Lonnie Mack

Lonnie Mack
Lonnie Mack in Rising Sun, Indiana, 2003.
Background information
Birth name Lonnie McIntosh
Born (1941-07-18) July 18, 1941
Dearborn County, Indiana, United States
Genres Blues rock, blues, country, southern rock, rockabilly, blue-eyed soul, bluegrass, gospel
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, Electric guitar, Acoustic guitar, Bass Guitar
Years active 1954–2010
Labels Alligator, Elektra, Fraternity, Capitol, Flying V Records, Jewel, King, Ace, Epic, Sage Records, Dobbs Records
Website .com.lonniemackwww
Notable instruments
1958 Gibson Flying V guitar

Lonnie McIntosh (born July 18, 1941), known by his stage name, Lonnie Mack, is an American rock, blues, and country guitarist and vocalist.

Mack was born in Dearborn County, Indiana. In the early 1960s, he was a key figure in transforming the role of the electric guitar to that of a lead voice in rock music.[1][2] Best known for his 1963 instrumental, "Memphis", he has been called "a pioneer in rock guitar soloing"[3] and a "ground-breaker" in lead guitar virtuosity.[4]

In 1963 and early 1964, he recorded a succession of full-length electric guitar instrumentals which combined blues stylism with fast-picking country techniques and a rock beat. These recordings are said to have formed the leading edge of the "blues rock" lead guitar genre.[5] In 1979, music historian Richard T. Pinnell called 1963's "Memphis" a "milestone of early rock guitar".[6] In 1980, the editors of Guitar World magazine ranked "Memphis" first among rock's top five "landmark" guitar recordings, ahead of recordings by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield.[7] Reportedly, the pitch-bending tremolo arm commonly found on electric guitars became known by the term "whammy bar" in recognition of Mack's aggressive manipulation of the device in 1963's "Wham!".[8]

Mack brought a strong gospel sensibility to his vocals, and is considered one of the finer "blue-eyed soul" singers of his era. Crediting both Mack's vocals and his guitar solos, music critic Jimmy Guterman ranked Mack's first album, The Wham of that Memphis Man!, No. 16 in his book The 100 Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time.[9]

Mack released several singles in the 1950s and 1960s. Between 1963 and 1990, he released thirteen original albums spanning a variety of genres. He enjoyed his greatest recognition as a blues-rock singer-guitarist, with especially productive periods during the 1960s and the latter half of the 1980s. Mack switched musical genres and slowed or idled his career as a rock artist for lengthy periods,[10][11] due to an aversion to notoriety,[12] disenchantment with the music business[13] and a preference for the simpler, less public, country lifestyle of his youth.[14]


  • Career 1
    • Childhood and early influences 1.1
    • Early career 1.2
    • Mack's guitar 1.3
    • "Memphis", "Wham!", and the birth of blues-rock guitar 1.4
    • Mack's influence on other guitarists 1.5
    • "Blue-eyed soul" ballads 1.6
    • The Wham of that Memphis Man! 1.7
    • Historical significance of Mack's guitar solos 1.8
    • Transition period 1.9
    • Rediscovery 1.10
    • Elektra years 1.11
    • Country years 1.12
    • Blues-rock comeback 1.13
    • Late career 1.14
    • After 2000 1.15
  • Guitar style and technique 2
  • Discography 3
  • Career recognition and awards 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Lonnie Mack's music career began in the mid-1950s. It included historically significant recordings, critical and popular recognition, and periods of reclusion, rediscovery, and comeback. He never became a commercial superstar during his years as an active performer,[15][16][17] and last recorded in 1990. More recently, he has come to be regarded as an "unsung hero" of early rock guitar.[18]

In the early 1960s, Mack augmented the electric blues guitar genre with fast-picking techniques borrowed from traditional country and bluegrass styles, leading one early reviewer to puzzle over the "peculiar running quality" of Mack's bluesy solos.[19] These recordings prefigured the fast, flashy, blues-based lead guitar style which dominated rock by the late 1960s.[1][6][16][20]

