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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 426

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This is the grave of Mack Vickery.

Born in 1938 in Town Creek, Alabama, Willard Vickery, known as Mack, became a musician and was determined to break into the vibrant music scene of the American South in the 1950s. He moved to Memphis in 1957 and tried to get a contract with Sun Records. He did record some cuts for them, but none were released. This sums up most of his career, a minor figure on the edges of the music scene, something that could describe so many people. He wrote and tried to sell his songs, maybe get recorded himself if he could. He stuck at it too. Finally, in 1968, Faron Young recorded Vickery’s song “She Went a Little Bit Further.” This reached #14 on the country charts, the first hit of Vickery’s career, though certainly not of Young’s. This opened some doors for him. He began selling his songs to many country musicians, from Johnny Cash to Tanya Tucker. In 1985, George Strait recorded his song “The Fireman.” That reached #5 on the country charts and was the biggest hit of Vickery’s career.

Vickery became most known for his close relationship with Jerry Lee Lewis. While everyone knows Lewis for his early pioneering rock and roll and wild behavior, Lewis had a very long and quite great second career as a hard country singer. Vickery wrote a lot of songs that Lewis recorded in these years, as well as frequently opening for The Killer. In his autobiography, Lewis said that Vickery “was like a brother” to him and he was also very good at writing the boastful, overly masculine songs that Lewis loved.

Vickery also wrote a number of songs for Waylon Jennings, largely during the bad part of the Waylon’s career, before he broke free of Nashville for the outlaw scene of Texas. Waylon had a minor hit with Vickery’s “Cedartown, Georgia,” the title track of a 1971 album that in my view really shows how Nashville was wasting his talent. Much later, in 1991, Jennings also recorded Vickery’s “The Eagle,” which had the unfortunate fate of being a semi-theme song for the Gulf War, as soldiers on the F-15 Eagle jet adopted it. Pretty unlikely Vickery or his co-writers minded though.

In the 1970s, Vickery did manage to finally have some minor success as a recording artist. He ran with the popular late 60s and 70s theme of country artists recording concerts at prisons and became the first to do so at a women’s prison, which was a gimmick of course, but one that at least got some attention. Waylon wrote the liner notes, wishing he had thought on this. Vickery’s Elvis impersonation seems to be what people liked most about the album. He also had minor hits with his 1974 song “That Kind of Fool,” which Jerry Lee does a good job with as well on his interesting one-off recording session released a few years as The Knox Phillips Sessions. Vickery had a couple of other songs chart in 1977. In 1989, he won the Music City News’ song of the year award for “I’ll Leave This World Loving You,” which Ricky Van Shelton had made a hit. In 2002, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. In the end, Vickery is one of so many people that make the music industry go, especially in a genre where professional songwriting is the norm, unlike say rock and roll, where musicians are supposed to write most of their own material. Vickery died of a heart attack in 2004, at the age of 66.

Let’s listen to a little Mack Vickery.

Mack Vickery is buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions. I am very appreciative of all of you who keep this series alive. If you would like me to visit other people mentioned in this post, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Elvis is of course at Graceland while Waylon is in Mesa, Arizona. Somehow, Jerry Lee Lewis lives. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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