Country Music Legend Warner Mack Has Died

When you write a song at the age of 13 that becomes a country standard and a hit in three separate decades, you know you were born to make country music. Warner Mack was born Warner McPherson on April 5th, 1935 in Nashville, Tennessee, and was a natural, whether it came to writing or performing in the country realm, ultimately becoming one of country’s most successful contributors in the 1960’s. But a car accident sidelined him for many years, making his legacy often overlooked.

It was after a teenage love affair that he wrote the song “Is It Wrong (For Loving You).” Warner Mack was already involved in music from an early age. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and Warner regularly sang with dad, mom, and his siblings as they traveled throughout the South to spread the Gospel. As Warner grew older, he found a particular fondness for country music, specifically the songs of Hank Williams and Eddie Arnold.

The family moved to Jackson, Tennessee when Warner was seven, and to Vicksburg, Mississippi when he was nine, which is where he was raised, though the family would regularly return to Nashville, which during the time of Warner Mack’s young adult life, became the epicenter of country music. It was in Vicksburg, though, where he got his start in music as a young DJ, and then on to Shreveport where he began to perform on The Louisiana Hayride, and eventually onto Missouri and the Ozark Jubilee.

In 1957, Warner Mack launched his recording career, taking that song he’d stashed from his youth “Is It Wrong (For Loving You),” and making it a #9 hit in country for Decca Records. But trying his hand at more rockabilly-oriented material saw his fortune eventually stall out. Aside from one minor hit “Roc-A-Chicka,” Warner Mack struggled from the late 50’s to the early 60’s.

Re-signing to Decca in the mid 60’s as a full blown country artist is where Warner’s career found its footing. “The Bridge Washed Out” written by Slim Williamson and others became a #1 hit for Mack in 1965, and a signature song for him. He would put together ten Top 10 hits in the second half of the 60’s decade, including “Talkin’ To The Wall” that he co-wrote with Bill Montague. Meanwhile, Webb Pierce recorded his own version of “Is It Wrong (For Loving You)” and had a hit with it, as would Sonny James, who took it to #1 in 1974.

Loretta Lynn, Bobby Bare, Wanda Jackson, and others would also record “Is It Wrong,” while other songs written by Warner were recorded by the likes of Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, and Jean Shepard. Heading into the 70’s, Warner Mack was cementing a legacy career when a car accident severely changed the trajectory of his life. Ailing and unable to function regularly—let alone tour—his production trailed off, and he was eventually dropped by Decca in 1974.

Warner Mack required 13 surgeries over many years before he was able to get his life fully back on track, and by the time it was, country music had moved on from artists like him. But Warner still figured out ways to be involved in the music. His songwriting catalog kept him afloat through the hard times. He started his own record label called Pageboy, and a publishing company called Bridgewood. He also opened a storefront in Nashville called Warner Mack’s Country Store.

Meanwhile that song he wrote as a heartsick teen at the age of 13 kept finding new life with performers, as did other Warner Mack songs. Even into the 90’s, Ricky Van Shelton had a Top 15 hit with Mack’s “After The Lights Go Out.” In 2010 when Marty Stuart recorded “Bridge Washed Out” for his album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, it was a nod to Mack.

Warner Mack died in Nashville on March 1st at the age of 86, 73 years after writing a hit song that will outlive us all.

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