Born Warner MacPherson, 2 April 1935, Nashville, Tennessee
Warner Mack was one of the better singer-songwriters of the 1950s and 1960s. He had his greatest success as a country singer during the 1965-71 period. However, fans of 1950s music will probably remember him best for his first two releases, both from 1957. Mack wrote and recorded two classic songs of the rock and roll era : “Is It Wrong” and “Roc-A-Chicka”. His embrace of rock & roll was short-lived, though.
Unlike most country singers, Warner Mack was actually born in Nashville, the son of a minister. His family moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1942. He was a top-class sportsman in his youth, being offered scholarships for both football and baseball. However, his real ambition was to become a singer. Initially his idols were Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold, but when Elvis appeared on the scene, Warner started dreaming of a career as a rockabilly singer. Around January 1957 he cut five demos at the Delta Recording Studio in Jackson, Mississippi, including early versions of “Roc-A-Chicka” and “Is It Wrong”. When Decca A&R man Paul Cohen heard the demos, he immediately signed Warner to a contract. Four songs were recorded on February 24, 1957 (with the Nashville A-Team), which resulted in Warner’s first single release, “Is It Wrong”/“Baby Squeeze Me”. Decca also decided to cut his name (Warner McPherson) down to more marketable proportions. That’s how he became Warner Mack. “Is It Wrong” was a song he had already written at the age of thirteen. It started as a country hit, reaching # 9 and staying on the country charts for no less than 36 weeks. Then, in July 1957, it also entered the pop charts and peaked at # 61 on the Hot 100. Later, it was also a country hit for Webb Pierce (# 11, 1960) and for Sonny James (# 1, 1974). Mickey Gilley also did a good version.
The next single, “Roc-A-Chicka”, was aimed squarely at the teenage market and made # 74 on the Billboard pop charts, possibly proving something of a disappointment to Decca. Warner gained some extra songwriter’s royalties when the song was covered by Jim Lowe on Dot. Mack began to tour on the country circuit, but Decca saw his pop potential and pressed him to write more teen-oriented material, since country music sold poorly in the late 1950s. This resulted in some formulaic pop songs and Warner scored no further hits during his first tenure at Decca. He left the company in 1959, feeling that they were not promoting him as they could have done. There were releases on Scarlet (late 1959) and Top Rank (1960) before Mack returned to Decca and its associated label Kapp in 1961, this time as a straight country artist. By then his lyrics had become more grown up than the teen songs of a couple of years before.
Warner returned to the country charts in January 1964 with the ballad “Surely” (# 34). On November 29, 1964, he was involved in a major car accident, which left him hospi- talized for many days. The real impact of his injuries would not come for several years. The year 1965 was the beginning of his most successful period, with two major country hits : “Sittin’ In An All Nite Cafe” (# 4) and “The Bridge Washed Out” (# 1). Until 1973 Mack was a regular visitor of the country charts, with a total of eleven Top 10 hits (but no pop success). He was also successful as a songwriter, chalking up hits for Brenda Lee, Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard, Pat Boone and Charlie Louvin.
In 1972 Warner started to suffer seriously from the effects of the 1964 car wreck. His failing health caused another rift with Decca. After the company released him from his 20-year contract, Mack formed his own label (with the help of Nashville businessman Jim McLean), Pageboy Records, and his own publishing company, Pageboy Music, both in 1973. He didn’t record for his own label until 1977, after a stint with MCA. By the 1980s he was out of the mainstream of the business. He toured England in 1982 and 1984 and quit singing around 1992. Since 2010 he has lived in Smyrna, Tennessee, suffering from various illnesses and failing eyesight.
Official website (with biography) : http://www.warnermack.com
Discography : http://countrydiscoghraphy2.blogspot.nl/search/label/Mack%20Warner
CD recommendation :
Acknowledgements : Martin Hawkins, Don Roy.
Dik, June 2016
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