Talkin' Blues: Lonnie Mack and the Birth of Blues-Rock
The following content is related to the January 13 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.
Fifty years ago, during the short interlude between Elvis and the Beatles, there was a brief sighting of that rarest of species: the “instrumental hit record.” Riding on the coattails of surf music came a spate of non-vocal bestsellers in styles ranging from cool R&B (Booker T. & the MGs’ “Green Onions”) to funky piano jazz (Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”) to shuffle blues (Freddie King’s “Hide Away”). Joining them was a young guitar slinger from southern Indiana named Lonnie Mack, who in 1963 unexpectedly hit the charts with his instrumental cover of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis.” Pumping his Flying V through a grainy-toned Magnatone amp, he attacked the strings with fast, aggressive single-string phrasing and a seamless rhythm style that significantly raised the guitar virtuoso bar and foreshadowed the arena-sized tones of guitar heroes to come. Well before the term was coined, “Memphis” defined blues-rock.
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