This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 189 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
There are many great artists who have played guitar, the majority as part of a group and many can be associated strongly with at least one track that really stood out. I have pulled an album out of the crate that features a man known for his guitar work.
He is remembered lovingly for one track in particular. Yet he also had a great voice, even if that is often forgotten. With his passing in 2016, we lost not just a guitarist, but one of the pioneers of our music.
The artist is Lonnie Mack and this is a CD album is titled – Memphis Wham.
It was released on the Fraternity Records on the ace label . It has the identifying code of CDCHD 713.
It’s a twenty four track album, which was never released on vinyl. The line-up features Mack’s classic album The Wham Of The Memphis Man, plus 13 extra tracks consisting of rare singles and eight previously unreleased sides.
The CD was released in 1999.
It comes with a booklet consisting of three double sided double pages on gloss print. That booklet does provide a decent but by no means a complete bio on Lonnie, and it talks about some of the tracks on the CD.
Sadly it has limited discussion on the additional unreleased/rare tracks on the album which really, are the one’s that most need some discussion.
The cover of the booklet doubles as the CD cover.
With his recent passing just a few years ago, I thought it time for the spotlight to be rightly shined back on Lonnie Mack.
Lonnie was born Lonnie McIntosh on July 18,1941 in the backwoods of Harrison, Indiana, some forty miles west of Cincinnati.
He learned his first cords from his Mother, who played guitar, and by his father who was a banjo picker.
He was playing guitar by the age of 5. He grew up playing bluegrass, country and gospel with his family and friends. Yet he wanted more and was an avid listener to old radio stations which were playing black artists and he took a particular liking to T-Bone Walker as well as jazz and gospel styles of music.
Taking from all these influences he created his own personal style and when Rockabilly emerged to the music scene, Lonnie was already playing it!
In fact it was Elvis who really turned the young Lonnie’s head when he became aware of Presley’s music in 1956.
At the young age of 15 he formed a rockabilly trio and sang “Blue Suede Shoes”, which got a moderately good response. At 17 he brought one of the first Gibson Flying V’s (number 7) and by then was getting quite regular work in “honkytonks” and clubs all around Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
It was during this period that the owner of one of the venues he played at, suggested he shorten his name from McIntosh to Mack!
He played for a while with drummer Greg Webster and guitarist Robert Wood. He kept telling anyone who would listen that he had a sound in his mind, and tried everything to create it, including placing a fan first behind, and then in front of his amp.
Then one day Mack heard a Magnatone amp, and on hearing it declared, “That was it“.
He immediately brought one which he used for many years later declaring, “There’s nothing like those old Magnatones, nothing with that depth.”
One of the unique things about Lonnie Mack was his reticence to help with biographical information.
Many interviewers have tried to squeeze information out of him, but he was always said little. When questioned as to whether there were any pre-Memphis recordings, all the Mac would say is, “Just some real . . . I wouldn’t really call them records. A couple of them were local stuff.”
Even today when we read about Lonnie Mack, it can be hard to distinguish between the real and the manufactured information.
Lonnie Mac collectors are still searching to this moment for a copy of “Pistol Packing Mama”, allegedly the first 45rpm he made.
The label was purported to be Dobbs, a semi-mythical label which was owned by a woman who ran a jukebox supply service to small towns in rural Ohio, and who is supposed to have cut “custom” records for local artists.
Being aware of the “facts” and “fantasies” about his career, for information I often referred back to Lonnie Mack’s biography.
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 records had issued the single until a friend came to where he was performing at the Peppermint Lounge in Florida and said he’d been listening to it on the car radio all the way down! Lonnie immediately contacted Fraternity and had them ship him out a box of the 45’s.
Memphis had hit the national Top 5 and 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. He criss-crossed the country in his Cadillac constantly rushing back to Cincinnati or Nashville to cut new singles.
These included Wham, Where There’s A Will There’s A Way, Chicken Pickin’ and many many more records followed.
Where There’s A Will earned extensive black radio airplay before the DJ’s found out Lonnie was white, but there was enough reaction to keep him on the road for another five years of gruelling one – nighters.
But more on that later.
Yet despite all this, his music sales didn’t exactly go through the roof. It was bad enough that his album The Wham of the Memphis Man, containing the magnificent Memphis and Wham tracks, was released about the time the British music Invasion was gathering steam.
