If Mac McAnally never sang or played another note of music, his place in music history is more than assured. And yet an almost inevitable momentum seems to be taking his career and carrying it to places it has never been. The fact that two of country music's biggest stars have given McAnally an almost reverential nod speaks to just how much energy the celebrated songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and producer is developing as a recording artist.
The release of his new single "You First," the recording of a full album of his self-penned songs, the signing to a prominent Nashville label and the recent No. 1 single as a writer and an artist are all significant pieces of this new image. And even though Mac McAnally doesn't really need these new colors on his already breathtaking career canvas, their seemingly unassailable emergence might indicate something else. Maybe, just maybe, the music needs him.
Case in point, McAnally's recent signing to Show Dog Nashville, the young but immensely successful independent label owned and operated by Toby Keith. When a man with Keith's musical and business acumen puts his chips down, it means something. "There's nobody more respected, at least when it comes to musicians and people who really know this business, than Mac McAnally," Keith said of bringing McAnally to the company. "Getting to be a part of whatever Mac wants to do is an honor for me, and for everyone at the label."
Next at the podium, Kenny Chesney. The man who had already recorded McAnally's "Back Where I Come From" asked for a little help when he decided to cut Mac's "Down The Road." Powered by vocals from both artists, the song reached the No. 1 spot earlier this year and was nominated in the ACM Vocal Event category.
"I am really happy about having a No. 1 with my very good friend, and frankly, one of my songwriting heroes," Chesney said at the time. "[Mac has] given the world so much wonderful music. He wrote this song on a Christmas morning years ago, waiting for his kids to get up and it comes from such a wonderful place. To be able to hear him on the radio, well, that just kills me..."
McAnally's triumphant return to the airwaves gave him his first chart-topper as an artist and sixth as a songwriter. His upcoming Show Dog album, led by "You First," aims to plant an even higher flag on the mountain of musical success. And how fitting a capper that success will be, considering his status as one of music's primary earth movers.
Music was the most obvious road for Lymon "Mac" McAnally to take from his Red Bay, Alabama. birthplace and Belmont, Mississippi hometown. He was a guitar and piano prodigy who performed in clubs at 13, wrote his first song at 15 and landed as a Muscle Shoals studio musician at 18. Mac signed his first record deal, with Ariola, at 20 and launched two singles "It's A Crazy World" and "Minimum Love."
His songwriting drew the attention of Jimmy Buffett and Hank Williams, Jr., both of whom cut McAnally songs. Alabama took his "Old Flame" to No. 1 in 1981. The song cemented his status as a hit maker, a reputation that has never waned. Reba McEntire, T.G. Sheppard, David Allan Coe, Shenandoah, Ricky Van Shelton, Charley Pride, Randy Travis and Steve Wariner are just some of the artists who cut Mac's songs over the next 20 years.
In the late '80s and '90s, McAnally became an in-demand producer, along the way working with Ricky Skaggs, Restless Heart, Chris LeDoux and Little Feat, among others. He produced the band Sawyer Brown through their biggest successes and penned their #1 hits including "All These Years," "This Time" and "Thank God For You."
Meanwhile, Mac's skills as a musician continued to bring calls that carried him into the studio. Over the course of his career he's built an enviable registry of credits that includes Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Jr., Amy Grant, Jimmy Buffett, Travis Tritt, Linda Ronstadt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dolly Parton, Little Richard, Billy Joel and many more. And his guitar and vocal skills weren't confined to the studio as he joined Buffett's touring Coral Reefer band, an association that continues to this day. McAnally has also produced several of Buffett's albums including the #1 "License To Chill" and written many of his songs.
And even in the midst of creating a prodigious body of behind-the-scenes work, McAnally continued to make his own music. All told, he has recorded 10 albums, all for major labels. In fact, he was the first artist signed to David Geffen's legendary rock label Geffen Records.
His accomplishments are now beginning to be fully recognized. In 2007, McAnally was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The following year, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame followed suit, while the Country Music Association named him Musician of the Year. And, Mac continues to own and operate his own recording studio in Muscle Shoals.
So the question remains: Why? Why now? Why is his biggest success and notoriety as an artist happening after he's already achieved so much? McAnally is more than confirmed as one of the most accomplished and revered creative forces in the music business. He has nothing left to prove. Maybe this time, however, the music business has something to prove to Mac McAnally.