Country and rockabilly singer Mack Allen Smith was born in 1938 in Carroll County. He spent his early years in the community of “Little Texas” ten miles outside of Carrolton, where he and his parents lived together with his maternal grandparents. His first experiences singing were at the Hickory Grove Baptist Church, and he was surrounded by music at home. His mother played guitar and sang, and her brothers played multiple instruments in a string band that Mack often saw perform at his grandparents’ home. A distant cousin was Shell Smith, guitarist in the duo Narmour and Smith, who made multiple recordings in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s.
During World War II Smith lived briefly at Camp McCain, where his father was employed, and after he completed third grade the family moved to Carrolton, where they initially lived in the back of a family-owned grocery. There Mack was exposed to blues “across the railway tracks.” He remembers seeing blues legend (and local resident) Mississippi John Hurt performing with his uncle Archie Herbert at the school bus shop in North Carrolton.
Mack began performing as a lead singer in 1954 while still in high school with the Future Farmers of America [FFA] band at the J.Z. George High School, which won State FFA championships two years in a row. After graduation, Smith joined the Kenny Minyard band, which performed country and rockabilly, and in late 1956 he formed the Carroll County Rock and Roll Boys, whose name he soon changed to Mack Allen Smith and the Flames. The group played at venues including the 51 Club in Durant, the VFW halls in Kosciusko and Greenwood, and at the Community House in Carrolton, where he played hundreds of shows over the years.
From January 1957 to January 1959 Smith served in the Marine Corps in Oceanside, California, and performed at the USO club on base as well as with an African American band at the Figure 8 club in Los Angeles. After leaving the service, Smith returned to Carrollton and reformed the Flames. They recorded three songs at Memphis’ Sun Records in 1959 that were never released. In 1962 they recorded two singles at the studio of Memphis Hi Records that were issued on the Vee Eight label. These included a cover of the blues song “Got My Mojo Working,” made famous several years earlier by Muddy Waters.
The band continued to play regularly across the region, and over the next two decades, Smith recorded twenty more singles for labels including Statue, Mariteen, Jab (a subsidiary of Atlantic), Cynthia, Younger, Delta Sound, Ace, Grape, Cindy Boo, and QMC. In 1972 he recorded an updated version of Narmour and Smith’s signature song “Carroll County Blues,” as well as his first album, a double LP on the Delta Sound label. An album on the Jackson-based Ace label collected various singles, and a contract with a British promoter resulted in four other LPs on British and Dutch labels. Dozens of other songs he has recorded over the years have never been issued.
From 1971 to 1976 Smith operated his own nightclub in Greenwood, Mack Allen Smith’s Town & Country Night Club. In 1979 he traveled to England for a successful two-week tour, and once back in the States continued performing regularly, largely at nightclubs in Vaiden. In 1984 Smith decided to retire from music in order to spend more time with his family and enjoy regular weekend pursuits.
Smith didn’t perform again for 18 years but returned in 2002 when his brother Barry, a bass player, called him to play at a show in Blackhawk, Mississippi. Since then he has played regularly with old band members at shows in the region, but no longer plays in honky-tonks. He also performs solo with karaoke backing at area nursing homes about twenty times a year.
In 1996 the Colonial Press of Birmingham published Smith’s novel Honky-Tonk Addict, which chronicles the wild life of fictionalized honky-tonk singer Mike Sanders. Although the book was inspired by Smith’s own experiences, it’s apparent from his 2002 memoir Looking Back One Last Time that his own personal life was much more stable. There he recalls his work as a bank assessor and insurance agent, as well as his warm relations with his extended family.
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