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The Wham Of That Memphis Man! (MP3), MP3 (£7.99)
Few albums have received the level of critical acclaim Lonnie Mack’s “The Wham Of That Memphis Man!” has enjoyed down the years. Despite never entering the US Top 100 it has been re-discovered and re-issued many times during its 52-year lifespan, kept alive by devoted admirers who loved the music and were driven to proselytise on its behalf. Just as remarkable is that the groundbreaking blend of black blues and gospel with white countrified rock’n’roll – when delivered with Lonnie’s distinctive guitar and voice – still retains the power to startle and generates the same spellbound admiration that greeted its original release on Cincinnati’s Fraternity label. The album not only refuses to die but has grown into a legend. Credited as one of the principal instigators of blue-eyed soul as well as the inspiration for southern rock, roadhouse bar-blues and the legion of blues-based guitar-slingers that plied their trade throughout the 60s, 70s and beyond, Lonnie Mack may not be a household name but he was one of the genuine giants of music.
“The Wham Of That Memphis Man!” was issued early in 1964 and climbed to #103 in the album charts. It came as a revelation to those who heard it, there having been nothing quite like it before. Lonnie’s road-seasoned crew – saxmen Irving Rusotto and Marvin Leiberman, pianist Fred Stemmerding, bassist Wayne Bullock and drummer Ron Grayson – provided a rock solid, bluesy, soulful canvas on which he could display his formidable instrumental skills. His performances were outstanding on every track – lightning-fast guitar runs punctuated with amazing string-bends and piercing staccato notes repeated like swift jabs to the stomach. His guitar sound was unique, with something of an organ-like character to the tone. The combined effect of his sound and the effortless virtuosity he displayed on ‘The Bounce’, ‘Down And Out’, ‘Susie-Q’ and ‘Down In The Dumps’ put most other instrumentalists in the shade.
His vocal recordings were equally impressive, with gospel screams and anguished yells adding passion and power throughout. His heart-stopping performance on his composition ‘Why’ was shattering – you can feel the hurt and desolation that courses through his body. By contrast his uplifting vocal on Martha Carson’s up-tempo ‘Satisfied’ swings sweetly and is cleverly transformed, with help from the Charmaines, from country to a joyful gospel meeting. The importance of the Charmaines – Gigi Jackson, Dee Watkins and Gigi’s sister Jerri – cannot be overstated. Their contributions to ‘Where There’s A Will’, ‘Why’, ‘Baby, What’s Wrong’ and the achingly soulful rendition of Hank Ballard’s ‘I’ll Keep You Happy’ are sublime. Even on Lonnie’s instrumental reading of the Olympics’ ‘The Bounce’, the track is much elevated by their presence. They are the perfect foil to Lonnie’s white, blue-eyed soul voice, their very blackness adding both depth and contrast – truly a union made in heaven.
Sadly Lonnie died from natural causes at the Centennial Medical Centre near his Smithville home on 21 April 2016 at the age of 74. He left five children as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This new repackaged edition of “The Wham Of That Memphis Man!” was planned before we heard of Lonnie’s death but it will stand as a fine memorial to the great man. There is no doubt the album will continue to delight his old fans and make fresh converts of anyone fortunate enough to be hearing it for the first time. There is no greater tribute we can pay than to say his music will live on.
Dave Burke & Alan Taylor