What would you call a chat with one of our first generation bluegrass icons who, at 91 years of age, is still writing and recording new music. I had the chance today to speak with the great Mac Wiseman about upcoming projects, and I call it a treat and an honor.
After more than 70 years in the music business, where he has served in almost every imaginable role our industry provides, he still welcomes the opportunity to meet with the press and talk about his many exploits. Wiseman is in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame, both organizations he helped to found. He’s performed as a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, and as he will proudly assert to anyone who will listen, has recorded over 800 songs in both bluegrass and country music.
If that isn’t the textbook definition of a legend, it’s hard to imagine what would be.
We talked first about his next album, a collection of 10 new songs he’s written along with noted Nashville songwriters Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz. The project, I Sang The Song, is due on January 20 from Mountain Fever Records with an all-star cast of pickers and singer interpreting these new compositions drawn from Wiseman’s life and career.
All of the songs are based on stories related in Mac’s recent autobiography, All My Memories Fit For Print. He told us that it was a fine time for him getting to reminisce about the old days with two treasured friends, and see those memories turned into songs before his eyes.
“Peter and Thomm came here several Sundays this year, and I just sat here in my chair and told them stories about my life. Not many people have worked that way. I talked about different times in my life, and the three of us put the words and melodies together.
They are very good friends of mine, so it was a project of love and appreciation.”
Mac didn’t get to sing much on the album because, as he delicately puts it, he’s not so mobile these days, but he did add narrations to the end of several of the tracks. Lead vocals were provided by some of his long-time admirers in the music world, with Shawn Camp, John Prine, Junior Sisk, Ronnie Bowman, and The Isaacs doing the honors.
But he did add his ageless voice on one track, a duet with Alison Krauss on perhaps his most iconic number.
“We do a lot of recording right here at my house, and Alison came here to record ‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered with me. She nailed it, boy. She’s a lovely girl and so talented. And we sang it in the same key as I did it in 1951!”
While he looks forward to seeing I Sang The Song released next month, he also mentioned that he has 5 other projects completed and ready to come out. There are plenty of artists in the prime of their careers that can’t say that!
Also on the horizon is a major motion picture based on Wiseman’s book. There aren’t a lot of details to relate, as the project is still in pre-production, but this old music industry hand is clearly excited by the prospect.
“Dynasty Records is representing me, working with a producer in Hollywood. They’ve sent a couple of scripts this past 6 months, and I’ve been helping them get it right. They are trying to get Willie Nelson to play me in later years, and still looking for some younger actors.
The story goes all the way back to when I was in school. They are hoping to start after the new year.”
Mac said that he does his share of looking back over his lengthy career, but feels lucky that he can still look forward to new things as well. “I’m very fortunate, my memory is sharp, and I still love to work.”
At one point, he asked where I was calling from, and when I said Roanoke, VA, he launched instantly into a series of memories about this area.
“I used to do an hour on TV each morning, six days a week in Roanoke, at WDBJ. Stayed there about 6 or 8 months. I did quite well there and stayed until I got a good offer to come back to Knoxville. I also played WRVA in Richmond a great deal, on the Old Dominion Barn Dance, and on the Wheeling Jamboree for about six years in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Mac Wiseman is an absolute treasure, as rare a gem as traditional country and bluegrass music have created.
Keep an eye out for I Sang The Song early next year.