LONNIE MACK-SA-BA HOOLA! TWO SIDES OF LONNIE MACK.
Lonnie Mack-Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack.
Label: Ace Records.
On the ‘8th’ of June 1963 Lonnie Mack’s instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s Memphis entered the US Billboard 100 and eventually reached number five and four on the US R&B chart during the thirteen weeks it spent on the charts. This was the twenty-two year old guitarist’s first hit single.
By then, he was already an experienced musician and had been making a living as a musician since he was thirteen. That was when Lonnie Macintosh quit school after getting involved in an argument with a teacher. However, this allowed him to follow his dream and make a career out of music.
That’s what Lonnie Macintosh went on to do. He recorded thirteen albums during a career a career that spanned six decades. By then, Lonnie Mack was being hailed a musical pioneer who had changed music. However, when he embarked upon a musical career aged thirteen this must have seemed a pipe dream to his parents, Robert and Sarah Sizemore McIntosh.
They were living in West Harrison, Indiana when the future Lonnie Mack was born on July ‘18th’ 1941. He grew up in a series of farms along the Ohio River. However, by the time he was seven, he had already developed an interest in music. The young Lonnie Macintosh swapped his bicycle for an acoustic guitar. It would soon prove to a wise move.
It was Lonnie Macintosh’s mother that showed him a few rudimentary chords on his new guitar. After this he practised long and hard, in an attempt to master the guitar. Then when his finders were sore with practising he would listen to The Grand Ole Opry on a battered old radio. It was powered by a truck battery as there was no electricity in the McIntosh house. Listening to the stars of The Grand Ole Opry made him all the more determined to master his guitar.
Before long, Lonnie Macintosh had mastered the acoustic guitar, and would sit outside the family home and playing country music. Passers-by would throw him spare change. Soon, he was braving the nearby hobo jungle where he would play for spare change. Little did he know, that he was serving what was akin to the first part of his musical apprenticeship.
Lonnie Macintosh’s musical apprenticeship ended somewhat suddenly, when he was thirteen. He got involved in an argument with one of his teachers. When he came off second best he vowed never to return. He was as good as his word, and that proved to be the end of his formal education. The next chapter in his life began when he decided to embark upon a career as a musician.
There was a problem though. Lonnie Macintosh was only thirteen, and too young to play in Cincinnati’s bars and roadhouses. Luckily, he looked older, and with the help of a fake ID, he was able to play in Cincinnati’s bars and roadhouses. They were a tough and uncompromising audience, but this never phased him. Nothing seemed to.
Not even the thought of forming his own band or making an appearance on television. This came after he heard Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. This inspired him to form his own rockabilly trio. They were invited to appear on a local television show, and covered Blue Suede Shoes. For fifteen year old, Lonnie Macintosh this was his first, but wouldn’t be his last television appearance. Not long after this, he played on his first recording session.
This came when Lonnie Macintosh played on a session by Al Dexter. He was recording Pistol Packin’ Mama. Later, he played on two single by his cousins Aubrey Holt and Harley Gabbard. Already, it seemed, he was comfortable within the environs of a recording studio. However, before long, he would make a change to his sound.
Up until then, Lonnie Macintosh’s musical weapon of choice had been a Gibson Kalamazoo. However, in 1958 he decided to buy a Gibson Flying V. This was an expensive and desirable guitar. He knew this and was willing to pay $300 to order the new guitar. Maybe he secretly knew it would be a musical investment? Especially when he a few years later he added what would be the final piece of the musical jigsaw. Then his trademark sound would be complete.
In 1960, Lonnie Macintosh heard Robert Ward play and realised what was missing from his sound..,a tube driven amplifier. This was what gave Robert Ward’s guitar the rich vibrato sound.
When he asked about the amplifier, Robert Ward explained it was a tube driven Magnatone 460 amplifier. However, it had been modified, and included an inbuilt electronic vibrato. Instantly, Lonnie Macintosh knew that this amplifier could transform his guitar sound. He went out and bought one of the amplifiers, and his trademark sound was complete.
With the new amplifier Lonnie Macintosh showcased his new sound. This involved fitting the thickest strings available to his guitar. However, the Magnatone 460 amplifier was crucial to what he called a “watery” sound. Later, he added a Magnatone 440 amplifier, and ran it through a Fender Twin guitar amplifier. Gradually, he began to experiment and changed amplifiers to suit venues. At one point, he used an organ amplifier which resulted in what he described as a “rotating, fluttery sound.” That was still to come.
Having spent several years playing in clubs and roadhouses all over Ohio, one night in the early sixties the band were booked to play at the Twilight Inn. As they took to the stage, the owner Frog Childs christened the band. After that, they became known as Lonnie Mack and The Twiliters.
All the years touring was part of Lonnie Mack’s musical apprenticeship. This stood him in good stead when he bang working as a session musician at Fraternity Records, based in Cincinnati, Ohio
After working at Fraternity Records for a few years, Lonnie Mack’s solo career began on the ‘12th’ March 1963. The sessions took place at King Records’ studio, where he and his band were backing The Charmaines who were also signed to Fraternity Records.