By the 1980s, Mack was recognized as a pioneer of virtuoso rock guitar. According to Guitar World magazine, Mack's early solos influenced every major rock guitarist of the day, "from Clapton to Allman to Vaughan"[17] and "from Nugent to Bloomfield".[21]

Although better-known as a guitarist, Mack was a double-threat performer from the outset. A 1968 feature article in Rolling Stone magazine rated Mack a better gospel singer than Elvis Presley,[19] who earned all of his Grammys as a gospel singer.[22] Several of his vocals remain notable for their gospel-like fervor.[19][23]

Mack's recordings drew on rural and urban blues, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, vintage R&B, soul, and gospel styles. Attempts to classify Mack's music proved challenging,[11][24][25][26] but the common thread throughout Mack's best-known music is a unique mix of black and white musical roots, later dubbed "roadhouse rock".[25][26][27] Writing for Rolling Stone, Alec Dubro summarized: "Lonnie can be put into that 'Elvis Presley-Roy Orbison-Early Rock' bag, but mostly for convenience. In total sound and execution, he was an innovator."[28]

Mack's final commercial album as a featured artist, "Attack of the Killer V!", was recorded live in 1990. He performed regularly until 2004, and during the next few years appeared occasionally at special events.[20] On November 15, 2008, Mack played "Wham!" at a production of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoring Les Paul.[29] On June 5–6, 2010, he performed at a reunion concert with the surviving members of his early-1960s band.[30] In 2011, he released some informally-recorded compositions on his website, including the acoustic blues single "The Times Ain't Right".

Beyond his career as a solo artist, Mack recorded with The Doors, Stevie Ray Vaughan, James Brown, Freddie King, Joe Simon, Ronnie Hawkins, Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan, Dobie Gray and the sons of blues legend Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, among others.[31]

Mack's managers over the years have included Fraternity Records co-founder Harry Carlson, John Hovekamp[32] and James Webber,[33] formerly an executive with Elektra Records.[34]

Childhood and early influences

In 1941, Mack's family moved from southeastern Kentucky to southern Indiana, where he spent his childhood on a series of small subsistence farms.[35] Although Mack's childhood homes had no electricity, the family had a primitive battery-powered radio and were devotees of "The Grand Ole Opry" radio show. As a child, listening after the rest of the family had gone to bed, Mack became a fan of early R&B and black gospel music.[15][36]

He began playing at the age of 7, using an acoustic guitar he had traded for a bicycle.[37] While still a small child, he was playing guitar for tips at a hobo jungle near his home and outside of the Nieman Hotel in nearby Aurora, Indiana.[11] Mack has stated, "I started off in bluegrass, before there was rock and roll. My family was like a family band. We sang and harmonized, and Dad played banjo. We were playin' mostly gospel, bluegrass, and old-style country. We played a lot of that old-style Jimmie Rodgers (country singer) and Hank Williams kinda music."[15][38]

Mack's mother was his earliest country guitar and singing influence, and Ralph Trotto, an unrecorded blind gospel singer, was his earliest musical mentor.[39] Mack recalls that an uncle "showed me how you could take a Merle Travis sound on guitar and it was very similar to what a lot of the black guys were doing; they just made it a little funkier. It was pretty easy to come over to that once I figured it out."[40] In addition to country guitarist Travis, various sources have observed that Mack's playing shows influences of jazz guitarist Les Paul and blues guitarist T-Bone Walker.[41][42]

Mack has acknowledged R&B artists The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.[43][44] Mack recorded tunes by each of these artists. Mack's highest-charting single, 1963's "Memphis", was an instrumental improvisation grounded in the melody of a Chuck Berry tune, "Memphis, Tennessee".[41]

Early career

Mack dropped out of school at the age of 13 after a fight with a teacher.[45] Using a fake ID, he soon began performing in roadhouses in the Cincinnati area.[46]

As a teen-aged solo artist in the late 1950s, Mack recorded a cover of Al Dexter's 1944 western swing hit, "Pistol Packin' Mama" on the Esta label.[47][48] During the same period, Mack played lead guitar for his older cousins, Aubrey Holt and Harley Gabbard, on two recordings, The Stanley Brothers' "Too Late To Cry" and the cousins' own "Hey, Baby". These two singles were released in 1959 on the Sage label.[49] "Pistol-Packin' Mama" and "Too Late To Cry" have been out-of-print for decades. "Hey, Baby", a rockabilly tune with close-harmony bluegrass vocals, was reissued by the German label, Bear Family Records, in 2010[50] and is now available in the U.S.[51]

