Warner Mack, who died on Tuesday (March 1) in suburban Nashville, had a dozen top 10 country hits during the 1960s and is remembered as an award-winning songwriter.
Mack wrote the country evergreens “Is It Wrong (For Loving You),” “Talkin’ to the Wall” and “After the Lights Go Out,” all of which won BMI awards. As a singer, he scored a No. 1 hit with “The Bridge Washed Out” in 1965. His career was hampered by health problems that lasted for decades.
He was born Warner Hensley McPherson Jr. in Nashville on April 2, 1935. His father was a Presbyterian minister. The family moved to Jackson, Tennessee when he was seven and to Vicksburg, Mississippi when he was nine.
From an early age, Mack was enthralled by music. He taught himself to play guitar and was writing songs by his teens. He reportedly wrote “Is It Wrong” at age 13 in the wake of a teenage romance.
He became a standout athlete in high school. His football skills led to scholarship offers from Louisiana and Mississippi. Because of his baseball prowess, the St. Louis Cardinals scouted him.
But music was his calling. The McPherson family — Warner, his parents and his two sisters — sang together at many community events. He convinced WVIM in Vicksburg to hire him as a DJ. Warner Mack got his start as a professional performer on The Louisiana Hayride over KWKH in Shreveport. Joining Red Foley’s televised Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, garnered him a wider following.
A 1957 demo recording session in Jackson, Mississippi led to a recording contract with Decca, which shortened his last name from McPherson to Mack. The label issued his “Is It Wrong (For Loving You)” in 1958. It became a top 10 hit and crossed over to the pop charts. Webb Pierce made the song a hit again in 1960, and Sonny James took it to No. 1 on the country hit parade in 1974. It has also been recorded by Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn, Mike Lunsford, Wanda Jackson, Ray Peterson, Mickey Gilley, Gilbert Ortega and many more.
Decca aimed his subsequent singles at the emerging teen-music market. Warner Mack’s “Roc-A-Chicka” is considered a rockabilly classic. But the record stalled on the pop charts when radio programmers believed they heard the “f” word in its lyrics. Mack left Decca in 1959. When he returned to the label in 1962, it was as a solidly country performer.
His second Decca career took off in 1964 with the hits “Surely” and “Sittin’ in an All-Night Cafe.” Late that year, Warner Mack was severely injured in an automobile accident during a snowstorm near Princeton, Indiana. He was laid up for months.
He returned to the country charts with the No. 1 hit “The Bridge Washed Out” in 1965. Marty Stuart recorded his version of this classic in 2010. The song has also been recorded by Junior Brown, Rick Nelson, George Jones and Buck Owens.
Warner Mack notched up seven consecutive top 10 country hits in 1966-68. One of them, 1966’s “Talkin’ to the Wall,” also became a top-10 hit for Lynn Anderson in 1974.
In 1965, Warner Mack became the first country artist to record a national Coca-Cola jingle. He recorded a string of radio shows directed to the armed serves. Between 1964 and 1971, he released nine albums.
Success continued for Mack in 1969 with his self-composed top-10 hits “Leave My Dream Alone” and “I’ll Still Be Missing You.” During the next four years, he placed eight more singles on the country charts, all of which he wrote.
But throughout this period, he was plagued by after effects from the car crash. He underwent 11 surgeries for internal injuries. By 1974, he was unable to continue, and Decca released him from its roster.
During the 1970s, he established his own record label (Pageboy), song-publishing company (Bridgewood) and retail establishment (Warner Mack’s Country Store). His songwriting sustained him. Warner Mack’s songs have been recorded by Brenda Lee, Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, Pat Boone, Charlie Louvin and Jean Shepard, among others. In 1992, Ricky Van Shelton had a big hit with the songwriter’s “After the Lights Go Out.”
Warner Mack toured England in 1982 and 1984. He released two newly recorded albums in 1992. His final project was apparently a 2020 collection titled Better Than Ever. The German label Bear Family Records reissued Warner Mack’s rockabilly and teen-pop discs on a 2011 CD collection titled Baby Squeeze Me.
The singer-songwriter had been in ill health, reportedly battling various ailments, eye problems and Parkinson’s Disease. Warner Mack’s passing was reported on several online sites — Wikipedia, Country Insider, Country Aircheck, and on Facebook (by Richard L. White).
Arrangements are pending and being handled by Woodbine Hickory Chapel Funeral Home, 5852 Nolensville Pike, Nashville.