"Well they call me the fireman, that's my name/ making my rounds all over town, putting out old flames." - The Fireman - Mack Vickery-Wayne Kemp.

Legendary honky tonk singer-songwriter and embryonic Sun Records singer Mack Vickery has died at 66.

Vickery was born in Town Creek, Alabama, but reportedly died of a heart attack in Nashville on December 21.

Mack was a character who rode in the same hell-raising caboose as the late Harlan Howard and Max D Barnes.

Vickery wrote a brace of hits for artists diverse as George Strait, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Vern Gosdin, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Anderson, Tanya Tucker and the late Johnny Paycheck.

He won BMI Awards for The Fireman - a big hit for Texan rancher Strait - and The Jamestown Ferry for Texan temptress Tanya Tucker.

Vickery's 222 plus song catalogue included collaborations with Gosdin, Jack Mack, Wayne Kemp, Bobby Borchers, Hank Cochran, Merle Kilgore, Guy Mitchell, Billy Don Burns, Glenn Martin, Jerry Lasseter, Red Lane and Gary Stewart.

And in 1992 the Alabama Music Hall of Fame honoured him with a bronze star in its Walkway of Stars.


Vickery's entrée was not easy - his mother died when he was four and his dad raised him and his brothers.

Mack first went to Memphis to try his luck in the music business in late '57, cutting three songs for Sun Records.

They were Fool Proof, Drive In and Have You Ever Been Lonely.

No single was forthcoming though and they remained unissued for several decades.

But he had releases on a range of labels including Princetown, Gone (the great Goin' Back To St. Louis), Jamie, Afco and Playboy, even using aliases like Vick Vickers and Atlanta James.

Recording under the name Atlanta James for MCA Records, Vickery made his own chart debut in 1974 with That Kind of Fool.

His next and final two chart singles, Ishabilly and Here's to the Horses, came in 1977 on the Playboy label.


Faron Young launched Vickery's career as a songwriter when he took his co-write with Merle Kilgore on She Went a Little Bit Farther to #14 in 1968.

It was to be his songwriting that gave him his greatest achievements though and he started getting regular country hits.

Hank Williams Jr., Ernest Tubb and Sammi Smith also covered the song.

Later he collaborated with Kilgore again for Let Someone Else Drive - a #10 hit for John Anderson who also cut his song Tokyo Oklahoma.

''Rockin' My Life Away is his whole life in one song,'' said Kilgore, who signed Mr. Vickery to his first publishing contract.

''I never met anybody in my whole career that wanted to be around the music 24 hours a day, but all Mack wanted to do was sing, be in clubs and be around music people. He just didn't want to go to bed.''

Mack Vickery

Following the Faron Young success he returned to the charts via Tanya Tucker who hit #5 with Jamestown Ferry.

Other classics that he's written include I'm The Only Hell My Mother Ever Raised that Johnny Paycheck took to #8 and You Gotta Be Puttin' Me On by Lefty Frizzell.


"Lately I've heard rumours that the eagle may be lame/ just because I've been idle don't mean that I'm tame/ I can fly if I have to, if they turn the eagle loose." The Eagle - Hank Cochran-Red Lane, Mack Vickery

Waylon Jennings cut a few of his songs - it was a match made in heaven.

They included Cedartown, Georgia, The Eagle, The Watchman and I Can't Keep My Hands Off You.

Cedartown, Georgia is a great tale of a revenge-seeking husband whose woman has been caught cheating on him.

Waylon took it to #12 on the country charts in 1971.

Jennings also cut the stunningly beautiful, I Can't Keep My Hands Of Off You, in 1974 for his Ramblin' Man album.

It's a love song with sensual lyrics backed with some great tear-in-your-beer steel by Ralph Mooney.

Waylon's buddy Shotgun Willie Nelson also recorded The Rainmaker and 2 With a 10 and Lefty Frizzell and Vern Gosdin cut You Gotta Be Puttin' Me On.


Vickery and Jerry Lee Lewis were kindred spirits in Mack's early days.

The Killer cut many of his songs from ballads like Honky Tonk Wine, Ivory Tears, I Sure Miss Those Good Old Times and That Old Bourbon Street Church to storming rockers Meat Man and Rockin' My Life Away, both of which have remained constants in Jerry Lee's live shows.