By the late 1950s, Mack had assembled a band of his own. They performed throughout Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, playing both rockabilly and, increasingly, R&B-tinged rock and roll. He began using the stage-name "Mack" and, for a time, called his band "The Twilighters", a reference to the Hamilton, Ohio club where they had had a steady engagement.[24]

Mack's guitar

In 1958 Mack bought the seventh Gibson Flying V guitar from that model's first-year production run.[52][53] Dubbing it "Number 7", Mack used this guitar almost exclusively during his career.[54] Mack, who is of Scottish and Native American ancestry[52] was attracted to the arrow-shaped instrument because of his ethnic heritage.[24] The 1958 Flying V model is now considered highly collectible, as less than 100 were shipped in that inaugural year. In 2010, Number 7 was featured in Star Guitars - 101 Guitars that Rocked the World.[55] In 2011, it was featured in The Guitar Collection, a $1,500 two-volume set which included a detailed essay and lush photo layout for each of the world's 150 most "elite" and "exceptional" guitars.[56] In 2012, Mack's guitar was included in Rolling Stone's list of "20 Iconic Guitars".[3]

"Memphis", "Wham!", and the birth of blues-rock guitar

In the early 1960s Mack and his band often worked as session players for Fraternity, a small record label in Cincinnati.[57] There, they played on a number of singles by local R&B artists, including Max Falcon, Beau Dollar and the Coins, Denzil Rice (who, as "Dumpy" Rice, went on to become the piano player in Mack's band), and Cincinnati's leading female R&B trio, The Charmaines.[58] Several of these recordings are found on compilation CDs entitled Lonnie Mack: From Nashville to Memphis (Ace, 2004) and Gigi and the Charmaines (Ace, 2006).

On March 12, 1963,[59] at the end of a recording session backing up The Charmaines, Mack and his band were offered the remaining twenty minutes of studio rental time.[41] Not expecting the tune to be released, Mack immediately recorded a rockabilly/blues guitar instrumental loosely based on the melody of Chuck Berry's 1959 UK vocal hit, "Memphis, Tennessee".[60] Mack had improvised the guitar solo in a live performance a few years earlier, when another member of the band (who usually sang the tune) missed a club date. Mack's instrumental version was well-received, so he adopted it as part of his live act. The tune featured a then-unique combination of several key elements. As recorded in 1963, it had seven distinct sections, with an unusually fast 12-bar blues solo. "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".[61]

By the time "Memphis" was first broadcast, in the spring of 1963, Mack had already forgotten the impromptu recording session and was engaged in a nationwide performing tour with singer-songwriter Troy Seals. A friend located him on tour and told him his tune was climbing the charts. In a 1977 interview, Mack recalled, "I was completely taken by surprise. I [hadn't] listened to the radio. I had no idea what was happening".[41][62] By late June "Memphis" had risen to No. 4 on Billboard's R&B chart and No. 5 on Billboard's pop chart.[41] Only the fourth rock guitar instrumental to penetrate Billboard's "Top 5",[63] it was the only top-20 single of Mack's career. According to music historian and guitar professor Richard T. Pinnell, Mack's fast-paced interpretation of blues stylism in "Memphis" was unique in the history of rock guitar soloing to that point, producing a tune that was both "rhythmically and melodically full of fire" and "one of the milestones of early rock and roll guitar".[6] The track sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[64]

Still in 1963, Mack released "Wham!", a gospel-inspired guitar instrumental, which reached No. 24 on Billboard's Pop chart in September.[60] He soon recorded [65] several more full-length rock guitar instrumentals, including his own composition,"Chicken Pickin'", and an instrumental version of Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q".[48][66] Mack used a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece on "Wham!" and several other tunes to achieve sound effects so distinctive for the time that guitarists began calling it the "whammy bar",[24] a term by which the Bigbsy and other vibrato bars are still known.

