Talkin' Blues: Lonnie Mack and the Birth of Blues-Rock
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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.