|Hall's inaugural class features local music giants|
|Written by Matt Kaffenberger|
|Monday, April 16, 2012 6:35 PM|
Before Eric Clapton and long before Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lonnie Mack was rocking Tri-State roadhouses and blazing the trail that these legendary blues rockers and thousands more have followed.
But even before Mack established himself as rock's first true guitar virtuoso, a blind guitarist and gospel singer named Ralph Trotto was leaving his mark on the area's small but thriving music scene.
Fifty years ago, Mack and Trotto crossed paths when they lived on the same street in Aurora. The elder Trotto befriended Mack and mentored him on guitar. Later, they would perform together, winning mutual respect and admiration.
Now, their long-standing relationship has come full circle. Mack and Trotto were the first to be inducted into the new Southeastern Indiana Music Association's Hall of Fame during the Lawrenceburg Fall Festival Friday, Sept. 28.
"It means a lot to me," said Mack, who lives about 60 miles east of Nashville, Tenn. "Indiana is my home, my friends, and my people."
Mack was scheduled to perform at the festival but health problems forced him to cancel at the last minute. His nephew, local musician Steve Pratt, attended the induction ceremonies in downtown Lawrenceburg on his behalf.
Trotto's eldest sister, Jessie Probst, Aurora, accepted the Hall of Fame honor for Trotto, who died last year at 70.
"This would have meant so much to Ralph. I wish he was here to see it. It would have made him so proud," said Probst.
The big Mack attack
Mack was born "Lonnie McIntosh" in West Harrison in 1941. He started performing professionally in his early teens.
Sporting the more professional sounding surname "Mack," he worked Tri-State clubs and roadhouses, playing rockabilly, blues, country, r&b and his signature "in-your-face" rock.
In 1958, Mack bought the electric guitar he still plays today- a Gibson Flying V, serial number 7. As Keith Wyatt of www.guitarworld.com put it, "Lonnie has been more faithful to his original Flying V than most men are to their wives."
The Flying V's body has been repainted several times, On one occasion the the guitar's neck was broken off and tossed in the garbage before it was later retrieved and repaired. Mack remembers another close call.
"Back in '63 or '64, I had a car wreak out i Iowa and my guitar went through the side of an Econoline van. It landed about 100 yards out in a cornfield. I picked the guitar up out of its case, and the guitar was still in tune. I thought, "This is a good one. I think I'll keep it," said Mack.
In addition to his live gigs, Mack began playing sessions for the King and Fraternity record labels in Cincinnati. He was soon recording with blues and r&b greats including Freddie King, Hank Ballard and James Brown.
In 1963, Mack cut an instrumental version of Chuck Berry's Memphis. The record climbed to No. 5 on the charts while Mack was out on the club circuit, and by the time he returned to Cincinnati, he was a national star.
"One night someone wanted to hear the song. I didn't know the lyrics to it, but I'd heard it enough toplay it. It was my big break song and first hit record," said Mack.
Almost overnight, Mack was booked for hundreds of gigs. He criss-crossed the country in his Cadillac, performing a nonstop string of one-nighters and rushing back to Cincinnati or Nashville to cut new singles.
Mack's follow-up single, Wham, picked up where Memphis left off. Nowhere is his unique sound captured more effectively. The song's main riff consists of Delta blues-style chords played fast and furious, said Wyatt.
Where There's a Will, There's a Way, Chicken Pickin and a dozen other records followed Wham.
Mack's career traces the storied history of rock 'n' roll. His music bridged the gap between 1950s rockability and the psychedelic blues-rock of the 1960s. Rock, blues, soul and country- he brought them all together for a sound that has been all his own for nearly 40 years.
Today, Mack is revered by a new generation of rock performers. He has played many of the venues from tiny roadhouse clubs to huge rock showcases and national TV. He also has recorded for major labels and small independent outfits.
"I always knew music was going to be my life. When I look back on it all, there isn't a whole lot I'd change," said Mack.
Blind man with a vision
Trotto was born in Addyston in 1929. He was blind virtually from birth. His parents, Joseph and Hallie, were Italian immigrants.
After moving to Aurora in 1941, Trotto attended a special school for the blind in Indianapolis. There he learned to read Braille.
According to Probst, her brother was a "happy-go-lucky" person who took life in stride. He never let blindness be an handicap to his dream of making music, she said.
"Somebody asked Ralph if he ever missed seeing things. He said, 'You don't miss anything that you've never had,'" said Probst.
Trotto turned his ears to music by faithfully listening to songs on the radio. The Grand Ole Opry and Midwestern Hayride were his favorite programs, said Probst.
Trotta started playing harmonica when he was 7. Shortly thereafter, his mother paid $1 for his first guitar. He never switched instruments again.
Although Trotto could not see, he could play music by sound. He did not need eyes to guide his hands because his body and soul were moved by the rhythm of the beat.
"Music was God's gift to Ralph. It was the love of his life. You name it, and he could play it. That was the kind of talent that he had," said Probst.
Trotto dedicated his life to that love. He played with local bands and musicians. Gospel singing led him throughout the nation to perform at fairs, churches and other gigs. He cut albums and records and made tapes.
Many local musicians enjoyed sharing the stage with Trotto, including Mack, and he loved teaching and inspiring, said Probst.
The final decade of Trotto's life was void of music. A tragic car wreak left him paralyzed an without the use of his arms and hands. He was never the same without his songs.
"He'll always be my little brother. Ralph was a good person all around," said Probst.
*Article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2011, Journal-Press.
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|Last Updated on Monday, April 16, 2012 9:43 PM|