Although the term "blues-rock" had not yet come into common usage in 1963, "Memphis" came to be widely regarded as one of the earliest genuine hit recordings of the virtuoso blues-rock guitar genre.[67][68][69] "Wham!" soon followed.[48][70]

Mack's influence on other guitarists

Many prominent lead guitarists were strongly influenced by Mack during their formative years.[71][72] British rock and jazz guitarist Jeff Beck considers Mack a "major influence".[73] As a teenager, Stevie Ray Vaughan honed his guitar skills by playing along with "Wham!" so incessantly that his father finally destroyed the record. Vaughan, who said "Wham!" was "the first record I ever owned",[74] simply bought another copy and resumed his practice.[75] Vaughan considered Mack one of his "very big influences"[76] and said, "I got a lot of the fast things I do from Lonnie".[77] In 1987, Vaughan listed Mack first among the guitarists he listened to, both as a youngster, and as an adult.[78] At the peak of his career, in the mid-1980s, Vaughan covered "Wham!" and recorded "Scuttle-Buttin'" and "Rude Mood", both of which are said to have been inspired by Mack's "Chicken Pickin'".[79] Vaughan covered "Wham!" on his fifth studio album, The Sky Is Crying. In 1963, 17-year-old Duane Allman played along with his copy of "Memphis", stopping, starting, and slowing the turntable with his foot, until he had mastered the tune.[80] Western Swing guitarist Ray Benson, frontman for eight-time Grammy-winner Asleep at the Wheel, called Mack "my guitar hero".[81] Southern Rock guitarist Dickey Betts: "Lonnie is one of the greatest players I know of. He's always been a great influence on me".[82]

"Blue-eyed soul" ballads

While Mack's first recording successes were instrumentals, his roadhouse performances typically included both vocals and instrumentals, and in 1963 Mack recorded a number of tunes featuring his singing talents.[83] These early "blue-eyed soul" vocal recordings were critically acclaimed. In 1968, Rolling Stone said, "It is truly the voice of Lonnie Mack that sets him apart. [His] songs have a sincerity and intensity that's hard to find anywhere".[84] According to another review:

R&B radio stations throughout the South played Mack's gospel-inspired version of the soul ballad "Where There's a Will" in 1963; eventually, Mack was invited to give a live radio interview with a prominent R&B disc jockey in racially polarized Birmingham, Alabama. Mack recalls that when he appeared at the radio station, the DJ took one look at him and said, "Baby, you're the wrong color" and canceled the interview on the spot.[60][86]

After that, Mack recalls, there was a precipitous drop in the airplay time devoted to his vocal recordings on R&B radio stations.[87] Fraternity reacted by delaying release of one of Mack's signature soul ballads, "Why?" (recorded in 1963), as a single,[88] until 1968,[60] and then only as the "B" side of a rerelease of "Memphis".[48] "Why?" received scant notice and never charted, but was eventually recognized as a "lost masterpiece of rock 'n' roll".[89] In 2009, music critic Greil Marcus called "Why?" a "soul ballad so torturous, so classically structured, that it can uncover wounds of your own. Mack's scream at the end has never been matched. God help us if anyone ever tops it".[90] A popular local Minneapolis group, The Accents, had local hits with "Wherever There's A Will" (Garrett 4008) and "Why" (Garrett 4014). Both singles got substantial airplay locally and sold well throughout the state.

Despite the de facto ban of Mack's vocal recordings on R&B radio stations, his 1963 cover version of Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What's Wrong" became a modest crossover pop hit (Billboard Pop, No. 93),[48] particularly in the Midwest, Fraternity's traditional distribution market.[52]

During the 1970s, Mack recorded fewer blues and soul ballads, and more country and rockabilly vocals.[91] Mack's mature singing style, from the 1980s onward, has been variously described as a "country-esque blues voice"[92] and the "impassioned vocal style of a white Hoosier with a touch of Memphis soul".[93] Examples from the 1980s include a rendition of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday",[94] Mack's own soul ballad, "Stop", and a live, gospel-drenched version of Wilson Pickett's "I Found a Love".[95]

The Wham of that Memphis Man!

