for, a Gibson Flying V, serial number 7, which he
equipped with a Bigsby tremolo bar. (After the release of Wham!,
the tremolo bar became known worldwide as a “whammy bar”.) In addition
to his live gigs, Lonnie began playing sessions for the King and
Fraternity labels in Cincinnati. He recorded with blues and R&B
greats like Hank Ballard, Freddie King and James Brown.
In 1963, at the end of another artist's session, Lonnie cut an instrumental version of Chuck Berry's Memphis. He didn't even know that Fraternity had issued the single until he heard it on the radio, and within a few weeks Memphis had
hit the national Top Five. Lonnie Mack went from being a talented
regional roadhouse player to a national star virtually overnight.
Suddenly, he was booked for
hundreds of gigs a year, crisscrossing the country in his Cadillac and
rushing back to Cincinnati or Nashville to cut new singles. Wham!, Where There's A Will There's A Way, Chicken Pickin' and a dozen other ecords followed Memphis. None sold as well as his first hit (though Where There's A Will earned
extensive black radio airplay before the DJs found out Lonnie was
white), but there was enough reaction to keep him on the road for
another five years of grueling one-nighters.
Fraternity Records went bust, but Lonnie kept on gigging, and in 1968 a Rolling Stone article
stimulated new interest in his music. He signed with Elektra Records
and cut three albums. Elektra also reissued his original Fraternity LP, The Wham Of That Memphis Man!.
He began playing all the major rock venues, from Fillmore East to
Fillmore West. Lonnie also made a guest appearance on the Doors' Morrison Hotel album. You can hear Lonnie's guitar solo on Roadhouse Blues preceded
by Jim Morrison's urgent 'Do it, Lonnie! Do it!' He even worked in
Elektra's A&R department. When the label merged with giant Warner
Brothers, Lonnie grew disgusted with the new bureaucracy and walked out
of his job.
Mack headed back to rural
Indiana, playing back-country bars, going fishing and laying low. After
six years of relative obscurity, Lonnie signed with Capitol and cut two
albums that featured his country influences. He played on the West Coast
for a while and even flew to Japan for a “Save The Whales” benefit.
Then he headed to New York to team up with an old friend named Ed
Labunski. Labunski was a wealthy jingle writer that wrote "This Bud's
For You" who was tired of commercials and wanted to write and play for
pleasure. He and Lonnie built a studio in rural Pennsylvania and spent
three years organizing and recording a country-rock band called South,
which included Buffalo-based keyboardist Stan Szelest, who later played
on Lonnie's Alligator debut. Ed and Lonnie had big plans for their
partnership, including producing an album by a then-obscure Texas
guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan. But the plans evaporated when
Labunski died in an auto accident, and the South album was never
commercially released. Lonnie next headed for Canada and joined the band
of veteran rocker Ronnie Hawkins for a summer. After a brief stay in
Florida, he returned to Indiana in 1982, playing clubs in Cincinnati and
the surrounding area.
Mack began his re-emergence on
the national scene in November of 1983. At Stevie Ray Vaughan's urging,
he relocated from southern Indiana to Texas, where he settled in
Spicewood. He began jamming with Stevie Ray (who proudly named Wham!
as the first single he owned) in local clubs and flying to New York for
gigs at the Lone Star and the Ritz. When Alligator Records approached
Lonnie to do an album, Vaughan immediately volunteered to help him out.
The result was 1985’s Strike Like Lightning, co-produced by Lonnie and Stevie Ray and featuring Stevie's guitar on several tracks.
Mack’s re-emergence was a major
music industry event. Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Ry Cooder and Stevie Ray
Vaughan all joined Lonnie on stage during his 1985 tour. The New York Times
said, “Although Mr. Mack can play every finger-twisting blues guitar
lick, he doesn't show off; he comes up with sustained melodies and uses
fast licks only at an emotional peak. Mr. Mack is also a thoroughly
convincing singer.” Other celebrities -- Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul
Simon, Eddie Van Halen, Dwight Yoakam and actor Matt Dillon -- attended
shows during the Strike Like Lightning tour. The year was capped
off with a stellar performance at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall
with Albert Collins and the late Roy Buchanan. That show was released
commercially on DVD as Further On Down The Road.
Mack recorded two more albums for Alligator, 1986’s Second Sight and 1990’s Live! Attack Of the Killer V. In between he signed with Epic Records and released Roadhouses And Dancehalls in
1988. Mack continued to tour into the 2000s. He relocated to
Smithville, Tennessee where he continued writing songs but ceased active
touring. In 2001 he was inducted into the International Guitar Hall Of
Fame and in 2005 into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame.
He is survived by five children and multitudes of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
by Mike Breen
Happy birthday to the Gibson Flying V guitar and the incomparable Nina Simone
On this day in 1958, the very first "Flying V" guitar shipped from the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Mich. The guitar's distinct body — shaped, as the name suggest, like a "V," and made almost to look like it had aerodynamic qualities — was initially the instrument's downfall. In its first two years available, the pointy axe was a flop; according to Gibson's website and author Larry Meiners' book Flying "V": The Illustrated History of This Modernistic Guitar, fewer that 100 total Flying Vs were ordered in ’58 and ’59.But the odd design was also a draw for at least some musicians. For Blues players Albert King and Lonnie Mack (who, according to Gibson, is said to have purchased his first at Glenn Hughes Music in Cincinnati), the unique aesthetic of the guitar became a part of their image. In the ’60s, the aesthetic suddenly seemed less flashy to Rock guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix, and demand caused Gibson to begin producing the instrument once again in 1967 (Jimi had one immediately). In the ’70s, the guitar's appeal was enough to keep it in production, as everyone from Marc Bolan (T Rex) to Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) began to sling one. By the ’80s, the Flying V became most identifiable with Metal, used prominently by Ozzy sidekick Randy Rhoads, dweedle-dweedle master Yngwie Malmsteen and players from Judas Priest, Metallica, Megadeth, Scorpions and a bazillion others.Alternative and Modern Rock players also took to the the V — Bob Mould of Husker Du used his V quite a lot, while the guys in Weezer were perhaps the first to use them "ironically." The instrument's endurance is mostly due to the Flying V's appearance, making it more of a fashion accessory than a guitar specifically picked for its sound (though it was lighter than the usual guitar, at least initially).Here are two clips showing the V in action, the first featuring Lonnie Mack and the second a music video by Jay Reatard, the late cult hero from Memphis. Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring video of Nina Simone's first time on national television, playing The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960.
40 years ago, Cincinnati hosted its own mini-version of Woodstock
1 Comment · Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The success of the Woodstock Festival 40 years ago prompted dreams of hundreds of other mythic Rock festivals throughout the United States. Including Cincinnati. As luck would have it, the city's first major outdoor Rock festival was scheduled for Sept. 6, 40 years ago this Sunday. Jim Tabrell, who organized it, joins other local musicians to recall the event and the times.