MACK SELF HIS OWN WORDS - Mack Self was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 1998. As Mack, himself, would tell you, that probably has as
much to do with his association with the legendary Sun label as it does any strong leaning on his part toward pure rockabilly. Strictly speaking, Mack never was a rocker. At least not in the sense that Sun label-mates Billy Riley and Sonny Burgess were. Riley
and Burgess, by the way, shared more than a label affiliation with Mack; all three men hail from Arkansas. The similarities, however, pretty much stop at the state line. Unlike Riley and Burgess, Mack Self was and is pure country. Sun label owner Sam Phillips,
to his enormous credit, allowed Mack to be just what he was.
Three of the four tracks issued by Mack on the original Sun and Phillips International labels wore unabashed
country songs during a period when Sun was dominated by southern wildmen. The releases adjacent to Mack's ''Easy To Love'' (Sun 273) include Ray Harris's ''Greenback Dollar'' (Sun 272) and Carl Perkins' ''That's Right'' (Sun 274). Billy Riley's ''Red Hot''
(Sun 277) came along two months later, and Jerry Lee's ''Great Balls Of Fire'' (Sun 281) barely a month after that.
The same was true of Mack's ''Mad At You'', issued
on Phillips International 3548. Adjoining releases on the label included Charly Rich's ''Rebound'', Carl Mann's ''Rockin' Love'' and Sonny Burgess' ''Sadie's Back In Town''. All in all, Mack's ''pure as country water'' offerings were surrounded by some pretty
hard-edged rockin' company.
Even Mack's uptempo songs like ''Mad At You'' contained down home lyrics like "My cows gone dry/The hens won't lay''. His ''Going Crazy''
- a track that never saw light in the 1950s - offers lines like "You got me barkin' like a dog/ rootin' like a hog/ skinning saplings/ eatin' paw paws''. It doesn't get much more country than that.
For all his back-country charm, Mack Self remains beloved by rockabilly fans and collectors. This is pretty easy to understand. Years of Sun archaeology has unearthed undeniable rockabilly gems by Mack like ''Vibrate'' and ''Lovin'
Memories''. Although they were never released during the 1950s, these tracks provide strong credentials for Mack's Hall of Fame status. At a personal level, Mack Self is a man who, as Johnny Cash sang, "was there when it happened''. Self's sessions included
players like Roland Janes, Stan Kesler, Jimmy Van Eaton, Johnny Bernero, W. S. ''Fluke'' Holland, Billy Riley and Martin Willis. The man in the control room hitting the record button was either Jack Clement or Sam Phillips. The bottom line is that Mack's name
appears on nearly a dozen tape boxes full of songs recorded at what he calls "that little ole rinky dink studio" in Memphis. He's the real deal. In fact, it's good to remind ourselves that Sam Phillips auditioned both Mack Self and Harold Jenkins a.k.a Conway
Twitty, an Arkansas running buddy of Mack's - at just about the same time. Phillips passed on Twitty and decided to work with Mack.
At the least, Mack Self is a survivor.
Settling into a comfortable chair, Mack begins to summarize his life. ''I'm Mack Self. I was born in 1930. I'll be 77 years old the 22nd day of May. My daddy was a farmer and he played the fiddle. My mother played the guitar and they got me started. After
that I taught myself. The first performing I did was at a street dance in Barton, Arkansas. I was about 15 years old and I sang two Hank Williams songs. I went up there with a guy named Henry Henderson. He told me about the dance and we decided to go. We stopped
at a little ''grab all'' grocery store out in the country and Henry got us something to drink. I took a shot of it and said, 'That's good. What is it?' He said, 'That's Bobcat wine'. I never drank nothing before that and I really still don't drink. But when
I got up there I was feelin' pretty good. It woke me up a little bit. Made my nerves get right, you know?''.