The Wham of That Memphis Man! album cover

During 1963, after the release of "Memphis" and "Wham!", Mack returned to the studio several times to cut additional recordings, including instrumentals, vocals and ensemble tunes.[96] In early 1964, Fraternity packaged several of these, along with his 1963 singles, into an album entitled The Wham of that Memphis Man![97]

Mack's guitar instrumentals were blues-based, but unusually rapid, seamless and precise.[60] His vocals were strongly influenced by Black gospel music. All the tunes were backed by bass guitar and drums, and many also featured keyboards and a Stax/Volt-style horn section. The Charmaines provided an R&B backup chorus on several cuts.[19] In The 100 Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, Jimmy Guterman ranked the album No. 16:

The Wham of that Memphis Man! was released within weeks of the beginning of the British Invasion. Competing with the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones was an obstacle encountered by many, but Mack faced an additional challenge: As observed by music critic John Morthland, "It was the era of satin pants and histrionic stage shows, and all the superior chops in the world couldn't hide the fact that chubby, country Mack probably had more in common with Kentucky truck drivers than he did with the new rock audience".[99] Mack slowly slipped back into relative obscurity until the late 1960s. The Wham of that Memphis Man! has been reissued at least ten times, most recently in 2008.[100][101][102][103][104][105] However, most of Mack's Fraternity recordings are not found on the album. Fraternity continued to release additional Mack singles during the 1960s, but never issued another album.[48][106] Many of his Fraternity sides, including some alternate takes of tunes released in the 1960s, were first released three or four decades after they were recorded, on a series of Mack compilation albums.[107][108][109]

Historical significance of Mack's guitar solos

In the early 1960s, Mack's extended guitar solos displayed exceptional levels of speed, dexterity and improvisational skill. In Skydog: The Duane Allman Story, guitarist Mike Johnstone recalled the impact of Mack's playing upon rock guitarists in 1963: "Now, at that time, there was a popular song on the radio called 'Memphis' - an instrumental by Lonnie Mack. It was the best guitar-playing I'd ever heard. All the guitar-players were [saying] 'How could anyone ever play that good? That's the new bar. That's how good you have to be now'".[110] Seventeen years later, in July 1980, the editors of Guitar World magazine ranked "Memphis" the premier "landmark" rock guitar recording to date, immediately ahead of full albums featuring blues-rock guitarists Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.[7]

Mack has been called a "guitar hero's guitar hero".[111] He had a significant impact on guitarists Jeff Beck,[73] Duane Allman,[80] Stevie Ray Vaughan,[112] Dickey Betts,[113] Neil Young,[114] and Ted Nugent,[115] among others, and profoundly influenced the evolution of rock guitar.[24][116][117]

Mack's own assessment is more modest. He views himself as a transitional figure: "I was a bridge-over between the standard country licks in early rock 'n' roll and the screamin' kinda stuff that came later."[38]

Transition period

In the mid-1960s, the public's musical tastes shifted radically due to the initial, "pop" phase of the "British Invasion". However, during the same period, the "folk music" movement in the US and the popularity of Black American musical forms in both the US and the UK expanded the appeal of classic rural and urban blues among young whites of the baby boom generation.

Soon, a handful of predominantly white blues bands rose to prominence, including John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the UK and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the US. During the mid-through-late 1960s, a new generation of electric blues guitarists emerged, including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, most of whom were, or soon became, frontmen for blues-based rock bands. The late 1960s witnessed the appearance of many such bands, most of which showcased the virtuosity of their lead guitarists. These included the enormously successful "power trios": Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. By that point, blues-rock was recognized as a distinct and powerful force within rock music on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1968, these developments led to the rediscovery of Mack's seminal blues-rock guitar recordings of the early 1960s.[118][119]

