Lyman "Mac" McAnally Jr. was born in Red Bay, Alabama on July 15, 1957, and raised in Belmont, Miss. A guitar and piano prodigy, he was performing in the honky-tonks and Baptist churches along the Mississippi/Tennessee state line at age 13. He was intrigued early on by the instrumental work of Ry Cooder, Paul McCartney, Doc Watson and bluegrass star Tony Rice and quickly blossomed as a picker in his own right. By age 18, McAnally was a seasoned session musician for the pop and R&B stars who regularly came to record in Muscle Shoals. He was also a tremendous fan of James Taylor, whose work inspired him to write his own songs when McAnally was a teenager.
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In 1980, McAnally was the first artist signed to Geffen Records. "I guess David Geffen was a fan of my songwriting," he explains. "I remember he said to me, 'I think you're an artist in the old sense, and I'd like to be a patron of the arts in the old sense. I want to foster what you do. I won't tell you how to do it, who to do it with or where to do it - I just want you to record it. We'll figure out what it is after you turn it in.' I felt truly blessed."
Geffen was not McAnally's only fan, however. The young artist had visited the Top 10 of the Adult Contemporary Charts in 1977 with "It's a Crazy World." "Minimum Love" would repeat that feat in 1983 and "Back Where I Come From" became a Top 10 Country staple in 1990. Between 1991 and 1995, in fact, McAnally made the Country hit parade with "Down the Road," "The Trouble With Diamonds" and "Junk Cars." "Simple Life" was a much-played syndicated radio anthem in1993 and '94.
His albums - Mac McAnally (Ariola, 1977); No Problem Here (Ariola, 1978); Nothin' but the Truth (Geffen, 1983); Finish Lines (Geffen, 1988); Simple Life (Warner Bros., 1990); Live and Learn (MCA, 1992); and Knots (MCA, 1994) became prized by record collectors ("unintentional collector's items," he jokes). His warm, witty live performances, meanwhile, garnered him a bona fide cult following.
Making his own albums aside, Mac is also notable as a producer of artists ranging from Jimmy Buffett to Ricky Skaggs to Sawyer Brown. Furthermore, his guitar work and harmony vocals can be heard on albums by such luminaries as Lyle Lovett, Trisha Yearwood, Keith Whitley, Nanci Griffith, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, George Jones, Reba McEntire, Hank Williams Jr. and Patty Loveless, among others.
As a songwriter, McAnally has provided hits for Buffett ("It's My Job"), Alabama ("Old Flame"), Shenandoah ("Two Dozen Roses"), Steve Wariner ("Precious Thing"), Sammy Kershaw ("Southbound"), Nanci Griffith ("Nickel Dreams") and Sawyer Brown (the Grammy-nominated "All These Years"). He is also a song publisher and arranger. Moreover, this Southern Renaissance man operates his own recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
To remain fresh as a live performer, McAnally alternates his solo shows with stints as a guest member of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. Members of that crew can be heard on Word of Mouth's "The Ass and the Hole," "Things to Do Today" and "Pop Top Hop."
McAnally's real musical heart, though, is where the home is. "I write and record at my house down in. Muscle Shoals," he explains. "It's on the bluffs at the edge of town, with a front porch that overlooks the river front on a one-way street where maybe 15 cars go by a day. Anytime you can walk around in your underwear playing the mandolin and call it work is a good thing. It's a good-sounding place, too, and I enjoy sharing it. Jimmy Buffett and Sawyer Brown like working there. When we work there, it's just magical," McAnally continues. "The way most records are made today, it's more 'recreation' than creation -- people are generally just trying to improve on demo tapes. From an energy standpoint, that is a very different process, and rarely as interesting, as people playing together live and taking it as it comes. I knew what I wanted on this record, but I didn't work out all the parts ahead of time. I wanted there to be a fair amount left to chance so those live studio moments would happen."
Mac McAnally has what many recording artists can only dream of -- complete artistic freedom. Already the envy of his peers as a hit songwriter, much sought-after session player and top-tier producer, McAnally was given carte blanche to make his latest album.
The result, Word of Mouth (released June 1, 1999, on DreamWorks Records), is a travelogue of musical styles ranging from the swing of "Pop Top Hop" to the down-home country of "Out the Window," from the rowdy rocker "The Ass and the Hole" to the lush R&B ballad "Better Than the Good Ole Days," from the soaring pop of "Just One Forever" to the gritty soul of "Things to Do Today."
During sessions for the disc, McAnally alternated between the Muscle Shoals home studio and his home in Nashville, where he rejuvenated himself with family time (he is married, with three children). He often composes on the long drive between the two locales.
"Half my songs are written without an instrument, just in my head," he says. "I'm as undisciplined as you can get. I pretend like I'm never gonna write another song. Then one will fester to the point where it throws me down and disrupts my schedule. I never question it when that happens, I just write it."
Clearly, McAnally is just pretending when he lets slip the notion to quit writing. "A lot of people look at the way the music business is today and say, 'Why do it?,' he informs. "I never say that. You do it because you can do it, because you have the opportunity. You have an obligation. You are given this talent and doing something with it is a privilege very few people have. For me to be able to pursue this, with this much freedom, is a wonderful thing. I wouldn't trade places with anyone."
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