Sean Clancy talks success and git-tars with Arkansas' one and only


May 22, 1930 - June 14, 2011

li>Mack Self: a special feature (June, 2011)

Mack Self lives in a comfortable house at the end of a dead-end road just off of Seventh Street across from the Faust Saw Mill in West Helena, Arkansas. The house is roomy and comfortable in a very lived-in sort of way. You can tell that children have been raised there and a lot of loving and working and hollering has taken place behind the front door.

Only a few remnants of Mack's past are immediately obvious; the original publicity photo that was colored and airbrushed for the cover of Mack's record in the recent Bear Family Sun Records box set, The Country Years, hangs on the living room wall and a few performance photos from the old days are scattered around. That's about it. The rest are out of sight, tucked away unselfconsciously.

Mack has put on a few pounds since that photo was taken back in 1956. His face has developed a few lines. But his hair is still super cool, combed back and a stately salt and pepper, and his smile and voice are infectious. A big man, Mack has a resounding laugh that comes frequently and pleasantly. He gives you the impression that he is not to be toyed with and yet is completely unintimidating. In short, Mack Self is a damn nice human being and a great story-teller, in a humble, good-ol'-boy fashion, free of pretensions and with a neat lithe twinkle in his eyes.

He can also write a mean tune. In 1955 Mack was playing a radio show on KXJK in Forrest City, Arkansas when Hal Webber, who was working at the station at the time, convinced him to record a song, "Easy To Love," that had been getting a load of listener response. Mack recorded the song with his band at the KXJK studios and the tape found its way to Sun Studios and Sam Phillips.

"Sam liked my voice," says Mack. "He said 'Come up here and we'll audition you.' I went two songs, 'cuz that's all I had and he says 'What else ya got?' and I says 'Well that's it' and he says 'What do you mean comin' up here with just two songs?' (laughs). Well, I got mad and I throwed my git-tar over in the corner and said 'Hell, that's all it takes to make a record!' (big laughs) and he says 'Calm down! C'mon, boy, let's go get some coffee.' So I said 'Okay.'"

Out of that first session came a version of "Easy To Love" that would later be reworked into the classic that it was to become. After overcoming a bout with songwriter's insecurity ("All I had were little ol' novelty songs. I didn't think they was any good."), Mack made it back into the studio after about a year and in one marathon session cut the bulk of his Sun cannon with the legendary Jack Clement handling the A&R chores. With Jimmy Evans on bass and Therlow Brown on "hot git-tar," as Mack says, they tapped a vein of true hillbilly music that was, even then, becoming increasingly rare.

With a new version of "Easy To Love" and a smokin' up-beat song called "Vibrate," Mack had two records that were easily as good as anything Sun had ever put out. His other songs, for the most part, were passable romps and ballads of typical hillbilly-country fare. But initial commercial resistance, Jerry Lee Lewis' success and Sam Phillips' short attention span left Mack out in the cold. Whatever hard feelings that Mack held for Phillips have pretty much been let go over the years. Unlike a few of his Sun contemporaries, namely Billy Lee Riley and Charlie Feathers, Mack has accepted his time at Sun for what it was - a lot of fun - and there are no traces of bitterness one hears so often from older musicians who never really pushed it over the top.

Mack's smart, though. He had the integrity and business acumen to realize that maybe his Knox publishing deal (he wrote all of his own tunes) was not the most advantageous to the artist. So he got his music republished through his own company and even now receives royalties from the songs he wrote so long ago.

Around the early 60's Mack cut a few sides for the Zone label out of Memphis with Chips Moman (who had just jumped ship from the newly established Stax/Volt label across town) tweaking the knobs. The collaboration resulted in Mack's biggest-selling record, "Four Walls of memories." And not too long after that, Mack hung up his Gibson and with a brand new baby girl and his lovely wife Hazel, went to his day job full-time in West Helena, raising a family and paying the bills and having fun outside of music. Mack is retired now. He owned his own sheet metal business and, has decided to take it easy and enjoy time with Hazel now that the babies are grown.

He also pulled out the flat top again and is experiencing a career rebirth of sorts. He is playing at juke joints around the Arkansas Delta and across the bridge in Mississippi and he recently blew away a sizable crowd at a local festival in downtown Helena. He has a good, tight band behind him and they mix up country and rockabilly with grace and ease. Mack is having a blast and he's writing songs again and, from what I've heard, his new country songs are a helluva lot better than most of the dreck that passes for country on the radio these days.

I had to ask... "Any regrets, Mack?"
"Naawww. Hell naw. I made it, you know? I made it sittin' at home!" (laughs)
He sure did.


From the "Daily World" Newspaper:

By Betty Adams, World Staff Writer

Mack Self, one of the originators of Rockabilly music, which is a mixture of rock, country, rhythm and blues, had the prestigious honor of being submitted to the "Rockabilly Hall of Fame." Self best describes Rockabilly as being country music with a beat. Rockabilly music originated in the 1950's at the old Sun Records in Memphis, which was owned by Sam Phillips. One of the earliest hits was Elvis presley's "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

Burl J. Boykin, president of the Publicity Group of Abbeville, Miss., was in West Helena last Friday to present the award to Self. Boykin, C.W. Gatlin, Ralph Jones, James Taylor, Benny Adler jammed with Self in what was supposed to be a benefit concert held Friday at Nicole's Restaurant. A packed house of friends and well wishers had been told in advance this was to be a surprise presentation for Self.