Still in the mid-1960s, Mack released a succession of new singles on Fraternity, but none charted, and Mack turned to R&B session work. At Cincinnati's premier record label, Syd Nathan's King Records, he played second guitar on a number of King-label recordings by blues singer-guitarist Freddie King, and lead guitar on some King-label recordings by "The Godfather of Soul", James Brown.[100] The uncredited guitar solo on Brown's 1967 instrumental, "Stone Fox", has been attributed to both Mack and Troy Seals.[120][121][122] During the same period, Mack found steady work as a session guitarist for John Richbourg's Soundstage 7 Productions in Nashville, backing soul singer Joe Simon and several other Richbourg R&B acts on Monument Records.[123] He also played lead guitar on several Fraternity recordings of Cincinnati blues singer Albert Washington.[124] Washington recordings attracted only modest attention at home, but one featuring Mack's guitar ("Turn On The Bright Lights"), reportedly stayed on the pop charts in Japan for several consecutive years[125] and all were later reissued in the UK.[126]


In 1968, with the blues-rock movement approaching full force, Mack entered into a multi-record deal with Los Angeles' Elektra Records, and relocated to the West Coast. A feature article in the November 1968 issue of Rolling Stone magazine rated Mack "in a class by himself" as a rock guitarist, and compared his R&B vocals favorably with Elvis Presley's best gospel efforts. Rolling Stone urged Elektra to reissue Mack's 5-year-old Fraternity album. Elektra soon obliged, reissuing The Wham of that Memphis Man!, with two additional 1964 tracks, under the title For Collectors Only. Rolling Stone's October 1970 review of For Collectors Only compared Mack's guitar work from the early 1960s to "the best of [Eric] Clapton".

The Wham of that Memphis Man!/For Collectors Only remains Mack's most significant early album. In his review of a 1987 reissue, Gregory Himes of The Washington Post wrote: "With so many roots-rock guitarists trying to imitate this same style, this album sounds surprisingly modern. Not many have done it this well, though."[127]

Elektra years

Mack recorded three new albums with Elektra, Glad I'm in the Band and Whatever's Right (both released in 1969) and The Hills of Indiana (1971).

In the aggregate, the three Elektra albums represented a stark departure from the strengths and stylistic formula represented by Mack's earlier work, previously touted by Rolling Stone. They were eclectic collections country and soul ballads, blues tunes, and updated versions of earlier recordings. In contrast to The Wham of that Memphis Man, both 1969 albums emphasized Mack's vocals and de-emphasized his guitar work. Only two instrumentals appear on these albums, a full-length blues guitar piece on Glad entitled "Mt. Healthy Blues", and a re-make of "Memphis".

Despite the shift in musical emphasis, Mack's output from this period was relatively well received by music critics. This, from a contemporary assessment of Glad:

Mack's taste and judgment are super-excellent. Every aspect of his guitar bears a direct relationship to the sound and meaning of the song. [H]is voice is strong without straining and of great range and personality. [I]f this isn't the best rock recording of the season, it's the solidest. – Rolling Stone, May 3, 1969, p. 28.

Representative of these two albums were two consecutive vocals on Whatever's Right. Mack sings

In addition to his solo dates during this period, he toured with Elektra label-mates The Doors.[128]

Upon completing the 1969 albums, Mack assumed a "Chet Atkins-Eric Clapton role at Elektra, doing studio dates, producing and A&R."[129] During this period, Mack played bass on two tunes included in The Doors' album "Morrison Hotel".[130] In his A&R role, Mack helped to recruit a number of country and blues artists from Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Elektra considered the launch of a new label to record them.[131] Mack tried to sign Carole King, but Elektra rejected her, on the grounds that they already had Judy Collins.[111] He also attempted to interest Elektra in gospel singer Dorothy Combs Morrison, formerly lead vocalist for the Edwin Hawkins Singers of "Oh Happy Day" fame. Mack had recorded Morrison singing a gospel-esque version of The Beatles' "Let It Be"; however, management's response was tabled pending negotiations for the label's sale to Warner Brothers,[132] allowing a competing label to grab the initiative and release Aretha Franklin's own gospel version. "That bummed me out"[111] Mack said, and he resigned his corporate job.[13]

By that point, Elektra had put together a musical whistle-stop touring group, including Mack, billed as "The Alabama State Troupers and Mount Zion Choir".[133] According to Elektra producer Russ Miller, Mack disappeared six days before the tour was to begin. Miller soon found Mack at a rustic farm in backwoods Kentucky, and urged him to join the tour. Mack refused, citing a nightmare during his last night in Los Angeles, in which he and his family had been pursued by Satan. He told Miller that when he awoke in a sweat, he found his Bible opened to a passage commanding him to "flee from Mount Zion". Miller returned to L.A. without Mack, stating later: "[Lonnie's] a real country boy. [T]hat was it for Lonnie".[134]

