Lonnie Mack, known to many as one of the greatest blues rock musicians, has died at the age of 74. The news of Mac’s death was confirmed via a press release from his record label, Alligator Records.
“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.”
Born Lonnie Mcintosh in West Harrison, Indiana, Lonnie Mack was influential in transforming the electric guitar into a lead voice in rock music. Mack claimed to have started learning the guitar at the age of five. He dropped out of school in the 7th grade to pursue a career as a professional musician. Mack started playing in bars in the midwest before signing a record contract with Cincinnati-based Fraternity Records. During this time, Mack served as a session guitarist for legendary musicians James Brown, Hank Ballard, and Freddie King.
Our condolences go out to the family, friends, & fans of Lonnie Mack, the blues guitar great and bassist on The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.”
— The Doors (@TheDoors) April 22, 2016
Lonnie Mack would go on to record what was considered his master opus, The Wham of That Memphis Man! in 1963. The album which boasted a cover of the Chuck Berry classic “Memphis” would become a surprise hit, and debuted on the Billboard Top Five. Mack wasn’t aware that Fraternity Records had released the single, until he heard it on the radio. The album would showcase Mack’s attention to detail and would soon become known for his “blue-eyed soul” singing style and virtuosic guitar abilities mixing blues, country, and R&B genres into Mack’s style.
Lonnie Mack’s second single off of The Wham of That Memphis Man, “Wham!”would showcase Mack’s groundbreaking use of the Bigsby tremolo bar that he had custom installed onto his 1958 Gibson Flying V guitar, an instrument Mack ordered from a Cincinnati music shop as a teenager. Mack liked the guitar because it was shaped like an arrow. Because of this, the Bigsby bar was unofficially nicknamed the “whammy bar” by many guitarists. Long time friend and guitar legend, the late Stevie Ray Vaughn would later quote on Mack’s use of the “whammy” bar, “Nobody can play with a whammy-bar like Lonnie. He holds it while he plays and the sound sends chills up your spine.”
Fraternity Records would later cease operations, putting many of Lonnie Mack’s records out of print. This didn’t stop Mack as he continued to tour for many years, until a Rolling Stone review of The Wham of That Memphis Man in 1968 led to a career resurgence. This led to Mack accepting high-profile gigs at the Fillmore East and West, and a deal with Elektra Records. Mack would later contribute his talents playing Bass guitar on The Doors singles “Roadhouse Blues” and “Maggie M’Gill” off of their album Morrison Hotel.
— Living Colour (@LivingColour) April 22, 2016
Lonnie Mack’s influence helped shape a generation of guitarists including Duane Allman and Dickie Betts of The Allman Brothers. Betts once said “Lonnie is one of the greatest players I know of. He’s always been a great influence on me.” Many blues guitarists from the British Invasion cited Mack as a major influence, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, and Keith Richards. Richards and Wood would make a guest appearance on Mack’s Strike Like Lightning tour.
Bassist Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic fame called Lonnie Mack “his idol,” according to Rolling Stone.
“The songs that he did were just so incredible to me. I would try to mimic all the notes he would play on his guitar,” Collins said. “His records, I knew everyone of them. I couldn’t wait for them to come out… When certain guitar players like Lonnie Mack would come out, the guitar players of that day would see who could play it the best.”
Mack was later inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the International Guitar Hall of Fame.
[Header Photo by Alligator Records]