On This Day #29

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In 1962, Wiseman played at Carnegie Hall on a bill headlined by Johnny Cash; Wiseman earned top reviews in The New York Times.

That same year Wiseman left Dot Records for Capitol Records where he cut both bluegrass music and Country music material, having a fine album of traditional songs as well as a top 15 Country music hit in 1963 with Your Best Friend and Me (reaching to number 12).

From 1965 onwards Wiseman spent about five years at Wheeling, West Virginia, working on the WWVA Jamboree. During this time he also cut a bluegrass album with the Osborne Brothers backing him and another one for Uncle Jim O’Neal’s Rural Rhythm Records.

In this period, Wiseman also began to play his first bluegrass festivals where he was very well received.

 

Also became a mainstay on the folk festival circuit and he worked college campuses at every opportunity.

At the same time he kept his foot in the Country music door too, having a modest success with the single on MGM of Got Leavin’ on Her Mind in 1968 (peaking at number 54).

In 1969 Wiseman settled in Nashville after signing with RCA Victor. He had two albums, one in a Country music style and the other watered-down brand of bluegrass music. His novelty country single (If I Had) Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride reached the Top 40, but a follow-up, On Susan’s Floor, made little impact.

More endearing to traditionalists from Wiseman’s stay with RCA Victor were three albums he recorded with fellow bluegrass legend Lester Flatt.

 

In the mid-1970s, Wiseman did two straight traditional bluegrass albums the Cincinnati-based Vetco Records and a double album to inaugurate CMH Records’ 9000 series. Both used the Shenandoah Cut-Ups as the support band and included new renditions of some classic numbers from Dot, as well as some older standards.

He also did some country music sessions for CMH, including an album of Gordon Lightfoot compositions and another double album, this time of Honky-Tonk standards. Wiseman also appeared on the charts with some single cuts on Churchill Records. Then, reverting to traditional bluegrass, Wiseman did a double album with the Osborne Brothers, with one cut, Shackles and Chains, making the lower rungs of the Country music chart (reaching number 95).

This is a rare instance where Wiseman has harmony vocalists.

 

In the 1980s and 1990s Mac Wiseman has continued to be a bluegrass festival favorite while still dabbling in country music from time to time.

At the same time he has recorded for Gusto Records, Hilltop Records, CMH Records (again) and 51 West, while of some of his earlier material was re-issued. County Records released many of the early Dot bluegrass cuts – Early Dot Recordings Vol. 1, 2 and 3 (CCS 108, 109 and 113) while Stetson Records did the same with his Capital album – Bluegrass Favorites by Master Folk Singer Mac Wiseman (Stetson HAT 3039) [a UK release] – and Rebel released a CD featuring Vetco masters – Bluegrass Hits And Heart Songs (CD-7523, 2009).

The most unusual release came from Bear Family Records where Richard Weize assembled some scattered singles from the late 1950s originally aimed at the teenage market.

In 1992 he served as narrator for the bluegrass documentary film High Lonesome, a wonderful chronicle of bluegrass music available on DVD.

The following year Mac Wiseman was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

In the late 1990s he recorded with Del McCoury and Doc Watson, Del Doc & Mac (Sugar Hill) and since 2000 he has released an album with Cubby Wise, Mac and Chubby Live at Gilleys (Wise) and one with John Prine, Standard Songs for Average People (Oh Boy).

Today, Wiseman’s immobility prevents him from traveling – the wheelchair-bound veteran lives near Percy Priest Lake, not far from Nashville – and he very rarely performs (his appearance on the Country Family Reunion Simply Bluegrass recordings being one exception).

 

He has collaborated with Walt Trott in writing a biography that is expected to be published later this year.

Apart from his role as a prolific artist Wiseman has been an important figure in the business side of music and a formidable executive in the Nashville scene.

For a while he ran Dot Records’ Country music division (from 1957); he helped found in 1958 the Country Music Association, working as its first treasurer – he is actually the only living original member of the CMA’s board of directors – and he was a founder member of the Reunion of Professional Entertainers (ROPE), an organisation for which he served as President for five terms.

Congratulations and Happy Birthday Mac Wiseman.

 

Discographical note:

Mac Wiseman is reputed to have a catalog of over 800 recordings; over 70 LPs; over 20 78rpm records; about 50 45rpm singles; and about 50 CDs.

The highlights include …………

Bear Family Records –

  • Tis Sweet To Be Remembered: Complete Recordings 1951-1964 (BCD-15976, a 6-CD set, released in 2003).
  • On Susan’s Floor (BCD-16736, a 4-CD package released in 2006)
  • The Mac Wiseman Story (Wise 1091, another 6-CD set; this was released 2011)

Others –

  • Del McCoury and Doc Watson – Del Doc & Mac (Sugar Hill SH 3888, 1998)
  • Chubby Wise – Mac and Chubby Live at Gilleys (Wise, 2001)
  • John Prine – Standard Songs for Average People (Oh Boy, 2007)

Footnote:

On April 22 the Country Music Association announced that Mac Wiseman is to be inducted later this year into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

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.