Country years

Mack's final Elektra album, The Hills of Indiana, was released in 1971. Foreshadowing the next phase of Mack's career, The Hills of Indiana completed Mack's shift of focus away from high-octane R&B and blues-rock, towards the pastoral, country end of the musical spectrum. The album sold poorly. His contract with Elektra fulfilled, and with the LA music scene in the rear-view mirror, Mack adopted the roles of low-profile country-rock recording artist, sideman, session-player and occasional roadhouse touring performer. His recordings during this period display only rare glimpses of guitar virtuosity. Over the next fourteen years, he slipped back into a state of relative anonymity.[135]

1970s-era record sales aside, Mack's affinity for country music was genuine. At the peak of his popularity as a blues-rocker, he was fond of organizing after-hours country jam sessions with like-minded rock performers. He recalls one such session in the '60s in which he and Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia.[136]

Years after leaving Los Angeles, Mack commented on his retreat from the rock 'n' roll spotlight before the age of 30: "Seems like every time I get close to really making it, to climbing to the top of the mountain, that's when I pull out. I just pull up and run".[12] The lyrics of several Mack tunes shed further light on the topic. According to two, he yearned for the anonymous, less complicated, country lifestyle of his youth.[137] In another, he equated the pursuit of "fortune and fame" with selling one's soul to Satan.[138] In yet another, he stated simply: "L.A. made me sick."[139]

In 1973, Mack teamed up with Rusty York on an all-acoustic bluegrass LP, Dueling Banjos (QCA No. 304). Unavailable for 35 years, Jewel Records re-issued it on CD in 2009 (JRC 920011). It contains 16 bluegrass standards in a dueling-banjos format, with guitar and fiddle. Mack played guitar on all 16 cuts and provided the sole vocal track (the gospel tune "I'll Fly Away") on this otherwise instrumental album.[140]

In 1974, Mack played lead guitar in Dobie Gray's band. Gray is best known for his hit tunes, "The 'In' Crowd" (later covered by The Ramsey Lewis Trio and others), "Drift Away" and "Loving Arms". Mack's guitar work from this period can be found on Gray's 1974 album Hey, Dixie. Mack wrote or co-wrote four tunes on the album, including the title track.[141] In March 1974, Mack performed as Gray's lead guitarist at the last broadcast of The Grand Ole Opry from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

In 1975, Mack was shot during an altercation with an off-duty police officer. His account of the incident is preserved in one of his better-known late-career tunes, "Cincinnati Jail".[142] According to the lyrics of that tune, the officer's unmarked car narrowly missed Mack while he was walking across a city street, whereupon Mack hit it on the fender, shouting "better slow it down!"; the officer stopped, emerged from his car, shot Mack "in the leg", then hauled him before a judge who threw him in jail. Mack recovered, but once again virtually disappeared from the music scene. For the next several years, he rarely performed in public, except at his "Friendship Music Park" in rural southern Indiana, where he showcased bluegrass and traditional country artists.[11]

In 1977, Mack signed with Capitol Records. There, he recorded Home at Last, an album of country ballads and bluegrass tunes. Also in 1977, Mack performed at a "Save the Whales" benefit concert in Japan.[143] In 1978, he recorded another Capitol LP, Lonnie Mack with Pismo. A somewhat faster-paced album, Pismo featured country, southern rock and rockabilly tunes. In 1979, Mack began working on an independent recording project with a friend, producer-songwriter Ed Labunski.[144] The intended result was a country-pop album ultimately entitled South.[145] However, Labunski died in an auto accident before the project was completed, and the album was shelved. Mack released demos from the project 20 years later. Labunski's death also derailed Mack's and Labunski's plans to produce then-unknown Texas blues-guitar prodigy Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was destined to play a key role in Mack's blues-rock comeback a few years later.[144]

Shortly after Labunski's death, Mack traveled to Canada for