HomeEntertainmentOn This Day: Guitar-Shredding Legends Prince and Lonnie Mack Pass Away in 2016

On This Day: Guitar-Shredding Legends Prince and Lonnie Mack Pass Away in 2016

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It’s always tragic when the world loses a musical genius. Even leaving behind a massive body of work isn’t enough to ease the sorrow. For one, it’s hard knowing that a bright light has been extinguished. On the other hand, knowing that their legacy was cut short is hard to take. Over the years, we’ve lost so many legendary musicians. Mourning reverberates through their fanbases each time one passes on. However, April 21, 2016, was an especially sad day. On that day, the world lost two legendary musicians and innovators. Both Prince and Lonnie Mack crossed over to the other side.

Today marks five years since these groundbreaking guitarists passed away. So, we’re going to look back on both of their careers briefly. It’s important to know what we lost. So, with that in mind, we’ll look at what made both Prince and Lonnie Mack so important and influential.

Prince – Guitar Virtuoso and Habitual Boundary-Pusher

Prince was a little bit of everything. He was a songwriter and musician first and foremost. He took the title “multi-instrumentalist” to a whole new level. In fact, he could perform at a professional level with just about every instrument he picked up. Several of his recordings feature him on vocals as well as all of the instruments, according to Britannica.

Prince wasn’t just an expert musician and composer, though. He was an innovator. He is credited with pioneering the Minneapolis Sound. This subgenre of funk rock blended synth-pop and new wave with the existing funky yet driving arrangements. Artists like Morris Day and The Time, Shelia E., and Vanity 6 helped to boost the popularity of the sound. Through The High Priest of Pop and his adherents, the Minneapolis Sound dominated much of the 80s.

Prince was one of the first Black artists to be featured on MTV. His hit song “Little Red Corvette,” put him on the platform in 1983. The next year, he released his biggest album Purple Rain. That album and the Oscar-winning film of the same name made him one of the biggest stars of the decade.

Prince was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, and the UK Music Hall of Fame. Over the course of his career, he won several awards including several Grammy Awards, the Grammy President’s Merit Award, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and the Billboard Icon Award.

Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in his home at the age of 57.

But First, There Was Lonnie Mack

Prince was an innovator and a titan of eighties pop music. Lonnie Mack, on the other hand, was a blues-rock originator. His fast, aggressive, and melodic playing paved the way for guitar legends like Stevie Ray Vaughn. In fact, Vaughn idolized Mack and especially loved his early recordings, according to AllMusic.

Lonnie Mack hit the scene in the early sixties with an album called The Wham of that Memphis Man. That album cemented him as a rock guitar innovator. Just take a listen to the track “Wham!” from that album. Nobody played like that before Mack. He influenced generations of guitarists.

You can hear Lonnie Mack’s influence all over blues-rock and Southern rock guitar work. Think back to just about any southern rock classic. Then, listen to Lonnie Mack’s first platter. The influence is evident.

Lonnie Mack’s rise to superstardom was stunted by the British Invasion of the sixties. However, he kept playing off and on through the next decade. He released several records in the sixties and seventies that didn’t do much for him. Then, in 1985, he made a solid blues-rock comeback with Strike Like Lightning. That album was produced by and featured guest guitar work from Stevie Ray Vaughn.

In 1990, Mack released Ronnie Mack Live! Attack of the Killer V. Then, he retired from recording. However, he still played small venues from time to time. In his later years, he was known to make surprise appearances in small bars and roadhouses. There, he would borrow a guitar from the house band, tear down the stage for an hour or so, and leave.

Lonnie Mack died of natural causes at the age of 74 in a hospital near his rural Tennessee home.

An Outsider’s Take

Wes Blakenship gives his thoughts on the passing of these two legends.

Take a listen: