VICKERY:
JAWS LIKE A BEAR TRAP

AN APPRECIATION OF THE GREAT SONGWRITER

If proof were ever needed that living the night life with Jerry Lee Lewis was bad for you, meet Mack Vickery. Early photos show him to be a real handsome mutha, but after spending too many years partying with the Killer, he looks more like the Butcher than the Meat Man.

Born in Town Creek, Alabama on 8th June 1938, his mother died when he was four, leaving his father to bring up Mack and his numerous brothers and sisters. Mack Vickery first came to Memphis to try his luck in the music business in late '57, cutting three songs for Sun Records, Fool Proof, Drive In and Have You Ever Been Lonely.

No single was forthcoming though and they remained unissued for a couple of decades. He did see 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.


It was to be his songwriting that gave him his greatest achievements though, and he started getting regular country hits, starting with Faron Young who took She Went A Little Bit Further, a co-write with Merle Kilgore into the top 20 in 1968. The song has been covered by Hank Williams Jnr., Ernest Tubb and Sammi Smith. Later he collaborated with Kilgore again for Let Someone Else Drive, which went into the top 10 for John Anderson. Following the Faron Young success he returned to the charts via Tanya Tucker who hit number five with Jamestown Ferry. Other classics that he's written include I'm The Only Hell My Mother Ever Raised which Johnny Paycheck took to number eight and You Gotta Be Puttin' Me On by Lefty Frizzell.

Waylon Jennings cut a few of his songs and with both of there left-field personalities it was a match made in heaven. If Waylon wasn't such a prolific writer himself I'm sure he would have sought more of Mack's work. The most recent Vickery song he covered was 1991's, the The Eagle, which has been taken by the public as a patriotic number with the Eagle symbolising America. Cedartown, Georgia is a great tale of a revenge seeking husband whose woman has been caught cheating on him ñ Waylon took it to number 12 on the country charts in 1971. My favourite though is the stunningly beautiful, I Can't Keep My Hands Of Off You which Waylon cut in 1974 for his Ramblin' Man album. It's a love song with some terrific, sensual lyrics backed with some great tear-in-yer-beer steel by Ralph Mooney - one of the best moments in Nashville history in my humble opinion.

But it's as a writer for his friend and kindred spirit Jerry Lee that Mack Vickery will forever hold a place in my heart. The Killer has 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 the 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 and no one on earth was better placed or prepared to shout out the bragging innuendoes of his sexual prowess. Make no mistake, neither Vickery or Jerry were talking about animals and butchers. It was at this session that Jerry Lee also cut That Old Bourbon Street Church which was something of 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 which Jerry Lee cut in Hollywood for his new deal at Elektra. Jimmy Guterman sums it up succinctly in his book listening to Jerry Lee Lewis; "Mack Vickery's Rockin' My Life Away was a wonderful autumnal rocker that immediately became Jerry Lee's statement of purpose and all-purpose theme song. The sparkling lyrics vacillated between the obscure and the bizarre, but the feel was right. What did those words mean? The first line of the song, after all, was "14, 25,40, 98," and the lines rolled out of Jerry Lee's mouth as if they had some deep meaning. In fact, Vickery had conceived of the song as a Specialty-era Little Richard-style rocker, with the first line scooping up tension like a quarterback calling signals before a play. But in Jerry Lee's music, how something is said is far more important than what is said, which is part of why Rockin' My Life Away was so intense and enjoyable. "Watch me now," Jerry Lee shouted before his solo, and in a few seconds he erased five years of bad memories." I would say that's about right!

George Strait is one of the rare breed of modern country singers who doesn't write his own stuff, choosing instead to use the mass of songwriters at his disposal. His albums have always shown that he has his favourite writers like Dean Dillon and Bob McDill that he turns to whenever he enters the studio. Mack Vickery is another who has supplied him with a number of tracks throughout his career, from My Old Flame Is Burnin' Another Honky Tonk Down and She Knows When You're On My Mind to the award winning top-tenner, The Fireman. Hank Williams Jnr's is another whose early albums were peppered with Vickery compositions, and as with Jerry Lee you could see a kindred spirit existing between the two.
In 1989 he won the MCN (Music City News - later the TNN) award for Song Of The Year for "I'll Leave This World Loving You which had been 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 a number that had been done by Ronnie McDowell who had also cut Hot Burning Flames that Vickery had penned with Hank Cochran and Wayne Kemp (Kemp has been a long time collaborator with Vickery).

