Lonnie Mack’s music is amongst the most direct and unadorned of the 1960s. His ballads are especially moving, and the instrumentals and his guitar solos are staggeringly fluid and self-assured.
Born Lonnie McIntosh on 18 July 1941, in West Harrison, Indiana, his mother taught him a few chords on an acoustic guitar when he was still a boy.
He dropped out of school in the sixth grade after fighting with a teacher and began playing professionally in local clubs, eventually changing his last name to Mack.
His smooth, smoky vocal style, with a slight rasp, was influenced by both the country star George Jones and the blues singer Bobby Bland. As a guitarist, he often cited the country musician Merle Travis as an early model, as well as the blues players T-Bone Walker and, later, Robert Ward.
A rave review of The Wham of That Memphis Man! in Rolling Stone magazine in 1968 led to bookings at the Fillmore East and West and a contract with Elektra, where he recorded three albums and played lead and bass guitar on the song Roadhouse Blues by The Doors.
After recording the Hills Of Indiana album in 1971, Mack was due to go on tour with Don Nix as part of the Alabama State Troupers And The Mount Zion Choir roadshow but disappeared six days before the tour began when, following nightmarish visions, he woke to find his Bible open at a passage that commanded him to “flee” from Mount Zion.
Convinced it was a sign, Mack literally took to the hills, returning only sporadically to work during the next decade.
In the early 1980s, after moving to Texas at the urging of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mack moved closer to the limelight, performing with Vaughan as a kind of Zen guitar master.
Alligator Records in Chicago approached him to record an album, Strike Like Lightning (1985), which led to a tour with rock legends Keith Richard, Ron Wood and Ry Cooder joining him onstage. It culminated in a guitar super-summit at Carnegie Hall, billed as ‘American Guitar Heroes’, in which Mack joined with Albert Collins and Roy Buchanan in a performance that was released as a video documentary, Further on Down the Road.
He recorded two more albums for Alligator, Second Sight (1986) and Lonnie Mack Live! Attack of the Killer V (1990). He was inducted into the Guitar Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2005.
Mack died on 21 April 2016 in Nashville. He was 74.