''They had a good band, at that dance. John Hughey (Conway
Twittys steel guitarist) might have been playing with them. I'm not sure but I know they had a good steel man. I finished my songs and folks went crazy. I thought. 'Man! I m gonna try this a while''!. "I went in the Army around 1948 and I was 19 when I got
out. After that I started playing with David Jackson and the Arkansas Cotton Choppers. We had a radio program on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Harold Jenkins was with that band too, and so was John Hughey. I also had a show on KXJK in Forrest City. Arkansas. We
started around 1952. I sang with a band called Johnny Farmer and the Farm Hands. Charlie Rich was playing up there at that time or a little later. He was from a little old town, just a wide place in the road up above Forrest City''.
''I wrote a song called ''Easy To Love'' and I sang it on the radio. Brother Hal Webber was a disc jockey at KXJK at the time. We'd tape a week's worth of shows on Monday night and he'd broadcast
them over the next week or so. I taped ''Easy To Love'' and he got in touch with me, said 'That's a good song! You need to do something with this.' Hal knew about Sam Phillips because he had heard those first records by Elvis. Nobody knew what to make of those
records at the time. But he said, 'You ought to take this song up to that record company in Memphis.
''Its unclear at this point whether Webber or Johnny Farmer carried
the tapes to Sun, and whether it was Bill Cantrell or Sam Phillips who first heard them. In any case, the folks at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis were impressed. Mack recalls hearing that Sam played the tape and said 'Who's this boy singing this song right here?'
and they told him. So Sam said, 'You tell him to come on up here'.
''So we went up to Sun. I carried Jimmy Evans and Thurlow Brown with me. Jimmy was a lifelong friend.
We go back to the David Jackson band. Jimmy played doghouse bass. You know, one of them big standup basses. Jimmy was Conway Twitty's first bass man and also played for Ronnie Hawkins. Thurlow picked guitar on all my Sun records. A fine, fine picker. I met
him when I was playing a talent show up in Helena. People started saying to me, 'You hear that guy picking over yonder? I walked back and he was playing ''Sugarfoot Rag'', just eating it up. I asked him his name and said, You want to play?'. He said, 'I ain't
got a guitar', I told him, Well get you a guitar'. Thurlow played with me for years. He died in 1975. Sam said, How many songs you got?' I said., Just them two right there'. He said, 'What the hell you mean coming up here with just two songs? I said, 'That's
all it takes to make a record. He said, Come on, boy. Lets go get some coffee'.
''Anyway, we came back to Sun later on with more stuff and cut it all in that little studio
up there. I came back home and just forgot about it. Just kept playing my dances locally. Just messing around and writing songs. Then in 1957 I got a call from Jack Clement. He said. 'Mack, come on up here. They're going to release y'all s record'. So we drove
up and Jack carried us over to Plastic Products and gave us ten records each. I think it was.
"I came on back home and we started playing around promoting the record.
We played up in Memphis quite a bit and they had me playing clubs. That's no way to promote a record, though. You got to have radio exposure. I did appear on shows like Wink Martindale and Dewey Phillips. But there really wasn't any promotion. They wanted
me to go on the Louisiana Haynde. They weren't going to pay us but $15 apiece to go down there and sing a couple of songs. From where I live its a pretty good drive and it seemed kind of stupid to me. But I know some of those boys from Sun made the trip, like
Elvis, Warren Smith, Johnny Cash. I just decided not to go. I was working full time at the time. I'd stay up all night then, go in and punch a clock at 7 or 8 in the morning. I worked 10 or 12 hours a day''.
Mack acknowledges that Sam Phillips was not releasing much pure country music at the time. "Me and Ernie Chaffin was pretty much it. Sam was balking at a lot of it. It had to be pretty strong or he wouldn't fool with it. Guys
like me and Ernie Chaffin... We didn't know what a contract was. But you learn. Eventually you learn. I was just messing around, having fun''.
Mack has long ago come
to terms with the fates of the music business. Like other artists before and after him, he didn't always feel treated right by Sun and Sam. Being a secondary artist meant that he was unlikely to benefit from Sun's meagre promotional energies.
Having your latest release shipped in the same package with a disc by Jerry Lee Lewis or Johnny Cash usually meant being consigned to the No Play list. As Mack told Sun historian Martin
Hawkins, '' At Sun Records, the stars' pink Cadillacs would be parked up front on Union Avenue. Out back would be the beat up Fords and pickup trucks of the country boys trying to make it''.
