Lonnie Mack‘s most famous recordings might be associated with Cincinnati’s other notable indie label from the roots rock era — Fraternity — but the hugely influential guitarist from Southeast Indiana also made a number of recordings at King Studios. Ace UK’s Lonnie Mack anthology CD From Nashville to Memphis includes a “Lonnie Mack Discography on Fraternity Records” (compiled by John Broven & Stuart Colman) whose contents reveal that all of Lonnie’s recording sessions between 1963 and 1965 (except for one session at RCA Nashville) took place at Cincinnati’s King Records. Lonnie would return to King in 1967 for one final Fraternity session that produced two songs — “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “Omaha” (a.k.a., “Down in the Dumps”).
Note: Click on each of the 3 images below to view in high resolution
Intrigued to learn from the discography above that (a) Gene Lawson – of Lawson Microphones fame – played drums on legendary recording “Memphis” and (b) Cincinnati tenor saxophonist Jimmy McGary played on a handful of tracks, including “Coastin’” and “Tonky Go Go.” Randy McNutt also notes in The Cincinnati Sound that Lonnie Mack recorded two of his seminal 1960s albums for Elektra at Jewel Recording Studios (in nearby Mt. Healthy, Ohio), founded by one-time King recording artist, Rusty York.
Ben Sandmel’s liner notes in Alligator’s reissue of 1963 album The Wham of That Memphis Man! point out that Lonnie Mack was working as a King session guitarist at the time of that album’s release. Lonnie Mack’s 1960s session work at King would involve James Brown [“Tell Me That You Love Me“], Hank Ballard (*), and Freddy King, with whom Mack recorded four songs at King’s final session for the label on September 14, 1966: “You’ve Got Me Licked“; “Double Eyed Whammy“; “Use What You’ve Got“; [click on each song title above] and today’s featured track, Girl From Kookamunga:
“Girl From Kookamunga” Freddy King 1966
Ruppli’s King recording sessionography notes that “Tell Me That You Love Me” — flip side of “Don’t Be a Drop Out” — was recorded live at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa, Florida on April 24, 1966. 2007’s release of James Brown: The Singles Volume 4: 1966-1967 by Hip-O Select identifies Lonnie Mack as the guitarist on this track (sure sounds like him), even though Ruppli’s detailed listing of musicians, strangely, fails to include him.
But wait! There’s another James Brown recording [thanks to a tip from Steve Paine] that features the classic Lonnie Mack sound — “Stone Fox” — a song that would serve as both a B-side and A-side, not to mention the final track, fittingly, on 1967’s James Brown Sings Raw Soul. Paine has interviewed Mack, who stated “in no uncertain terms” that he was the guitarist on this King recording by James Brown, who “specifically asked Mack to record this tune with Brown’s backing band”:
“Stone Fox” James Brown 1967
Zero to 180 is still trying, unsuccessfully, to find out which Hank Ballard recordings feature Mack’s guitar playing.* [see note at the very end]
Just three years after his final 1967 King recording session, Mack would return to Cincinnati’s (newly-renamed) “Starday-King” Studio to accompany Albert Washington and his band, you might recall, on at least eight songs that got released as three 45s on Rusty York‘s Jewel label, while the fourth 45 came out on Starday-King subsidiary label, DeLuxe, curiously enough..
What a pleasant surprise to learn that the Grammy Foundation produced a video clip in 2015 that features former King session musician and funk innovator Bootsy Collins reflecting on his experience “meeting his musical idol” Lonnie Mack:
Many of the obituaries for Lonnie Mack note that the Bigsby tremolo bar was unofficially dubbed the “Whammy” bar in recognition of Mack’s influential Top Five hit instrumental. Danny Sandrik‘s excellent tribute piece – “Blue-Eyed Soul and the Cincinnati Sound” – notes that Lonnie Mack, along with Beau Dollar, “was” the Cincinnati Sound and reveals that it was Chuck Sullivan, not Mack (as indicated in the discography above), who played the signature guitar lines on Beau’s classic version of “Soul Serenade.” Sullivan would also relate the details of that famous recording session of 7 February 1966 to Brian Powers in a special radio program James Brown Productions, Part One that aired on Cincinnati’s WVXU during 2018’s King Records 75th Anniversary Celebration.
- New York Times obituary — April 22, 2016 edition
- Washington Post obituary — April 25, 2016 edition
- Downbeat obituary — April, 2016 edition
- Rolling Stone obituary — April 23, 2016 edition
- Sydney Morning Herald‘s obitiuary (Australia) — May 15, 2016 edition
- Unsung Guitar Hero: Lonnie Mack — Gibson Guitars tribute from 2007
- WVXU’s “Lonnie Mack Special” — one-hour show originally aired July 16, 2011
Recorded at King – released in the Netherlands
Ditto – Japan – 1963
This used Gibson Lonnie Mack Signature Flying V can be yours for a mere $21,993.94.
* [On the issue of Hank Ballard, Zero to 180 received this email on 15 March 2019:
I am the author of the Wikipedia article on Mack and have just read your posts on him. Excellent archaeology! You mention being unable to find any proof that he had played on records of Hank Ballard. Although I could not use “original material” in the article, I did interview Mack several times. He specifically told me that he had never played on any Hank Ballard record. He told me that this misinformation was the result of a garbled interview in which Mack told the interviewer that Ballard was a singing influence. After that, the mistake took on a life of its own as it was repeated in numerous subsequent reports.