About “Thanks, Mac!” by Jerry Wicentowski
Friends, I’ve been listening to the singing of Mac Wiseman—both on record and at live shows—since I was 17 years old. I am continually struck by the beauty of Mac’s voice, his vocal range, phrasing, interpretation, and his diction; not to be overlooked is Mac’s masterful rhythm guitar playing. Little did I realize the great recordings I had not yet heard until I acquired the Bear Family Box Set of Mac’s recordings from 1951–1964. What a treasure! I increasingly felt that Mac Wiseman deserved the same recognition conveyed to other first generation bluegrass artists by way of a tribute recording—to be completed during his lifetime.
I also wanted this project to serve as an expression of my gratitude to Mac for the pleasure, inspiration, and instruction that I’ve received from him. It’s difficult to put into words how thrilling it was to speak to my 92-year old musical hero who was so polite, engaged, and in full command of his own history and experience. This conversation was made possible through the intercession of Pete Wernick. Thanks, Pete! I’m grateful for the time Mac spent listening critically to rough cuts of this project. I’m humbled by the kind comments he made during our subsequent phone conversation. Mac was also very impressed with the musicians on the session. These musicians all deserve special recognition for their great playing and singing: my Nashville studio pals, Shad Cobb, Jenny Obert, Marc MacGlashan, Jeremy Stephens, Paul Kowert, and Joe Mullins; and the Unrelated Brothers, Bruce King, Bruce R. King, Jon Peik, and Kathy Peik, with whom I play in Milwaukee.
I must also acknowledge the contribution of one of the nicest people I’ve ever met—John Fabke, who encouraged me to proceed with the project, and introduced me to the Nashville musicians, and recording engineers; Robert Trapp and Preston Schmidt of Studio 31 West of Goodlettsville, TN. I’m thankful also to my friend of 50 years, Andy Statman, whose recommendations concerning the mix were invaluable.
My hope is that the “Thanks, Mac!” project will help raise an important question among fans and musicians alike: Is instrumentation alone the thing that sets bluegrass apart as a unique musical genre, or does singing-style play a role as well? My own feeling is that the singing is vitally important (though still not a 5-string banjo!). The first generation of bluegrass vocalists, such as Mac, have gifted to us oral instructions demonstrating the many sensitive ways to convey emotion and tell a story. By blending these traditional singing styles into today’s bluegrass, we secure the distinct and rich legacy of Mac Wiseman and his contemporaries for our grandchildren and beyond.
— Jerry Wicentowski
Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Ensemble for “The Georgia Waltz”
Bruce R. King