Mack was present at legendary 1973 Southern Roots session that Jerry Lee cut using just southern musicians, southern songs and plenty of southern whiskey.

Jerry Lee has an absolute ball with Meat Man - no one on earth was better placed or prepared to shout out the bragging innuendoes of his sexual prowess.

Vickery or Jerry were not talking about animals and butchers.

It was at this session that Jerry Lee also cut That Old Bourbon Street Church - an unusual song for Mack, but again the chemistry between writer and interpreter is spot on, with Jerry Lee delivering a soul-drenched take.

Equally as good was his biographical rocker Rockin' My Life Away.


South Texas rancher and superstar George Strait also plucked songs from Mack's deep catalogue for hits.

They included My Old Flame Is Burnin' Another Honky Tonk Down, She Knows When You're On My Mind and award winning #10 hit The Fireman.

Hank Williams Jr's early albums were peppered with Vickery compositions.

In 1989 Mack won the MCN (Music City News - later the TNN) award for Song Of The Year for I'll Leave This World Loving You - a hit for Ricky Van Shelton.

It is one of those delicate songs that has touched the hearts of many, and has been used at funerals and on hymn sheets.

The partnership also proved success on Who'll Turn Out The Lights - also covered by Ronnie McDowell who also cut Hot Burning Flames that Vickery had penned with Hank Cochran and Wayne Kemp.

Kemp has been a long time collaborator with Vickery.

Texan legend George Jones cut I'll Give You Something To Drink About for his I Lived To Tell It All album.

Another Nashville legend to use his work was Johnny Cash who cut Vickery's God Bless Robert E. Lee for his Johnny 99 album and Walkin' Free Streets Again.


Vickery was also renowned for the dentist chair in his bedroom.

The cover photo of his 1970 album cut Live At The Alabama Women's Prison shows him one side of the prison bars with four lusty jailbirds the other side, and it's hard to tell whether they want to get out of their cell more than he wants to get in!

''He went down and got buddy-buddy with the warden,'' Kilgore said. ''It was a female warden. They had a few drinks together, and he talked her into letting him come down there. He came out onstage like Elvis - shaking - and them women went wild.''

In recent times he wrote a song with Chief Bearheart of the Perdido Bay Tribe of Lower Muscogee Creek Indians called I Knew We Could All Get Along When An Indian Sings a Cowboy Song so the humour still seems to be there.

He made a welcome appearance at the Jerry Lee Lewis Convention that celebrated his 66th birthday, joining the Killer on stage for Can't Rock No More, Meat Man and Will The Circle Be Unbroken.


Vickery's other honky tonkers included Jones on the Jukebox for Becky Hobbs and Let's Get Over Them Together for Becky and Moe Bandy.

He also penned Waiting for the Tables to Turn - cut by Tanya Tucker Wayne Kemp, Charlie Pride & Hank Williams Jr.

Strait and Playboy bunny come singer Barbi Benton also cut Brass Buckles and Hot Burning Flames.

Texan honky tonker Mark Chesnutt and Emilio Navaro covered Mack's Honky Tonk Habits and Settling For What They Get.

Vickery wrote Desperate Men and Outlaws at the Cross with Billy Don Burns.

''Ol' Mack was something else,'' said Burns, a friend and collaborator. ''He did party and get down, but he was a kind person who was good to everybody. He made everybody feel like they were somebody.''

Hank Jr and Anderson also recorded I Can't Take it Any Longer.

Faron Young, Ernest Tubb and Louise Mandrell covered A Little Bit Further and Some of my best Friends are Old Songs.


Vickery, like many peers, will also be remembered for some of his songs that escaped without a chart magnet.

His 222 plus song catalogue includes gems such as -

· Boston's Busiest Peeping Tom
· The Bubblegum Bandit
· Bad Girls
· Cheating Our Way To Heaven
· Don't Touch My Yum, Yum
· Three Proverbial Rodents With Defective Vision
· Falling Out Shelter
· Harvey Harrington IV The Roach,
· Love Held The Gun, Hate Pulled The Trigger
· Salesman for Jesus
· Send Me A Box Of Kleenex
· Paper Prison
· Perverted
· Pied Piper
· She's Up To My Old Tricks
· Your Sugar Bowl Is Empty Now.
· Heaven Ain't A Honky Tonk

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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