Paying tribute to his six string hero and major inspiration, the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan once said that, ”(He) really taught me to play the guitar from the heart, to really tap your insides.” That man was Lonnie Mack, born today in 1941 and still merrily whacking the whammy bar.
Guitarist Lonnie McIntosh was born in Harrison, Indiana, USA. Inspired to play an instrument aged after hearing R’n B and country on the radio and gospel in church, Lonnie’s early tutoring came on the guitar from his mother and he was soon accompanying his banjo-playing father.
Playing to the exclusion of his studies and quitting school in his early teens to start playing live, Lonnie and his Gibson Flying V guitar found his way to Cincinnati and began to pick up session work for the likes of Hank Ballard. Mack’s own inspiration was fellow session man Robert Ward and like him, he used a Magnatone amplifier to gain a distinctive vibrato-drenched sound.
Gigging locally with his band The Twilighters, Lonnie added a souped-up rendition of “Memphis” to his live set in 1963, as Chuck Berry took it into the singles chart. Encouraged to record it by local record label Fraternity, Lonnie and his band had departed for some live dates in Florida before Fraternity decided to press up copies and distribute to radio stations.
The result was an instant hit, with the hurriedly-released single going top 5 and “Wham!” from the same session following on soon after. 1964 then brought Mack’s debut long-player, “The Wham of That Memphis Man”, including his hits, a clutch of other instrumentals and tracks showcasing his Gospel-tinged vocal style.
Once the initial surge of interest in him subsided, Mack signed to Elektra Records and released a trio of more rock-oriented albums. Session work also presented itself in the form of label-mates The Doors and their “Morrison Hotel” record, with the memorable riff of “Roadhouse Blues” all his own work.
Dabbling with A&R for the label, Elektra’s takeover by Warners in 1970 ushered in a new more corporate era and Mack quit LA in favour of Indiana, returning to session work and various low-profile releases including a bluegrass album of duets. Breaking cover for two country albums with Capitol in the late 1970s, an abortive band project named South came to nothing and Lonnie found himself playing a season of gigs in Canada with Ronnie Hawkins.
Aware of the buzz surrounding a young guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan down in Texas, Mack responded to an invitation to play with him in Austin and the pair quickly developed a rapport. Relocating to Austin in 1983, Lonnie gigged regularly alongside SRV and signed with Alligator Records for what became the “Strike Like Lightning” album (no prizes for guessing who guested and co-produced).
A companion tour in 1985 then saw various Rolling Stones, Albert Collins and Ry Cooder join Lonnie on stage. Since then he’s continued to play live and record for Alligator, Epic and other labels – latterly making some newer recordings available via his own website.
Check out and purchase Lonnie Mack CDs from our e-shop, Propermusic.com by clicking on the logo below:
And here’s some footage of Lonnie in action: