The great Mac Wiseman won’t be able to attend the National Convention of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America this weekend as he once did. Advanced age and its associated mobility problems will be keeping the bluegrass and country superstar close to home, but throwback crooner Jerry Wicentowski will be bringing Mac’s music to SPBGMA from Milwaukee for a special set.
Jerry is a modern man who prefers most everything the way it used to be, especially where music is concerned. As an orthodox Jew, he finds the music at the Temple to be too influenced by contemporary styles, and in his love for bluegrass, he likes to hear it the old time way. During the week he works as a certified financial planner in Milwaukee, and on weekends he plays his music. Jerry has managed to blend his two passions with a Minnesota-based band called Lucky Break, that plays bluegrass versions of Hebrew liturgical music, along with popular bluegrass songs.
A fascination with bluegrass found him while studying at yeshiva in his native New York. This was during the folk craze in the city, and Jerry found himself playing and eventually recording alongside legendary mandolinist Andy Statman, another musician who fiercely protects his Jewish faith. After a period of questioning that faith, Wicentowski moved to Wisconsin to attend college, returned to Temple, and continues to follow both paths.
Now Jerry has taken his deep and abiding love for the music of Mac Wiseman into the studio for a tribute project, Thanks Mac, The Songs Of Mac Wiseman. It’s just what you would expect from an arch traditionalist, authentic renditions of classic songs from Wiseman’s deep catalog, delivered with an often startling similarity to the sound of Mac’s voice in the early days.
The album contains Mac’ biggest numbers, like Love Letters In The Sand, I Still Write Your Name In The Sand, ‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered, I’d Rather Live By The Side Of The Road, and another 11 gems. All are performed in the style of 1950s and ’60s grass, with banjo, mandolin, bass, twin fiddles, and Jerry’s strong rhythm guitar.
And he’s made a fan in the man, himself. When sent a copy of the CD, Mac wrote back to say, “Jerry, I’m very flattered by your interpretation of my material and I think it’s a wonderful piece of work! I heartily endorse it, and I’m very pleased that you’re carrying on my legacy.”
This weekend, Jerry will be highlighting the songs from Thanks Mac at SPBGMA during a showcase at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in the Edgewood Room, Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. Anyone who enjoys the music of Mac Wiseman will surely get a kick out of hearing his interpretation of Mac. Jerry likes to say that it’s not so much an impression as a tribute, but listeners can judge for themselves.
Tonight, he will spend a few minutes on the radio with Marcia Campbell on WSM. Tune in to 650 AM in Nashville at approximately 12:15 a.m. (actually Tuesday morning) for a discussion about his life and Mac’s music. Outside of the Nashville market, you can listen live via online streaming at wsmonline.com, or via their free radio app.