Self is in good company with his singing style; such other notables in the field of Rockabilly are Sonny Burgess, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, the late Conway Twitty, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Eddie Bond, Billy Lee Riley, Bobby Lee Trimble and Dave Travis of England.

Self has traveled all over the South for singing engagements and had recorded for Sun and Phillips Record Companies in Memphis, along with recording on several independent labels. He recently had a CD made on DEEGEE label in Hamburg, Germany, which is a compilation of his hits: "Four Walls of Memories," "Vibrate," "Mad at You," and many more. Making music is a family affair for the Self's. Youngest son Vince plays the drums, oldest son Jerry Plays base guitar and sings; and daughters Darla Clark, Dawn Mosby, Skeeter Jeanette Shockley and Tammy Baker all sing.

Self was employed in the heating, air and sheet metal business for many years. Mack and C.W. Gatlin began making music together when C.W. was 15. Mack has played with Conway Twitty and Levon Helm. In fact, he got Helm his first job with Ronnie Hawkins. Mack also began playing the guitar and singing when he was 15. He said his mother purchased him his first guitar from Sears and Roebuck when he was 7 years old. In 1992 he cut albums with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Warren Smith.

A record he cut in 1955 "Easy To Love", which was released in 1957 has become a classic and his still a big seller today. He still receives royalties for "Easy to Love" and another big seller "Mad at You" which he cut at Phillips Records. He also receives international royalties off another song "Vibrate." He also receives fan mail from all over the world and recently received fan mail from Australia. Self said that Rockabilly is really popular in Europe and he says he's in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Sweden.

He and Jerry lee Lewis were both at Sun Records with releases at the same time. Mack made 273 recordings for the old Sun Records and Jerry was somewhere around that number. He and his wife Hazel met in 1957 at the old teen club in Monroe, had two dates and the rest is history. They've been married for 41 years. Self quit the nightclub circuit in 1963, devoting his time to raising his children and to run his heating, air and sheet metal business. He started taking play dates again in 1992. He is now accompanied by his band, The Silver dollar band, made up of Bennie Adler, Ralph Jones, C.W. Gatlin and sometimes by guitar player James Taylor.

Self became the 117th inductee of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame website is He said some of the well-known inductees were Gene Vincent who sang "Bee Bop-A-Lula", Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley, Billy Swan, Narvel Felts, Jack Scott, Gene Simmons, Dale Hawkins, Buddy Knox, Charlie Feathers, Sonny Burgess, Larry Dunn, Ricky Nelson, Wanda Jackson, Eddie Bond, Lefy Frizell, Carl Perkins, Tommy Sands, Johnny Cash and Dave Robel.

Self who suffers from asthma recently took a well-deserved break from music. Four weeks ago he did a TV show in Jackson, Tennessee and did one cut which is on his new album. Now that he's feeling good he plans to take bookings anywhere someone wants to hear a good singer such as weddings, private parties or whatever. His wife says she plans to accompany him when he plays. In the early days of rockabilly, self played at the old Habib's Restaurant, McIntire Furniture in Helena and the old Supper Club and various other spots in West Helena.

C.W. Gatlin who has accompanied Self on his latest recording is one of the greatest guitar pickers around adds Mack. He was taught a lot about the guitar by the late Thurlo Brown. "I Wish I Had A Silver Dollar" is his newest song. Self who was born in the Calico Bottoms area of Phillips County wrote a song to honor his birth place appropriately entitled "Calico Bottoms." He gets much of his inspiration from feelings he has inside, life in general and seeing relationships.

He spends a lot of his time writing rockabilly music. Self said for many years his style of music kinda died out, but it's now becoming popular once again. Self adds, a "rockabilly artist is versatile and can play several types of music." He's recently written about 20 new songs, but hasn't recorded any of them yet. Among those new songs three of which are Blues, 10 are rockabilly and the other seven are just good songs.

Mack a tall, heavy set, southern gentleman says "I like to come out like a sharecropper, grab my guitar and surprise the crowd with my music." He adds, "I plan to keep on making music until the day I die." Hopefully Self, who is 69, will be around for a long time to come to share his music and delight audiences. His wife once said when Mack begins to sing he can literally sing all night.

--Courtesy Daily World, West Helena, Arkansas

Mack Self "Vibrate" CD 270130-2
Vibrate; Mad At You; Easy To Love (master); Goin' Crazy (version 1); Everyday; Lovin' Memories; Little One; Willie Brown; Mexican Limbo; You Put These Tears In My Eyes; Breakin' New Ground; Four Walls Of Memories (version 1); Jody McClain (version 1); Mortals Make Mistakes (version 1); Goin' Crazy (version 2); What Makes A heart keep On Lovin'; Folsom Prison Blues; Teardrops Fallin'; Lonely Echoes; Four Walls, Two Windows; Yesterday's Gone; Goin' Back To Georgia; What'll I Do; Four Walls Of Memories (version 2); Bridges; Mortals Make Mistakes (version 2); Jody McClain (version 2); Easy To Love (alternate version); Goin' Crazy (version 3); I've Got Pennies In My Pocket Including all Sun & Phillips International recordings.

LEFT: Lead guitarist C.W. Gatlin, Vince Self (Mack's son), Mack and Burl.
RIGHT: Mack, Bassist Ralph Jones, Burl

Rockabilly Hall of Fame