This left his style and music a little floundering.
Ironically as the years went on that album was re-released at least ten times.
Another other issue was that he also suffered from an actual physical image problem. Despite his blisteringly hot guitar work and his decent voice, it was hard for the teens of the period to reconcile what was in fact, a chubby looking country boy, when they had the likes of the Beatles and the Stones to look up to.
Then, Fraternity Records closed. yet 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. 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 where you can hear Jim Morrison’s urging “Do it, Lonnie! Do It!”
He even worked in Elektra’s A&R department. When the label merged and his motorcycle was stolen at the same time, Lonnie had had enough of the new bureaucracy bullshit 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 Records 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 organising 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 wasn’t released until Lonnie started his own publishing company (Mack’s Flying V Music) in 1998.
Disheartened after the loss of his friend, Lonnie headed for Canada and joined the band of veteran rocker Ronnie Hawkins for a summer.
He then returned to Indiana without a band and played solo acoustic in his own home town. Lonnie’s brother Billy and his good friend and old keyboard player Dumpy Rice started showing up at his gigs.
Eventually, with them, he had a road worthy band again and started playing the same tri-state border area of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio as they had back in the early days before Memphis.
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 Mack stopped recording in the late 90’s with his last album being the 1999 album, South. Not including compilations and re-worked albums he released 12 studio albums (including this one) and two live albums.
Maybe there was a sign things weren’t well when, in 2012, Guitarist Travis Wammack asked Mack to join him on a tour to be billed as “Double Mack Attack”.
Mack declined, stating that he “wasn’t in good shape”, adding that he was no longer able to stand while playing and that the shape of the Flying V precluded him from playing it while sitting (Wikipedia)
Lonnie Mack died of natural causes on Thursday April 21, 2016 at a medical facility near his home in Smithville, Tennessee. He was 74.
He has left a terrific musical legacy, and has part of that legacy lays in the impressive list of guitarists he has had a major influence on not the least being Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ron Wood and Keith Richards, just to name a few.
So, to this album – Memphis Wham!
It comprises all eleven tracks from Lonnie’s first album, the 1964 The Wham of that Memphis Man and although the track order on this album has been altered from that original album, they do comprise the first eleven tracks.
What the compilers of this album did in releasing this album in July of 1999, was to add 11 more tracks of 1963-1967 vintage from both rare singles and previously unreleased outtakes.
Now often this is done with what amounts to garbage at the worst, and fillers at the best – but this is all good stuff, sometimes brilliant stuff, that is often equal to the material on the original release.
That’s saying something!
|2||Where There’s A Will|
|4||I’ll Keep You Happy|
|6||Baby, What’s Wrong|
|7||Down And Out|
|11||Down In The Dumps|
|12||Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu|
|15||Oh, I Apologize|
|16||Say Something Nice To Me|
|17||From Me To You|
|18||Turn On Your Love Light|
|20||Farther On Up The Road|
|21||Cry, Cry, Cry|
|22||Save Your Money|
|23||Tension (Part 1)|
The personnel on that initial album that comprised of tracks 1 to 11, were:
- Lonnie Mack – guitar, vocals
- Wayne Bullock – bass, keyboards
- David Byrd – keyboards
- Truman Fields – keyboards
- Ron Grayson – drums
- Don Henry – sax
- Marv Lieberman – sax
- Irv Russotto – sax
- Bill Jones – bass
It’s probably not a surprise that the compilers of this album promoted Memphis to track 1.
There is just so much to be said of this track. So if you just want the abridged story, it’s simple. It is a pulse driven, amazing electro-blues instrumental, that has strong elements of Chuck Berry’s Memphis Tennessee, but is a very strong and unique adaption.
The longer story goes like this. The track had its genesis in March of 1963 when Mack was actually in a recording session backing the group, The Charmaines.
It appears that Mack and his band were offered the remaining twenty minutes that were left of the rental time that had been paid for in regard to The Charmaines recording session.
Now Lonnie was taken by Chuck Berries 1959 vocal/guitar track Memphis, Tennessee. Never imagining for a moment what he recorded would be released, he and the muso’s he was with jumped into a version of Memphis Tennessee that Mack had been adapting.
This was particularly around the improvised the guitar solo he had developed when ever since his keyboardist, who usually sang the tune, missed a club date a few years earlier and he was forced to modify what they were playing.
