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Pittsburgh Blues Society
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Freddie Mack - Music Autobiography
I was Born July 27th 1963 and was very fortunate to grow up in an era of powerful music. FM radio was brand new and blasting out Beatles, Kinks, Doors, and Creedence. My Dad listened to Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash. Mom listened to CSNY, Fleetwood Mac, and Tom Waits. I taught myself how to play harmonica, and bought a cheap guitar and amplifier. That is all it would take to open the door to a musical adventure that has lasted a lifetime.
My first organized effort I would guess was around 1975, when I formed a garage band with some friends. We were too young to play in the bars, so our gigs were mostly house parties, fire halls, and keg parties.
At a young age I would sneak into clubs to check out my favorite local bands - White Hot & Blue, Billy Price, Brick Alley, and the Nighthawks. I also made frequent trips to the WYEP studios on Cable Place to hang out with Big Al Smith and the Black and Blue Midnight Crew. The bands and Big Al introduced me to much of the music that inspires me to this day. Around that time, I shattered both of my hands in a motorcycle accident, which forced me to put down the guitar for more than a decade. Harmonica became my primary instrument.
In the spring of 1980 my family drove across the country, and moved to Alameda, California. A month later I joined the Navy Reserves in San Francisco and listed Pittsburgh as my home so the Navy would ship me back to Pittsburgh after boot camp. Boot camp was in Chicago, and while waiting for orders I spent some time at the Checkerboard Lounge and at Buddy Guy’s Legends. All went as planned and after basic training I was sent back to my reserve unit in Pittsburgh. Driving tow truck to pay the bills didn’t leave much time for music, but my desire to play was still very strong.
In 1982 I happened to notice a jam session at the Penn Café in Bloomfield, and decided to drop in. It was hosted by Mike Sallows & the Rockin’ Reptiles, who blazed through songs with passion and authority. Mike punished his old SG with abandon. Freddie King, Professor Longhair, and even an instrumental guitar version of Hawaiian Eye was not off-limits. Other guitar players were left with their mouths hanging open in amazement. Mike taught me to surrender everything for the song, which in turn shaped my style of playing from that moment and beyond.
All of the jam sessions at the Penn Café featured a room packed full of talent and friendly competition. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the chance to refine my harmonica skills alongside many talented musicians like Randall Troy, Lucy Van Sickle, Emory Early, Amy Rose, KC Komini, Dave Ernie, Duane Stackhouse, Kevin Kelly, and Henry Shapiro. Most nights were downright astounding, but there were a few nights that we blew the roof clean off of that place!
In 1984 my Navy reserve unit was ordered into active duty. I was to be stationed aboard the U.S.S. America based in Norfolk, VA. While in homeport I sat in with many of the Virginia Beach musicians. After a few months of preparation, the ship was sent out for a 1-month Shakedown, and a 6-month Med cruise. We made frequent port-of-call stops throughout the North Atlantic, and Mediterranean oceans. In my travels I had many chances to sit in and play with many musicians in many different indigenous styles of music, as well as Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Techno, and Jazz. During this adventure I noticed that music lovers and musicians all over the world have a great respect for American Blues artists.
November 1985 I returned to my home in Pittsburgh and dove right back into the East-End groove. I also proudly became one of the founding members of the Pittsburgh Blues Society. We enjoyed a few years of minor success while working with Mike Sallows & the Rockin' Reptiles, and with the Pittsburgh Blues Society All-Stars, playing for crowds at shows all over the region. By the late 80's the Blues Society events started to thin out. During this time I had the good fortune to work with the Rowdy Bovines, (featuring Rockabilly guitar demon Mike Metzger who would later form Memphis Mike and the Legendary Tremblers), on several occasions.
In the early 90's I found my musical foil with Randall Troy and the Kings. It was a 1-2 punch that was felt and heard throughout the region. Randall and I tore it up night after night as we headlined in clubs all over Pittsburgh, including many shows at Spirit Harley Davidson, and for Harley Davidson's 95th Anniversary Ride at the new Syria Mosque in Cheswick, PA. I was playing alongside one of the finest blues guitarists in town and this pushed my playing abilities to next level. Randall is a perfectionist when it comes to tone. He can play every style of Blues with tremendous authority and dexterity. Standing alongside him forces anyone to play with more tone and style.
In August of 1997 I moved to Philadelphia, and Randall Troy eventually went on to join the Mystic Knights. During my three years in Philly, I caught a train or drove back every month for Pittsburgh shows with Randall and the Mystic Knights, while I worked on a regular basis with many of the talented musicians from the Philadelphia region.
I decided to park my harps for a short while to play rhythm guitar for a recording project featuring the Blues tornado from Chester known as Howlin' Blue. We recorded several sessions of hauntingly beautiful primal Blues that ended up being the "Blues Shoes" and "Rough Mix" CDs. Howlin' Blue is an amazing harmonica player and vocal improvisationalist with the ability to tear your heart out with pure emotion. I gleaned the best material from both of our CDs for the "Philadelphia Sessions" - it is hardcore Blues at its finest.
During my time in Philadelphia I worked with some of the area's best talent. I was honored to work many nights with Philly greats such as Grammy nominee Randy Lippincott (Solo artist and former bandleader for Blues greats such as Albert Collins and Johnny Clyde Copeland), Charlie Hilbert (Satan & Adam), Bob Holden (Dukes of Destiny), and Paul Nelson. Paul and I formed the Paul Nelson Blues Band, and it surprised both of us just how quickly we became popular.
I was always a side-man before, but I began to share the front-man duties with Paul, and it was a great learning experience for me. We performed at many events in the Poconos, NYC, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, and all around Philadelphia. I logged many miles aboard the Amtrak trains and surely wore grooves into I-95, and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Turnpikes.
I moved back to Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve of 2000. In 2001 I was featured with the Mystic Knights at many shows including all three of the big Pittsburgh Blues events of the summer. We opened for John Hammond at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival, Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, and John Hiatt, Tommy Castro, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King at the B.B. King / Lloyds Blues Festival.
Each year I visit my family in Houston, Texas. While there I’ve had the chance to sit in and hang out with Tex-Mex accordion legend Flaco Jimenez, and also with the master of the Guit-Steel - Junior Brown - at the Continental Club. I continue to go to Texas each year to visit family and friends, and play music. Most of the music I enjoy comes from that region, so you can bet I have a blast each time I visit and play down there.
Over the last decade, I have produced several CDs of original music. I take all of the elements from my musical past and forge them into a style that is my own. Each of my CDs have received regular airplay on WYEP (91.5 FM Pittsburgh), thanks to Bumble Bee Slim and Rhett Witherspoon. Several of the songs continue to keep a firm hold in their chart standings on
If you're in the right club at the right time, you can catch me sitting in with the some of the best bands in the Pittsburgh area. I still perform at many shows with the Mystic Knights, Randall Troy, and Jimmy Hilton, and I'm currently in the process of forming my own band to perform music that is entertaining, original and unique. Make sure you don't miss out on the chance to hear something new from Freddie Mack, so visit my music page where you can hear and download several of my songs.
Copyright, Fred McIntosh. All rights reserved.