George Jones cut another clever number for his I Lived To Tell It All album called I'll Give You Something To Drink About, the type of song that Vickery excels at writing as much as George Jones does singing. Another Nashville legend to use his work was Johnny Cash who cut Vickery's God Bless Robert E. Lee for his Johnny 99 album.

I love the story from Now Dig This by Jim Newcombe who went to Vickery's house and was shown the dentists chair in the bedroom - it's for that maytang tongue with the sensitive taste! The cover photo of his 70's 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! 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 which celebrated his 66th birthday, joining the Killer on stage for Can't Rock No More, Meat Man and Will The Circle Be Unbroken A truly magical writer, and as with the best of the Memphis crowd, a sandwich short of a picnic.

Shaun Mather
December 2002
Shaun.Mather@btinternet.com





Some Song Lyrics
Any additions welcome!


The Fireman
(Mack Vickery/Wayne Kemp)
Well they call me the fireman, that's my name.
Making my rounds all over town, putting out old flames.
Well everybody'd like to have a what I got.
I can cool 'em down when they're smold'ring hot.
I'm the fireman, that's my name.
        Last night they had a bad one a mile or two down the road.
        Well my buddy walked out and left his woman burning out of control.
        Well I was down there in about an hour or so.
        With a little mouth to mouth she was ready to go.
        I'm the fireman, that's my name.
Well they call me the fireman, that's my name.
Making my rounds all over town, putting out old flames.
Well everybody'd like to have a what I got.
I can cool 'em down when they're smold'ring hot.
I'm the fireman, that's my name.
        Got a fire engine red - T - bird automobile.
        In a minute or less I can be dressed fit to kill.
        I work 24 on, 24 off.
        When they get too hot, they just give me a call.
        I'm the fireman, that's my name.
Well they call me the fireman, that's my name.
Making my rounds all over town, putting out old flames.
Well everybody'd like to have a what I got.
I can cool 'em down when they're smold'ring hot.
I'm the fireman, that's my name.
        They call me the fireman, that's my name.



Song of the Year - 1989
I'll Leave This World Loving You
(Writer:- Mack Vickery)
Walk away, leave with my blessing
Once in a while let me hear from you
If we never meet again before my life is over
I'll leave this world loving you
        You can take everything but my memories
        For they're good ones and they'll see me through
        If we never meet again I'll love you forever
        I'll leave this world loving you
You were mine for a time and I'm thankful
Oh, but life will be so lonesome without you
If we never meet again this side of Heaven
I'll leave this world loving you
        If we never meet again this side of Heaven
        I'll leave this world loving you



MEAT MAN
(Mack Vickery)
Performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Ooh-oh, they call me the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Ooh, they call me the meat man
You oughta say meat man, look a-here
I got jaws like a bear trap, teeth like a razor
A mean tied tongue with a sensitive taste
I was born in Texas, the land of beef
I don't care much for greens, but I sure like meat
I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Ooh-my, I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Been down to Macon
Ate the furs of a Georgia peach
I plucked a chicken in Memphis
Mama, still got the feathers in my teeth
I ate a pound of pork in Huntsville
From a fine Alabama hog
Ate a charcoal steak in Dallas
And fed the bone to a stray wet (Louisiana) dog
I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Oh, I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Lord, it don't make me no difference
Just as long as it's good meat
The meat man got no preference
If it's dog or rat, I'll eat it
It don't have to be U.S. government approved
Or stamped with a rate 'A' seal
Just as long it's lean and full of protein
Mama, feed it to me here for a meal
Lord, I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Oh, I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Look out mama!
I got jaws like a bear trap, teeth like a razor
A mean tied tongue with a sensitive taste
I was born in Texas, the land of beef
Never cared much for greens, but I'm a hunk about meat
I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man
Ooh, I'm the meat man
You oughta see me eat man



The Eagle
Performed by Waylon Jennings
(Written by Hank Cochran, Red Lane and Mack Vickery)

Lord knows I am peaceful
when I'm left alone
I've always been an eagle,
been awhile since I have flown
My claws are sharp as ever,
so is my eagle eye
Somethings gonna go tonight,
when the eagle flies
        Lately I've heard rumors
        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
                Chorus:
                So lay all your doubts aside,
                when you go to bed tonight
                My feathers have been ruffled
                and I'm ready for a fight
                Just because I took awhile to fly
                don't mean that I don't care
                When you feel the shadow crossing,
                the eagle's in the air
So lay all your doubts aside,
when you go to bed tonight
My feathers have been ruffled
and I'm ready for a fight
Just because I took awhile to fly
don't mean that I don't care
When you feel the shadow crossing,
the eagle's in the air
When you feel the shadow crossing,
the eagle's in the air.