Sometime around 1960 or 1961 Mack decided, ''that Sam wasn't going to do anything for me''. He moved on to the Zone label and has recorded for a number of small, independent labels since, including a number of self-produced projects.
Looking back at his career, Mack holds few regrets. The lack of a hit record? ''I didn't worry about that kind of stuff back then. It's not till you get older that you start thinking about
what you might could have done. Or would have done. I didn't do too bad, though. I tried to write good songs. My wife tells me I ain't never wrote a bad one'' (laughs).
never did try to big time' nobody,. I just never did do that. I went to the seventh grade in school. That's as far as I ever got. I educated myself by reading Stop signs and billboards. I learned to draw blueprints. If I had gone through high school, I might
have done a little better. But I also might have been a better drunk, You never know''.
Hazel observes, "Mack wrote some good songs. They deserved to be hits. But he
never pushed himself. He never got out there and did personal appearances. That's the only reason he never made it. But we've had a good life together. You never know how it would have been if he had made it. Sometimes the worst thing can happen to you is
to have a hit record''.
Mack has always maintained a job in the non-music world. 'I did sheet metal work when I got out of the army. I started my own business and I made
a living doing it until I retired in 1990. We'd build cotton gins, heating and air conditioning units and stuff like that. I had about five trucks and at one time I worked ten men. After retired. I got to playing again. I'm enjoying it and I've started writing
again. I got a little studio out there. I just write my songs and go out there and set down and sing. I've never really left it'. I had some great guys played with me over the years''.
Mack and Hazel Self are approaching 50 years of marriage. They have ten grandchildren and one great grandson. That doesn't include the children and grandchildren from his first marriage. Mack can barely keep track of all his progeny and readily
turns to Hazel for the details. "That's a mess of them," he gleefully concludes. ''You see why I have that studio out back?", he asks, laughing.
In June, 2007, Mack was
looking forward to his first European concert tour and, in fact, his first trip to Europe . "I've loved airplanes all my life. Years ago, we lived in an old farmhouse right in the middle of a cotton patch. We picked cotton and pulled that sack. My momma, she'd
pick 300 pounds of cotton a day. I was about seven years old and one day I got my little wagon and went to town hunting scrap iron. People were giving me little pieces of iron and 'sold it and made a dollar and a half. Man I was rich! The first thing I went
looking for was a model airplane with a rubber band for the propeller, just mad out of balsa wood''.
"So I bought it and went home and my momma said, 'You mean to tell
me you wasted that money on that little airplane when we ain't got enough food in the house to feed a cat!' She whupped my ass, son, till it burned! I ain't never forgot that!
lesson stuck - sort of. Mack made no more childhood trips to collect scrap iron to buy model planes. But some twenty years later, he went and got his pilot's license so he could fly real ones. "If I don't like the way that pilot's flying the plane over to
Europe, I may just go up there and take it over'', he laughed.
Mack recalled that he had gone back to 706 Union Avenue for the filming of a documentary on the 50th anniversary
of Sun Records. Standing there taking in the scene, Mack spotted Sam Phillips. He went over to Billy Swan, another guest at the filming, to confirm Sam's identity.
walked up to him and said, 'Sam, how you doing?' He looked at me and had no idea who I was. I said, 'Mack Self.' He said, Well Ill be dogged and gave me a big hug. I wanted to hit him. I guess that's what I should have done, (laughs). But I know that none
of that stuff would have ever happened if it hadn't been for him''.
That observation may be true, and Mack also knows today that he was among the more fortunate country
boys who never made it big. He saw his name on two of those original Sun (and Phillips International) labels. All told, the eight or nine titles he recorded multiple takes of during Sun's Golden Era have benefited from 30+ years of musical archaeology. Every
time he picks up his custom-made guitar with ''Easy To Love'' inlaid on the neck, he knows he's a somebody. Like many Sun alumni, Mack has experienced the attention and respect of people he never expected to meet. Today the grandchildren of people who first
enjoyed his records know his name. His reputation is assured.
Wiley Laverne ''Mack'' Self, of West Helena, Arkansas passed away on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at his home
of the age of 81. Mack is buried at the Caldwell Family Cemetery in Aubrey, Arkansas.
