There is no false advertising with the title of Mac Wiseman‘s latest album,Songs From My Mother’s Hand. “All of the material on this CD are from old composition books where my mother copied lyrics from listening to a live radio program back in the late ’20s and early ’30s,” recalls the 2014 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee.
Wiseman confessed to Billboard that seeing his mother’s handwritten copy of the song lyrics takes him back to a much simpler time growing up in Crimora, Virginia. “I was reminded of so many childhood memories, and seeing her sit there writing these songs down. Some of them have never been recorded — most of them had, but nobody knows about them now. That’s where the material comes from.” All in all, Wiseman’s mother, Neva Ruth, filled 13 composition books with lyrics — more than enough for multiple volumes.
Copying down the song lyrics was something that took his mother quite a bit of time, but Wiseman said she had it down to a science. “Her method of madness was that she worked outside in the summertime a lot, of course, but in the winter time, she would sit in front of this old radio while she crocheting or quilting, and all the music on the radio at that time was live radio programs. There’s wasn’t any concept of the disc jockey at all. She kept her composition book and pen on top of the old radio, and when they’d sing a song, she’d get a few lines, a verse, or something like that, and then she’d lay her book back up. A few days later, they’d sing the same song, and she’d add a little bit more. It was really a chore — and to think she filled up 13 of these old composition books full of songs she wrote down for me.”
The song titles read like an essential reading list of pure Americana music — one that includes “Old Rattler,” “Little Rosewood Casket” and “The Wreck of the Number Nine,” all songs that Wiseman heard growing up in Appalachia. “It was at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was raised at her old homeplace, which is still standing after 200 years. My brother and his son bought the old homeplace, and they have things stored in it. It’s still there for people to take pictures.”
Wiseman is still beaming from the news of his Hall of Fame induction, which will officially take place this fall. “It was very thrilling and gratifying. I was one of the charter members of the CMA when it started, and the only one that is still living. I had kind of given up on the idea because I thought they were going to focus on putting more of the younger ones in. I had made the top five a number of times, but had never gotten in.”
In his legendary career, Wiseman has performed with the best of the best. He has special memories of touring the country with Grandpa Jones back in the day. “We toured together a lot — back when his children were small, he only had the one car, so he had to leave it with Ramona,” he quipped. “He would ride with me and share the driving and expenses. He was just a joy and an education.Bradley Kincaid was also a big influence. I toured with Hank Williams and just about everybody.”
Wiseman — who has recorded projects over the past few years with Charlie Daniels and John Prine — is excited about another record he has in the can: a duet album with Merle Haggard. “That was a thrill. Merle approached me to make a record, and it just blew me away. I thought he wanted to do all of his songs on the record, but he insisted I do six or seven of the ones I popularized over the years. It’s ready to go, we’re just looking for a distributor.”
But right now, Wiseman’s focus is promoting Songs From My Mother’s Hand — and paying tribute to its namesake. “My mom was a heavyset lady that lived to be quite elderly. She always knelt beside the bed to say her nightly prayers. In her latter years, she had difficulty getting up or down because of her age, her size, and rheumatism and arthritis. She didn’t wear her religion on her sleeve — she lived it. She treated people right, the way she wanted to be treated. She raised me the same way, and that’s my philosophy yet today.”
Credit: Chuck Dauphin
Photocredit: Stacie Huckeba