At the end of the sessions, there was just enough time for Lonnie Mack and his band to lay down an instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s Memphis.The with literally minutes to spare. They also recorded one of the guitarist’s own composition Down, In The Dumps. When producer Carl Edmondson heard the recordings he thought they had potential.
Carl Edmondson went to see Harry Carlson, who owned Fraternity Records. Harry Carlson agreed, and decided to release Memphis as a single with Dow In The Dumps on the B-Side.
By the time Memphis was released, Lonnie Mack was out on tour working with the Troy Seals Band. The two men had met in the late-fifties and since then, Troy Seals had been a member of Lonnie Mack’s band. However, this time the roles were reversed.
When news came through that Memphis reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and four on the US R&B chart it was a cause for celebration.
The release of instrumental version of Memphis saw Lonnie Mack hailed a musical pioneer by critics. The electric guitar took centre-stage on his cover of Memphis. Breathtaking and blistering solos were played with speed, accuracy and aggression. Other guitarists could only look on enviously. It was obvious to them that Memphis was a gamechanger.
Meanwhile, Lonnie Mack’s thoughts had turned to the followup to Memphis. He decided to record one of his own compositions, Wham. On the B-Side, he added a cover of Dale Hawkins, Stanley Lewis and Eleanor Broadwater’s Suzy-Q. Everyone thought that Wham would repeat the success of Memphis.
However, when Wham was released single stalled at twenty-four on the US R&B charts. That was despite featuring another series of breathtaking performances and scorching solos from Lonnie Mack who must have felt like he had been short-changed as the single ran out of steam.
Meanwhile, his rivals were awestruck as he drew inspiration from the blues and R&B to create his own unique blues-rock sound. It influenced everyone from Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck to Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan and even Ted Nugent and Bootsy Collins. However, in 1963, Lonnie Mack was thinking no further than his next single.
The song chosen, was Jimmy Reed’s Baby, What’s Wrong. On the flip-side, was Lou William’s Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way). On its release later in 1963, the single entered the US Billboard 100 and usually, this would’ve been a cause for celebration. However, not this time as the single stalled at a lowly ninety-three on the US Billboard 100.
For Lonnie Mack, this was a bitter blow. It had been downhill since the release of his debut single. Despite this, Fraternity Records’ owner Harry Carlson agreed to release Lonnie’s debut album The Wham Of That Memphis Man! in October 1963.
In many ways, Harry Carlson had little to lose. The Wham Of That Memphis Man! featured Lonnie Mack’s first three singles and their B-Sides. These six songs were joined by a mixture of new songs and cover versions.
Lonnie Mack wrote two new songs, the ironically titled Down and Out and Why. They were joined by covers versions of Hank Ballard’s I’ll Keep You Happy, Martha Carson’s Satisfied and Charlie Fizer, Eddie Lewis and Walter Ward’s The Bounce.
These songs were recorded at King Records’ studio and produced by Carl Edmondson. The band featured a rhythm section of drummer Ron Grayson and bassist Wayne Bullock. Pianist Fred Stemmerding was joined by a horn section of Irv Russotto, Marv Lieberman and tenor saxophonist Donald Henry, who also added maracas. He and the rest of the band provide the backdrop for Lonnie Mack who unleashed a series of breathtaking, virtuoso performances.
Once the tracks were recorded, Fraternity Records began work on promoting Lonnie Mack’s debut album. His career had stalled and badly needed a boost.
When The Wham Of That Memphis Man! was released in October 1963, and was hailed a groundbreaking album. Critics admitted that they had never heard an album like this. Lonnie Mack and his band had reached new heights and it looked like the album would kickstart his career.
Despite the undeniable quality of The Wham Of That Memphis Man!, the album reached just 103 in the US Billboard 200 when it was released in October 1963. Those that bought a copy of The Wham Of That Memphis Man! heard a musical pioneer who changed the future direction of music.
Five of the tracks from that groundbreaking album feature on a new Lonnie Mack compilation that was recently released by Ace Records, Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack. The first side features seven instrumentals, while the second side features seven slices of blue eyed soul.
The five tracks from The Wham Of That Memphis Man! include Memphis; Wham and its B-Side Suzie Q; the blue-eyed soul tracks Baby, What’s Wrong and Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way) which was on the flip side. These are just five of the fourteen tracks on Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack.
In February 1964, Lonnie On The Move was released as a single. Several takes of this instrumental track were recorded including Take 2, which originally made its debut on the Ace Records compilation Still On The Move-The Fraternity Years 1963-68 when it was released in 1999. However, when the single was released it failed to trouble the charts and the search for a hit single continued.
Just two months later, I’ve Had It was released as a single in April 1964. This was one of Lonnie Mack’s blue eyed soul singles and it was hoped that this change of style would result in a change of fortune. Sadly the single failed commercially.
