Bluegrass Legend Mac Wiseman's R&B Detour

Friday, 25 April 2014 07:32 AM Written by 

On Wednesday we offered a taken on work by the three just-announced 2014 Country Music Hall of Famers:  Ronnie Milsap,  Hank Cochran and Mac Wiseman.  One of Cochran's example showed him in his earliest days, singing rockabilly with future rock great (but no relative) Eddie Cochran.  We also offered three tunes by  Wiseman.  

But there's one more Wiseman tune bluegrass purists need to hear, especially those who naively assume Mac's repetoire was as pure as the driven snow.  It wasn't.  More artists than one realizes have made detours into other genres for various reasons: their own curiosity, pressure from their record company to try something  new or some attempt to jump into a new field.  And so it was with Wiseman.

Wiseman recorded for Tennessee-based Dot Records in the 50's, during the same era when Dot released Pat Boone's tepid, white-bread versions of "Tutti Frutti" (Little Richard) and "Ain't That A Shame" (Fats Domino), both considered laughable today.  In the fall of 1955, Smiley Lewis's New Orleans R&B standard "I Hear You Knockin'," written by Dave Bartholomew and Earl King, reached # 2 on Billboard's R&B charts.  Soon after that, Dot released actress Gail Storm's version, a mediocre performance but a major pop hit in '55.  Dot then tried it country with Wiseman.

Lewis's can't be beat, and Brit rocker Dave Edmunds's 1970 version is terrific, but I think Mac did a hell of a good job.  A year later he tackled the R&B favorite "One Mint Julep."  He didn't make it a habit, but it proves a lot of these guys considered "country pure" had wider ranges than many realize.


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