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From the Land of Band Box Records

Spotlight: Lonnie Mack

June 2, 2020
craigr244

Billboard Magazine ran mini-biographies from 1959 into the early 1960’s sometimes providing us with interesting tidbits – Each biography was generally tied to a current release on behalf of the artist

Lonnie Mack Spotlight: (“Memphis”)

Charted Number 5 Hot 100 – June, 1963

Lonnie Mack was born in West Harrison, Indiana – where grew up on sharecropping towns – Lonnie was highly influenced by guitar legends like Les Paul and Merle Travis as well as R&B performers such as Jimmy Reed and Ray Charles.

The Lonnie Mack Band

He dropped out of school at the age of 13 and made his way to Cincinnati, Ohio where he hooked up with a band fronted by Hoot Smith.  By the mid 1950’s – at just 14 years of age – he was already earning around 300 dollars a week.  He found work playing sessions at Cincinnati’s Fraternity record label and found his way into the recording studio.

R.I.P. Lonnie Mack

He placed four singles on the Hot 100 charts and four more on the Bubbling Under charts – all instrumentals.  He recorded about 20 singles for Fraternity staying with the label from 1963 into 1967 before signing on with Elektra for a handful of recordings.  He would jump around to another half dozen labels without any chart success for calling it a day in the recording studio as a front man.

He got his break when he was playing guitar as a session man for a group called the “Charmaines”.  When their recording session ended early Mack took advantage of the remaining time recording what would become his debut hit “Memphis”.  He didn’t think much of the recording but learned one night while backing a traveling Chubby Checker that his recording was taking off on the radio and then the charts.

Session Guitarist Lonnie Mack

Lonnie’s roots were well reflected in several of his recorded tracks with numbers by Jimmy Reed, Little Richard, Dale Hawkins, Larry Williams

Mack also provided guitar accompaniment for a wide range of musicians in the studio including Ronnie Hawkins, James Brown, Freddie King and The Doors on “Morrison Hotel” meeting the group when he was recording for Elektra in California.

Checking Into the Morrison Hotel

Like so many American musicians, Lonnie was blind sided by the arrival of the Beatles and the British Invasion – It would have seemed that he could have moved over to country music but that did not happen.  There were several long plays – but he became disillusioned with the music industry so he departed California and headed home to Indiana where he maintained a low profile – working on and off in small combos.

He would purchase a night spot in Indiana and got involved in an incident with a local police officer and was shot.  Mack would depart Indiana and head to Texas where he was slated to begin a recording project with Stevie Ray Vaughan but an illness postponed that venture.

Mack would go on to be recognized as an accomplished an innovative guitar player especially when playing rhythm and blues numbers.  His first long play has been widely recognized as a pioneer work of guitar accomplishment in rock and roll.  Mack did record and perform vocals and has received kudos for his unique and heart felt style.

Lonnie Mack, center, performing in 1985 with Keith Richards, left, and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones at the Lone Star in New York City.

Lonnie Mack – 1985 with Keith Richards and Ron Wood

Lonnie Mack passed away on April 21st, 2016 at the age of 74 while residing in Tennessee.  He was buried near his birth home in Indiana.  Lonnie Mack is an inductee into the Southeastern Indiana Musician’s Hall of Fame, the International Guitar Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, The Southern Legends Entertainment and Performing Arts Hall of Fame, as well as a handful of guitarist recognition awards.

Lonnie Mack's Gibson Flying V with Bigsby (With images) | Gibson ...

Mack’s Gibson Flying V with Bigsby

Lonnie Mack Selected Discography

45 – Fraternity 906 – Memphis – Number 5 Hot 100 – Number 4 R&B Charts b/w Down In the Dumps – May, 1963

45 – Fraternity 912 – Wham! – Number xx Hot 100 b/w Suzie Q – August, 1963

45 EP – Fraternity 1015 – Wham The Memphis Man – 1963

45 – Fraternity 918 – Baby What’s Wrong – Number 93 Hot 100 b/w Where There’s A Will – Number 113 Bubbling Under Charts – November, 1963

45 – Fraternity 920 – Lonnie On The Move – Number 117 Bubbling Under Charts b/w Say Something Nice To Me – February, 1964

45 – Fraternity 925 – I’ve Had It – Charted Number 126 Bubbling Under Charts b/w Nashville – April, 1964

45 – Fraternity 951 – Honky Tonk ’65 – Number 78 Hot 100 b/w Chicken’ Pickin’ – September, 1965

45 – Fraternity 1004 – Down and Out b/w Soul Express – March, 1968

This would be Lonnie’s final release on Fraternity Records

45 – Elektra 46638 – Why b/w Memphis – August, 1968

Lonnie’s debut single on Elektra – Apparently this is the same version of “Memphis” as the original on Fraternity – Lonnie would release four more Elektra singles

45 – Buccaneer 3001 – Memphis b/w Lonnie On the Move – 1970

45 – Elektra 45715 – Lay It Down b/w She Even Woke Me Up – March, 1971

45 – QCA 407 – Hello Highway b/w Take Me Like I Am – 1973

45 – AMG 564 – Cincinnati Jail b/w Mexico – 1975

45 – Roulette 7175 – Highway 56 b/w All We Need Is Love, You and Me – September, 1975

45 – Capitol 4441 – Running Wild b/w Funky Country Living – 1977

45 – Epic 07973 – Too Rock For Country, Too Country For Rock And Roll b/w Lucille – July, 1988

LP – Fraternity 1014 – The Wham Of That Memphis Man – Number 103 Hot 200 – October, 1963

LP – Elektra 74040 – Glad I’m In The Band – March, 1969

LP – Elektra 74050 – Whatever’s Right – August, 1969

LP – Elektra 74077 – For Collector’s Only, The Wham Of That Memphis Man! – 1970

LP – Elektra 74102 – The Hills of Indiana – September, 1971

LP – Capitol 11619 – Home At Last – 1977

LP – Capitol 11703 – Lonnie Mack And Pismo – 1977

LP – Alligator 4739 – Strike Like Lightning – Number 130 Hot 200 – August, 1985

LP – Alligator 4750 – Second Sight – December, 1986

LP – Epic 44075 – Roadhouses & Dance Halls – 1988

LP – Alligator 4786 – Live Attack Of The Killer V – 1990

3 Comments

  1. He was an amazing guitarist; most of us “white kids” missed Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” actually a B-side, until introduced to it “through the back door” by Lonnie Mack’s recording. We did play “Why” on WHCN in Hartford, but it didn’t have what “Memphis” had.

    I think the title of Lonnie’s 1988 single, TOO ROCK FOR COUNTRY, TOO COUNTRY FOR ROCK AND ROLL, kind of defined his problem. These days, though, he’d definitely be country enough.

    Another great post, Craig; thank you!

  2. Hi there. This is a great bio on Lonnie. I was a fan from the start; as I lived in Southeastern Indiana (Guilford, Harrison) and went to school with some of his family members. They always told me ‘he was going to be really big someday.’ Right they were! I’m a regional cultural historian living in Cincinnati today. I’m still in touch with Lonnie’s male cousin and I still remember the instant I heard ‘Memphis’ on the radio when it hit the charts. I was living in Florida by then, and it strongly connected me to my roots I had left behind in Indiana. Thanks for reading!

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