Groundbreaking Guitarist Lonnie Mack Dead at 74
Lonnie Mack, the pioneering blues guitarist whose work helped expand and redefine his instrument's role in modern music, has died of natural causes at the age of 74.
Born in 1941, Mack was raised in Indiana, where he was bitten by the musical bug at an early age, picking up his first guitar at the age of 6. "I could hardly reach around the neck. My whole family plays. My brother is real good on guitar. We all played country western music," he told Hit Parader in 1968. "My brother had a country band. He had some Nashville musicians that went on to be something. Then Elvis and these guys came out and I switched over to rockabilly. Then I went to rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues or soul music."
That musical progression shaped the whole of Mack's career, starting with his 1963 instrumental hits "Memphis" and "Wham!" and continuing through a catalog that proved as rewarding as it was difficult to define. Unconcerned with fame and prone to irregular recording schedules, Mack never achieved the household name status he arguably deserved, but his impact reverberated through the work of countless artists whose fans absorbed his legacy whether or not they realized it.
Mack was particularly close with Stevie Ray Vaughan, who covered his work often and helped nurse him back to health with a benefit concert after Mack fell ill. Although he largely focused on live performance during the latter years of his career, he continued to remain active through the early years of the 21st century — a period that saw his work repeatedly honored through inductions into the International Guitar Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame, among others.
"You'd better love the guitar better than the women," Mack laughed when asked to offer advice for young guitarists. "Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of women, but my first love was always that guitar. If you love it that much, you'll spend a lot of time with it. If you spend a lot of time with it, you'll get what you want. A guitar is a lot like a woman — they both have their different moods."
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