She Knows When You're On My Mind
(Wayne Kemp/Mack Vickery)
She knows she's holdin' someone who don't love her
She knows she's where you could have been
She knows I turn to her because you turned me down
And she knows when you're on my mind again
        Every night she opens up the door to heaven
        But when you're on my mind I can't go in
        And you come runnin' through my mind
        And I let my memory chase you
        She knows when you're on my mind again
Sometimes late at night I hear her crying
She turns to me but you won't let her in
She knows the door is locked but she keeps trying
She knows when you're on my mind again
        Every night she opens up the door to heaven
        But when you're on my mind I can't go in
        And you come runnin' through my mind
        And I let my memory chase you
        She knows when you're on my mind again



Some Hank Williams Jnr song fragments.

HANK WILLIAMS JR.
BLUES MY NAME

(MGM SE 4344) '66
Produced by Jim Vienneau

Vocal accompaniment by The Jordanaires


3 tracks by Mack as follows:

IT'S WRITTEN ALL OVER YOUR FACE
(Mack Vickery) © '66 Tree Publishingª

LOW AS A MAN CAN GO

(Mack Vickery)
© '66 Tree Publishing ª

I'm so low I could sit down on an old newspaper and hang my feet over the edge
I can't stand to look anyone in the eye I'm as low as a man can go and still be alive
I've heard everybody I've known I'd lost everything that I own
I'm so low I could sit down on an old newspaper and hang my feet over the edge
I can't trust myself in a room with my own life
I'm as low as a man can go and still be alive
I've heard everybody...


OLD FRANK
(Mack Vickery)
© '66 Tree Publishing ª

Sittin' by a campfire eatin' old pork and meats
Waitin' on an old slow freight headin' south to New Orleans
They say it's warm and there's a hot a pretty Creol queen
So I'm leavin' this poor north so cold and eatin' shramps instead of beans
Just like old Frank sittin' there by me the fire was dying neath the pot
And his hands so old tremble from the cold a scene I've never forgot
He said son go on home to your mama before you wind up like me
Hurtin' everyone else includin' yourself don't waste your life foolishly
I could see the tears filling his eyes as he handed me a picture faded bad
And as the angel of death took his last breath
There's standing by me in the picture I could see old Frank and it was sign of death


HANK WILLIAMS JR. -
BALLADS OF THE HILLS AND PLAINS

(MGM SE 4316) '65
Produced by Jim Vienneau

Vocal accompaniment by The Jordanaires



RIVER
(Harlan Sanders - Mack Vickery - Carl Friend)
© '65 Acuff-Rose Music

I've been here longer and I'm stronger and I've seen as much as any man
Now many's crossed me but none have bossed me and I don't believe they ever can
        Hello son I see you're wearin' a gun and you say you're on your way into town
        You say your Ma told you not to but you feel you got to
        Get that man that gunned your daddy down
        From the sheriff's office to the gallows boy that's a mighty mighty short walk
        So why you worry your horse son let you and I take it easy and have a little talk
        Cause I've been here longer...
Well I can see that you're angry and I guess you've got plenty right to be
But the law can handle your daddy's killer much better than you or me
And remember your promise you made your mother
That you never would fought on a gun
So go on home to her boy cause she needs you she wouldn't stand to lose her only son
Well I see you thought it over and I'm glad to see you going home boy
And you wanna know what they call me
Well I'm just the river they call me the Mississippi
I've been here longer...



RAINMAKER
(Mack Vickery - Carl Friend - Roberts)
© '65 Acuff-Rose Music

The fields were perched like cinders rivers all dried up
When a stranger appeared in a little town they called Dried Gulge
When he said I'm a rainmaker most of the folks just stood in doubt
But could he be the miracle sent Lord to end this awful drought
Things in old Dried Gulge happened then the same
Since the old rainmaker came to make it rain
Without a moments hesitation they all agreed the pay is fee
When he said for a thousand dollars boys I'll moss in your sandy sea
They gathered every penny from far and wide they came
To have a big celebration for tonight it was gonna rain
As he was preparin' his potion the hearts were filled with love
And every eye was fixed on those cloudly skies above
Hour after hour but no rain came down
And they caught the old rainmaker just as he was leavin' town
Yeah they hung the rainmaker beneath the dead oak tree
As he cried and he pleaded just wait wait and you're gonna see
Things in old Dried Gulge happened then the same
When they hung the rainmaker they walked on in the rain
When they hung the rainmaker they walked on in the rain





© Rockabilly Hall of Fame ®