Born: Lonnie McIntosh on Jul 18, 1941 in Harrison, IN
Styles: Pop/Rock, Instrumental Rock, Rock & Roll, Modern Electric Blues, Early R&B, R&B
When Lonnie Mack sings the blues, country strains are sure to infiltrate. Conversely, if he digs into a humping rockabilly groove, strong signs of deep-down blues influence are bound to invade. Par for the course for any musician who cites both Bobby Bland and George Jones as pervasive influences.
Fact is, Lonnie Mack's lightning-fast, vibrato-enriched, whammy bar-hammered guitar style has influenced many a picker, too, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, who idolized Mack's early singles for Fraternity and later co-produced and played on Mack's 1985 comeback LP for Alligator, Strike Like Lightning.
Growing up in rural Indiana not far from Cincinnati, Lonnie McIntosh was exposed to a heady combination of R&B and hillbilly. In 1958, he bought the seventh Gibson Flying V guitar ever manufactured and played the roadhouse circuit around Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Mack has steadfastly cited another local legend, guitarist Robert Ward, as the man whose watery-sounding Magnatone amplifier inspired his own use of the same brand.
Session work ensued during the early '60s behind Hank Ballard, Freddy King, and James Brown for Cincy's principal label, Syd Nathan's King Records. At the tail-end of a 1963 date for another local diskery, Fraternity Records, Mack stepped out front to cut a searing instrumental treatment of Chuck Berry's "Memphis." Fraternity put the number out, and it leaped all the way up to the Top Five on Billboard's pop charts!
Its hit follow-up, the frantic "Wham!," was even more amazing from a guitaristic perspective with Mack's lickety-split whammy-bar-fired playing driven like a locomotive by a hard-charging horn section. Mack's vocal skills were equally potent; R&B stations began to play his soul ballad "Where There's a Will" until they discovered Mack was Caucasian, then dropped it like a hot potato. Its flip, a sizzling vocal remake of Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What's Wrong," was a minor pop hit in late 1963.
Mack waxed a load of killer material for Fraternity during the mid-'60s, much of it not seeing the light of day until later on. A deal with Elektra Records inspired by a 1968 Rolling Stone article profiling Mack should have led to major stardom, but his three Elektra albums were less consistent than the Fraternity material. (Elektra also reissued his only Fraternity LP, the seminal The Wham of That Memphis Man.) Mack cameoed on the Doors' Morrison Hotel album, contributing a guitar solo to "Roadhouse Blues," and worked for a while as a member of Elektra's A&R team.
Disgusted with the record business, Mack retreated back to Indiana for a while, eventually signing with Capitol and waxing a couple of obscure, country-based LPs. Finally, at Vaughan's behest, Mack abandoned his Indiana comfort zone for hipper Austin, TX, and began to reassert himself nationally. Vaughan masterminded the stunning Strike Like Lightning in 1985; later that year, Mack co-starred with Alligator labelmates Albert Collins and Roy Buchanan at Carnegie Hall (a concert marketed on home video as Further on Down the Road).
Mack's Alligator encore, Second Sight, was a disappointment for those who idolized Mack's playing - it was more of a singer/songwriter project. He temporarily left Alligator in 1988 for major-label prestige at Epic, but Roadhouses and Dancehalls was too diverse to easily classify and died a quick death. Mack's 1990 album, Live! Attack of the Killer V, was captured on tape at a suburban Chicago venue called FitzGerald's and once again showed why Lonnie Mack is venerated by anyone who's even remotely into savage guitar playing.
- Bill Dahl (All Music Guide)
Lonnie Mack is a roadhouse blues-rock legend - modern rock's first true guitar hero. His playing has influenced the course of rock and roll and had an impact on many of modern rock's current guitar heroes, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan. His early music bridged the gap between '50s rockabilly and the psychedelic blues-rock of the following decade, and, like the best rock and roll, his work continues to embody a mixture of white and black roots music. Rock, blues, soul and country - Lonnie brings them all together for a sound that has been all his own for nearly thirty years.
His latest Alligator Records release, Live! Attack Of The Killer V (1990), features material from the entire span of Lonnie's career. Included are live versions of some of his earliest songs from the Fraternity label as well as material from his Alligator and Epic recordings and two newly written compositions. Recorded at one of Chicago's hottest clubs and co-produced by Lonnie and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, the album is Lonnie's first-ever live recording. Playing with Lonnie on the record is his long-time associate, keyboardist Dumpy Rice, as well as a crack young rhythm section.
Lonnie was born in 1941 in Harrison, Indiana - some twenty miles west of Cincinnati. From family sing-alongs he developed a love of country music, while he absorbed rhythm and blues from the late-night black 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 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 still plays today - Gibson Flying V serial number 7. 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 51 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 records 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 died, 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, however, Lonnie grew disgusted with the new bureaucracy and walked out of his prestigious job.
He headed back to rural Indiana, playing back-country bars, going fishing and laying low. After five 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.
Disheartened, Lonnie 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.
Lonnie began his re-emergence on the national scene in November of 1983. At Stevie Ray Vaughan's urging, he relocated from southern Indiana to Austin, Texas. He began jamming with Stevie Ray in local clubs and flying to New York for gigs at the Lone Star and the Ritz. When Alligator Records approached him to do an album, Lonnie immediately called on Vaughan to help him out. The result was Strike Like Lightning (AL 4739), co-produced by Lonnie and Stevie Ray and featuring Stevie's guitar on several tracks. "We went for Lonnie's original sound here,"Vaughan said. The joint effort was one of 1985's best selling independent records and topped many critics' "Best Of"list for that year.
Lonnie'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 '85 tour. Other celebrities - Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Eddie Van Halen, Dwight Yoakum, actor Matt Dillon and comedienne Sandra Bernhard - 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 label-mates Albert Collins and the late Roy Buchanan. That show recently aired on Britain's BBC-TV and is currently available as a home video cassette entitled "Further On Down The Road.''
His Alligator follow-up, Second Sight (AL 4750), highlighted Lonnie's continuing evolution as a musician and singer/songwriter. He self-produced the album and wrote eight of the ten tunes. The album spotlighted his cured-in-the-wood vocals more than Strike Like Lightning but also included a healthy dose of Lonnie's burning Flying V.
Lonnie's re-found visibility earned him a contract with Epic Records, and in 1988 that label released Lonnie's Roadhouses and Dancehalls album. Critics applauded the recording, but CBS didn't know quite how to market it. They tried to force it into a country music niche, ignoring its roots-rock and r&b influences. Not able to push the album to its full sales potential, Epic let the project slide from the top of its priority list. Lonnie, again disenchanted with the major label scenario, began making plans for his return to Alligator.
Lonnie Mack's career traces the history of rock and roll. Drawing from influences as diverse as rhythm and blues, country, gospel and rockabilly, Lonnie has won the hearts of fans worldwide. He is revered by a new generation of rock performers. He has played everywhere from tiny roadhouse clubs to huge rock showcases and national television. He has recorded for major labels and in dies alike.
Live! Attack of the Killer V tells the Lonnie Mack story better than any of his previous albums. It's Lonnie at his best - classic songs, new tunes, audience favorites. It's a live celebration of one of rock and roll's greatest careers.