Interview with Mack Self, July 2005 by Hank Davis
JANUARY 1, 1955 SATURDAY
Colonel Tom Parker became the manager of Hank Snow, one of the Grand Ole Opry's most popular
members and another RCA Victor recording artist. Snow, nicknamed "The Singing Ranger" was Canadian by birth, although he had lived in the States for years. When Parker took over Snow's affairs, he combined Jamboree Attractions under the banner of Hank Snow
As a result of this quest for proper management, on January 1, 1955, Elvis Presley finally signed a contract with Bob Neal, who, as noted earlier, had been
"auditioning" for the role for several months already. The details of this management deal had actually been worked out a few months earlier, and the well-publicized signing with Neal was designed more to promote Elvis' third single, "Milkcow Blues Boogie"
and "You're A Heartbreaker", than anything else. Neal will receive 15% of all his earnings, plus 10% for promotional expenses.
British conglomerate EMI takes a controlling
interest in Capitol Records, whose roster has included, or will include, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Garth Brooks, Merle Haggard, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Buck Owens, among others.
Flatt and Earl Scruggs move to Nashville to make regular appearance on WSM's radio and television stations and the Grand Ole Opry.
Jim Reeves rings in the new year with
American soldiers in Stuttgart, Germany, during a USO tour of Europe.
JANUARY 2, 1855 SUNDAY
Records presents Gene Autry a plaque honoring his 25-year association with the label during the singer's ''Melody Ranch'' on CBS Radio.
JANUARY 3, 1955 MONDAY
Jim Reeves' 18-day USO tour of Europe comes to an end.
Bass player Corky Holbrook is born in Ashland,
Kentucky. He plays on Billy Ray Cyrus' hit, including ''Achy Breaky Heart'', ''Could've Been Me'' and ''Some Gave All''.
Capitol released Tommy Collins' ''Untied''.
JANUARY 4, 1955 TUESDAY
Kathy Forester, of The Forester Sisters, is born in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
The Foresters emerge as a rare all-female harmony group in 1985, and the quartet scores 15 hits in the next six years.
Tennessee Ernie Ford's daytime TV show begins airing
JANUARY 6, 1955 THURSDAY
Ray Acuff ends a one-month USO tour of Alaska,
in which he crossed the Arctic Circle while performing for American Soldiers.
Judy Bailey is born in Winchester, Kentucky. She appears as a duet vocalist on Moe Bandy's
1980 hit ''Following The Feeling''.
Red Sovine and Goldie Hill recorded ''Are You Mine'' at the Castle Studio in Nashville.
JANUARY 8, 1955 SATURDAY
Sun 213 ''Look To Jesus'' b/w ''Every Night'' by The Jones Brothers is issued. It is the only
black gospel recording to appear on Sun during the 1950s apart from the Prisonaires, although Sam Phillips has also released a country gospel disc by Howard Seratt (Sun 198)
business in any case seemed to be leaving him, Sam Phillips felt like he was losing ground every day. He hadn't put out t he singles, Sun 214 an intricately constructed new blues ''Move Baby Love'' b/w ''When It Rains It Pours'' by Billy Emerson and "Milkcow
Blues Boogie" backed with "You're A Heartbreaker" (Sun 215) by Elvis Presley. But with neither the means nor the manpower to marked a new release effectively, and with none of the back catalogue selling except for Elvis' first record (which continued to enjoy
exceptional success), Sam Phillips came up with a stopgap solution. rather than continue to press records with uncertain prospects of commercial success and try to distribute them on a nationale scale, Sam returned to an idea that had first occurred to him
the previous year, an ''audition'' label called Flip Records, on which he could release variously hillbilly artists that Quinton Claunch and Bill Cantrell were working with, but strictly to a local marked. This would mean, according to his own interpretation,
that he would not have to pay union rates, shipping, or anything but local pressing costs because he would simply be test-marketing the records in Memphis.
Jim Reeves makes his national television debut on CBS-TV's ''Toast Of The Town''. The variety show is later renamed ''The Ed Sullivan Show''.