By Steve Newton
The music world is still in heavy mourning, trying to come to grips with the shocking news of Prince’s death today.
But the pop legend from Minneapolis wasn’t the only gifted artist to pass away on April 21, 2016. Alligator Records sent out a press release tonight relaying the sad news that guitar great Lonnie Mack has left us as well, dying of natural causes at the age of 74.
I first became aware of Mack when I received a promo copy from WEA Music of Canada of his 1985 Alligator album, Strike Like Lightning, which heavily featured one of my biggest guitar heroes at the time, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan had produced the album with Mack and played on half of its 10 tracks.
“I love working with Lonnie!,” wrote Vaughan on the album’s back-cover liner notes. “We really fire each other up. He’s always been a big idol of mine, and a big influence on my playing. A lot of people don’t realize how big an influence he is on rock guitarists in general.”
Long before I caught wind of Mack through Stevie Ray he’d influenced the likes of Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Keith Richards, and Jimmy Page with his instrumentals in the ’60s, including “Chicken Pickin'”, a remake of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”, and “Wham!”–the first record Stevie Ray ever owned.
Mack–who was heavily influenced by the likes of Merle Travis and T-Bone Walker–became known for playing a Gibson Flying V, which he equipped with a Bigsby tremlo bar. (After the release of “Wham!”, the tremelo bar became known worldwide as a “whammy bar”.)
“Nobody can play with a whammy-bar like Lonnie,” Vaughan said in a 1985 Guitar World interview. “He holds it while he plays and the sound sends chills up your spine.”
Mack is survived by five children and multitudes of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.