Lonnie Mack released two more singles during 1964. The first was the instrumental Sa-Ba-Hoola which was released in July 1964 and is regarded as one of the finest tracks that he recorded for Fraternity during his early years with the label. It’s so good that it’s lent its name to the new Ace Records’ compilation
When Don’t Make My Baby Blue was released in October 1964 Lonnie Mack’s latest single failed to trouble the charts. This brought to an end a disappointing year for the twenty-three year old guitarist who was still trying to replicate the success of his debut single Memphis.
Having released Crying Over You in March 1965, another six months passed before Lonnie Mack returned with Honky Tonk ’65 in September. It’s another instrumental that showcased the virtuoso guitarist’s breathtaking skills and is a welcome addition to the new compilation. Despite the quality of the track the single wasn’t a commercial success. Staff at Fraternity Records wondered why?
The problem was music that music had changed since the release of Memphis in 1963. In America, the British Invasion had arrived in 1964 and the psychedelic revolution was about to begin. Music had changed a lot since Lonnie Mack enjoyed a hit with Memphis in June 1963.
The search for a hit continued into 1966 and Tension (Part 1) was one of the singles that Lonnie Mack released. It was another instrumental which showcased the spellbinding skills of a musician who would go on to inspire several generations of musicians.
During 1967, Lonnie Mack released two singles. The first was a cover of I Left My Heart In San Francisco which featured the instrumental Omaha on the B-Side. Despite releasing a cover of a familiar song, it failed commercially and so did the followup
Save Your Money which was a slice of blue eyed soul released in May 1967. For Lonnie Mack, his time at Fraternity Records was almost over.
He left the label in 1968 having never replicated the success of his 1963 debut single Memphis. By then, he had recorded more music than the label would ever release.
This includes two more examples of blue eyed soul. The first is Oh, I Apologize which originally featured on the Lonnie Mack compilation Memphis Wham! which was released by Ace in 1999. Then there’s No More Pain that featured on From Nashville To Memphis which was a Lonnie Mack compilation released by Ace in 2001. Both return for an encore on Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack and are welcome additions to this lovingly curated compilation that pay homage to a musical pioneer.
When Lonnie Mack released Memphis in 1963 suddenly, the electric guitar was playing a starring role in a track. It was no longer just playing a supporting role. Nobody had tried this before he released Memphis and Wham as singles. They were gamechangers which would influence several generations of musicians.
Everyone from Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck to Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ted Nugent were inspired by Lonnie Mack and owe him a debt of gratitude.
Without Lonnie Mack, the musical landscape would be very different. Many musical historian credit him for laying the foundations for Southern Rock. Lonnie Mack was also a pioneer of blues rock, but was equally comfortable playing rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly and singing soul. Indeed, Lonnie Mack is regarded as one of the greatest blue eyed soul singers in musical history. He shows his considerable skills as a vocalist and guitarist on the Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack.
It’s a reminder of a multitalented and versatile musician whose recording career began in 1963 and continued until 1990. During that period, Lonnie Mack released thirteen solo albums. Sadly, in 1990, he called time on his recording career.
That wasn’t the end of Lonnie Mack’s career. He continued to play live up until the early years of the new millennia.
Sadly, on April the ‘21st’ 2016, Lonnie Mack passed away in Smithville, Tennessee. Lonnie Mack was only seventy-five. That day, music lost a true pioneer, whose had a huge influence in modern music. Even today, he continues to influence a new generation of guitarists and the fourteen tracks on Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack is a fitting reminder of a truly versatile and talented musician who is sadly missed but will always be remembered as a musical pioneer who changed music forevermore.
Lonnie Mack-Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack.
- Posted in: Blues ♦ Country ♦ Country Rock ♦ Rock ♦ Rockabilly ♦ Southern Rock
- Tagged: Ace Records, Fraternity Records, Lonnie Macintosh, Lonnie Mack, Memphis, Sa-Ba Hola! Two Sides Of Lonnie Mack, The Wham Of That Memphis Man, Wham
Thanks for the detailed account of Lonnie’s early years. I saw ho
I saw him twice in the early mid 80’s primarily the first time due to a Stevie Ray interview in some music rag. Great live performer with a fabulous tone and that signature warbely sound.
His best later career session is Strike Like Lightning which has some really inspired rock blues put out by the great Chicago Blues Label Alligator records. Stevie Ray Produced, wrote, and played on 1/2 the tracks and Lonnie and he really delivered. Highlights include Oreo Cookie Blues, Strike Like Lightning, HoundDog Bles, and Satisfy Susie anchored by bass legend Tim Drummond, Lonnie’s wonderful blues soul voice, and a crack band. Stevie sounds enthusiastic and inspired. Great party record!
He also was a good bass player and subbed in some Doors sessions.
Great write up on Lonnie Mack! I didn’t know his history, very interesting. He sure paid his dues and perfected his craft! Was lucky to see him twice in 1985 opening for Stevie Ray Vaughan. Then saw him one more time in 1986 open for Roy Buchanon and Dickie Betts.