On May 23, 1925 Mac Wiseman was born in the hamlet of Crimora in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
Malcolm B Wiseman, nicknamed The Voice with a Heart, was one of four children.
The family wasn’t particularly musical; only his mother played an instrument, a pump organ. Nevertheless, they listened to the Grand Ole Opry and Wiseman remembers hearing barn dances beamed in by other clear-channel stations in Jacksonville, Florida, and Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
While he was very young Wiseman suffered various illnesses including, at six months of age, polio. This illness he credits as being the catalyst for his musical beginnings as he was unable to work in the fields, as many farmers’ offspring had to do from an early age.
That allowed him to listen to 78s by Riley Puckett, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers; the Mainer family; and the Carter Family.
As well as being influenced by the traditional and church music of his region he also was also endeared to many contemporary balladeers, ranging from Bradley Kincaid to Wilf ‘Montana Slim’ Carter.
When he was 13 years old he spent the summer after having some corrective surgery learning to play the guitar.
While still at high school, he began singing with The Hungry Five, a band that worked at WSVA, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Then in 1943 he received a scholarship from the National Polio Foundation and studied musical theory, radio and piano at the Conservatory of Music in Dayton, Virginia. A teacher at the Conservatory offered Wiseman a full-time job at announcing and programming at WSVA, where he also began singing in Buddy Starcher’s group.
Later he formed his own band briefly, working at WFMD, Fredrick, Maryland, but then went to WNOX, Knoxville, as the bass player and featured vocalist in Molly O’Day’s Cumberland Mountain Folks. In December 1946 he played bass on her first Columbia session.
The next year Wiseman was working on his own again, this time at WCYB, Bristol, and then as a sideman for Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, with whom he cut a session for Mercury Records.
After another brief struggle this time at WSB, Atlanta, he went to Nashville to work as a Blue Grass Boy for Bill Monroe, helping him during his October 1949 Columbia session. On one cut, Travelling Down This Lonesome Road, Wiseman sang a solo lead.
Back on his own again in the early 1950s Mac worked at KWKH, Shreveport, and began recording for Dot Records, his first solo recording contract.
He used the same instrumentation that Flatt and Scruggs and Monroe had used, but soon favored the use of twin fiddles and generally also did solo vocals with very little harmony singing. Wiseman had very few original songs, but unearthed some forgotten oldies that he virtually remade into his own, such as Mac and Bob’s Tis Sweet To Be Remembered, the Carter Family’s I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home and Buddy Starcher’s I’ll Still Write Your Name In The Sand. He also utilised some new material by writers like Dobro player Speedy Krise, who penned Going Like Wildfire and You’re Sweeter Than Honey.
Wiseman’s clear, natural light tenor voice quickly made him a favorite with bluegrass fans.
When Wiseman moved to WRVA, Richmond, he maintained a good quality band, The Country Boys, which, at times, contained such fine musicians as Eddie Adcock, Scott Stoneman, ‘Buck’ Graves and Jimmy Williams. They recorded many popular local singles.
Although Wiseman’s recordings were popular and sold well none really made the national charts until in mid-1955 his cover of The Ballad of Davy Crockett hit the Country music chart Top 10.
After this, most of Wiseman’s recording arrangements moved in the direction of more contemporary Country and pop music. Hence, in part, his name of the “bluegrass maverick”.
In 1957 Wiseman took a job as A & R man for Dot Records work which took him to California for a time. He continued the cut sessions for them and had his biggest chart success in 1959 when his folksy arrangement of the old Will S Hays ballad, via the Carter Family, of Jimmy Brown the Newsboy reached the Top 5.
A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.
He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.
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Category: Bluegrass Today Profiles
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