Mac Wiseman remembers 70 years in music

Last week the Country Music Association announced that Mac Wiseman will be inducted into the 2014 class of their Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a long overdue recognition for a man that helped found the organization in 1958, and served on it’s board during the critical early years.

We had a chance to catch up with Mac this afternoon to reminisce about his 70 years in the music business – during which time he has recorded more than 800 songs – and how it has transformed over the time he has been involved. One thing that may surprise you is that Wiseman never thought about a career in music when he was growing up.

“In 1944 I attended the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Dayton, Virginia. They’ve moved from that campus now, and go as Shenandoah University. A short time ago they decided to create a Hall of Fame, and I made the the first cut. They announced it last Friday. Two Halls of Fame in one week is not bad!

I’m very excited about that. Of course I’m extremely happy to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as well.

I had a class in radio back at Shenandoah. The music director for a Harrisonburg station was my teacher. Most of the station employees had gone in the military since this was during the war. I hadn’t planned on a career in music, but my teacher offered me a job saying, ‘I know you don’t have any experience but your voice is good, so I’ll hire you if you want a job.’

In high school I studied bookkeeping and typing, figuring to be a CPA, but I started there in music.”

He also spoke about his early days as a singer, when there was no distinction between bluegrass and country music. Mac recorded for a number of different labels, and his recognizable voice was popular whether he was backed by a bluegrass or a country band until genre distinctions became more important for radio in the 1970s.

“When they put me in that bluegrass category, they took a lot of money out my pocket. I worked a lot of package shows back then with Bob Wills and all kinds of artists, and people didn’t much care what you called it.

I remember I did a record with Woody Herman, the bandleader. It was My Blue Heaven. We got up into the 60s on Billboard until some DJ said, ‘hey, it’s that bluegrass singer.’ Before long, a lot of the top 40 stations wouldn’t play it.

It was a country record. Woody came to Nashville in 1978 where his daughter was a heck of a country fiddler. He said he wanted to do a country record, and she told him he needed me. We cut two sides but I don’t remember the name of the B side.”

Reflecting on the start of the CMA, Mac shared that he has a particular distinction within the organization.

“I’m the only living member of the original board of the CMA, where I served as the first secretary/treasure. I remember Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb, and a number of other artists were on there with me.

We knew how much the industry needed to know about country music back then. Top 40 radio was playing country, but they didn’t know the history of the music or the artists, so that became our mission.”

But the best news is that Mac remains active, even though he doesn’t travel any longer, with two new albums and a book expected some time this year.

“I recorded an album with Merle Haggard which should be out in the next 30-60 days. He called and I figured he wanted me to sing on some of his songs, since he’s written so many good ones. But he wanted me to do six of my songs, and he’d do six of his. We recorded it all acoustic.

I’m recording a new project in June for Wrinkled Records. I’ve got some songs that have never been recorded.

And I’ve written my life story, from my first day in music until today. I have a contract with a publisher for that.”

He also noted that the country music business is following a much different model these days from when he was touring.

“It’s  a whole different ball game, and they’re going for a younger crowd. I can understand why, but I don’t particularly enjoy it. They pick too many artists before they have a chance to become established.

But overall, country is in good health.”

What a treasure we have in Mac Wiseman. If you aren’t familiar with his lifetime of work, take a few minutes to correct that.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.