His instrumental version turned out to be a crowd pleaser and he quickly adopted into his his live act.
Mack called it “Memphis“.
As recorded in 1963, “Memphis” featured a then-unique combination of several key elements, including seven distinct sections and an unusually fast twelve-bar blues solo, all set to a rock beat.
An extended guitar solo exploiting the entire range of the instrument rings in the climax of the song in the fifth section. Lonnie Mack begins this portion by quoting several measures of the riff one octave higher than before.
From there, he breaks into his choicest licks, including double-picking and pulling-off techniques — all with driving, complicated rhythms and technical precision”.[Wikipedia]
Now it was some 6 months later when “Memphis” was first broadcast and in fact Lonnie had totally forgotten that impromptu recording session recording session. He was on a national tour when he was informed that it had been released and was racing up the charts.
By late June, Memphis had risen to No. 4 on Billboard’s R&B chart and No. 5 on Billboard’s pop chart.
The second track I’m looking at is a vocal, and it is in fact track 2. Where There’s A Will There’s A Way.
It is credited to a L.Williams, and no I don’t think it is “the” Larry Williams of Bonnie Moronie and Dizzy Miss Lizzy fame! There seems to be no information on this L. Williams anywhere. What we do know is the track was released in 1959 by the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and it appeared on their The Original Blind Boys album.
But this is in some ways unimportant. The track was their 3rd single on the Fraternity label and when you listen to the Blind Boys version, we conclude that Lonnie has kept pretty faithfully to that original arrangement.
Now particularly in these early days Lonnie Mack did very, very few vocals, and it’s hard to understand why.
He has a very good voice and he sings this gospel track with great passion and feeling. During my research on the track I discovered that Lonnie is reputed as saying of it, that “It came closer to hitting for me than any other vocal I cut“.
So why didn’t it? In my opinion it should have been a hit on the R&B charts at least.
Well it was a case of reverse discrimination because at the time, there was the commencement of the very political – “I’m Black and I’m Proud” movement.
Black focussed stations just wouldn’t play it! In fact there was a classic story of a black station in Birmingham Alabama that was playing the track on very high rotation, and were begging Lonnie to come in and talk to the track.
Eventually he made it to the station, introduced himself only to be told, “Baby, you are the wrong colour“! All other black stations playing it stopped immediately the word got around.
Sadly, the white stations thought he was a black artist and wouldn’t touch it either!
then in the ultimate irony, when some did play the single, they chose the B-side, a Jimmy Reed track – Baby What’s Wrong!
Where’s There’s A Will There’s A Way.
It is absolutely impossible to go past track 3 – Wham!
While it didn’t chart like the later Memphis, it is notable for so many reasons. Not the least, from a guitarist point of view, was the use by Lonnie of the groundbreaking use of the Bigsby tremolo arm that he appended to his trademark Flying V guitar.
Because of his use of it on the album, the Bigsby tremolo bar was unofficially dubbed the “Whammy bar” by a generation of guitarists.
According to Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Nobody can play with a whammy-bar like Lonnie. He holds it while he plays and the sound sends chills up your spine“.
The track may have only reached number 24 on the charts but it really was a powerhouse manic assault on which he fed the notes he played through a Leslie speaker, then into his Magnatone amp.
Really what we hear hear is quite frantic, somewhat distorted, but in a fabulous way as the Leslie contributes to the “fluttery” sound.
This IS the Lonnie Mack sound and became as synonymous to him as the “twang” did to Duane Eddy.
Maybe the final track I’ll look at before digging into the previously unreleased material, is track 6 – Baby What’s Wrong.
As mentioned earlier this is a Jimmy Reed song and another great vocal track, but unlike Where There’s A Will There’s A Way, Lonnie did not keep to the original down-tempo blues beat.
He fired up the tempo, and fired up himself and he belts out a real rockin’ R&B cross-over. The track actually nudged into the Top 100 in November of 1963 – but that British Music Invasion was pushing it and everything out of its way.
Baby What’s Wrong
But wait! There’s more from this 1963 period!
this next track, number 10 – Why, is utterly superb!
The track written by Lonnie Mack and is just a titanically soulful track. There are few white singers that can evoke the emotions that he does with this track, and in so many ways it reminds me of the great Solomon Burke.
It is a gut-wailing screaming style with brilliantly controlled power, that is also incredibly tender.
