Lyman Corbitt “Mac” McAnally, Jr., grew up in Belmont, where he sang and played piano at the Belmont First Baptist Church before becoming a session musician and songwriter at the age of fifteen. McAnally wrote and recorded hit songs, their insightful lyrics expanding the range of country music and powerfully evoking the flavor of southern life. He was also a producer and an award-winning guitar player in Nashville from the 1970s into the twenty-first century.
Born July 15, 1957, in Red Bay, Alabama, Lyman Corbitt (Mac) McAnally, Jr., grew up in Belmont. By the age of three he was singing gospel at the First Baptist Church as his mother played piano. By age eight he was beginning to play piano himself, and a year later writing poetry. At fifteen, he was regularly playing piano in honky tonks up across the Tennessee borderline, despite his lack of early exposure to country music, and he was writing ambitious short stories and poems, which he would soon begin converting into songs. In his junior year in high school, certain that he wanted a musical career, he left school to pursue it. His parents came to support the move though his father was the school’s assistant principal.
Working as a session musician and fledgling songwriter at Wishbone Production and Publishing in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the teenage prodigy turned to the guitar and placed an original song, “I Need You Tonight,” for Hank Williams, Jr., on the first session he played on. By age nineteen, McAnally had his own first record and a pop radio hit, “It’s a Crazy World.” He demonstrated a honeyed, jazz and R&B influenced vocal style comparable to that of singer-songwriter James Taylor, and a direct yet detailed, observant writing style that made natural the dedication of his first album to William Faulkner. It was not obvious that his future would be in Nashville, or in country music, but within the next years McAnally would see the band Alabama take his “Old Flame” to No. 1 on the country charts, and country singers including Randy Travis, John Anderson, Ricky Skaggs, Ricky Van Shelton, and Charley Pride all recording his songs—even as he became a regular songwriter and working guitar ace for pop favorite Jimmy Buffett.
By the 1990s, Mac McAnally would emerge as a singular country music quadruple threat. As a producer, he would helm and sometimes engineer key releases by Marty Stuart, Sawyer Brown, Chris LeDoux and others, and operate a recording studio in Muscle Shoals. As an expressive guitar picker, he would appear on recordings by George Jones, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Keith Whitley and Reba McIntyre, eventually winning the Country Music Association’s “Musician of the Year” award multiple times. As a performer, he would still be recording new much-praised records thirty years after his first. His down home, literate songwriting would take him to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. Back home where he came from, he would be inducted into The Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008.
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