It has us asking indeed, “WHY”? was this never released as a single?
Unless you have this album you are unlikely to have heard this track. Do yourself a mega and click the play button right now.
This is superb playing and ultra-superb singing!
When we get to track number 12 we are into the additional, and previously unreleased or rare material.
I really like all the material Lonnie presented to us from the 1963 period as represented by tracks 1 to 11, but there is still so much good material to come.
Track 13 is Gee Baby and what a homage to the fat horn-driven sound of New Orleans.
Track 14 is a mighty fine instrumental called Chicken Pickin‘ and it is followed by Oh, I Apologize, which is a cover of an obscure Barrett Strong track. It is white soul singing on par with Mack’s best vocal effort.
Track 16 was actually from the period 1964, with Say Something being another of Mack’s great “church-style” of singing.
The following track is a rare one indeed when the “Wham Man” hits on a Beatles track – From Me To You and turns it into an instrumental. In some ways this track is not as essential as most on the album – but hey, it’s different.
Turn On Your Love Light is a classic no matter who does it, and this version by Lonnie is turbo-charged.
The track is engineered, like others on the CD, in a stereo mix that has all instruments other than Lonnie on the right channel, and just Lonnie on the left. So I mixed one channel down for a section of the track so you can hear his playing well above the other instruments.
Turn On Your Love Light
OK, for Lonnie Mack aficionado’s, track 20 will have you confused.
Given this track is supposed to never have been released before, well . . . I guess it hasn’t, but yet it has!
You see on the “Wham” album Lonnie does Farther On Down The Road.
Now for all intents and purposes this is the identical track accept the name has been changed to Farther On Up the Road – which is what he sings and is in fact the correct title as written by Robey and Vassey and recorded first by Bobby Bland in 1957.
Confused? Maybe bemused is more like it.
Personally I think he got it wrong on the “Wham” Album, but why he recorded it like that is beyond me.
However, here is the “better” version as provided on this CD for you to check out.
Further On Up The Road
The following track is another Bobby Bland track, Cry, Cry, Cry and even though it is an instrumental, it also beggars belief that it was never released as a single.
With a full horn backing the track it is played as a blues track and the tempo is not far off the Bland version, and it sure showcases Lonnie Mack’s ability to play blues.
Cry Cry Cry
Track 22 is Save Your Money and was recorded in 1967.
Yet never made it onto his second, 1969, album – Glad I’m In The Band, and I am very confused why not and why it also was never released as a single.
It is in fact more a “white soul” track, but that doesn’t detract from the great playing and singing. It was written by Lonnie and just shows the depth of talent of this man.
Incidentally this track is in mono, as this is how it was recorded.
Save Your Money
The final two tracks, Tension Parts 1 & 2 were in fact on a single released in 1966 and finish off a fantastic CD with classic Lonnie Mack playing.
It was a shame that took this man’s death to remind me what a brilliant player he was, that he had a damn fine voice and was no slouch as a composer.
I guess while I have known of him since the early 1960’s, his brilliance had slipped past me as time slipped past.
He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2005 and it is sad that he was never inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame while alive, especially in light of some of the dubious inductions of recent years.
We can only hope that his death has reminded those on whose shoulders it falls to promote his name as a worthy recipient, to do so and, soon!
Lonnie Mack is an absolute and utter MUST for anyone who enjoys guitar based music. Also for for any collector of music from the early 1960’s, as well as for anyone who just loves great blues, R&B, soul and rock ‘n’ roll.
Why, this album!
Memphis Wham! has got his best work ever released, along with a swag of great previously unreleased material.
I’m sure there is someone going through the vaults now looking for other unreleased material – but while they find it, this one sits waiting for you to buy it.
It is available on both Ebay and Amazon for between $23 to $30 plus postage.
Unfortunately, and sadly, there appear to be no live performances recorded of Lonnie playing in his early years of the 1960’s. In fact almost all the videos of him performing are shot in the mid 1980’s and even then, there are so few. Here are a few, of the few!
Wham – Lonnie and Stevie Ray Vaughn
Too Rock For Country, Too Country For Rock And Roll
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One
#170. Chain – Two Of A Kind
#171. Bob Marley – Legend
#176. B.B. King – The Best Of
#180. Flowers – Icehouse
#181. Joe Tex – The Best Of