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Never too old for the Blues

Daddy Mack Turns 70

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"Daddy" Mack Orr has a lot of stories to tell. Since learning how to play the guitar at the young age of 40, Orr has traveled the country and released multiple albums with local label Inside Sounds, all while becoming a fixture on the Memphis blues scene. We caught up with Orr to get some of his backstory prior to the release of his latest album, A Bluesman Looks at Seventy.

Flyer: What made you want to learn how to play the guitar at 40 years old?

Orr: Ever since I was boy I wanted to play the blues. I'd be out in the field pickin' cotton during the day, and at night I'd go home and listen to the radio. I'd listen to B.B. King and Little Milton and I'd think, Man, I wish that I could do that.

When I was around 12 or 13 years old, I became friends with a boy on another plantation that was close to mine, and on the weekend, we would go to another plantation that had gambling in one room and music in the other. We would stay there for two or three nights over a weekend, but after I got married and moved to Memphis, I got away from all of that. I forgot about it.

Then one day I was sitting in my truck listening to the radio, and they played Albert King. I don't know what the song did to me, but I had to learn how to play the blues. I went to the pawnshop and put an amp and guitar on layaway, thinking that I'd get it out for Christmas. This was about two or three months before Christmas, and I ended up getting them out of layaway in about two or three weeks. I used to carry that guitar everywhere I went. I'd take it fishing with me, and I'd take it to work. I had the type of job where I had a lot of time to just sit around playing guitar. It was kind of tough learning how to play, but once I started catching on to it and learned it on my own, I started putting different stuff together.

What keeps you driven at this age to create new music?

I just love to perform, and I think people enjoy it. I also hope to make some money before I die. A lot of people are dead before they get famous, and I'm hoping that doesn't happen with me, even if it looks like it might be going that way right now.

You've been playing at the Center for Southern Folklore for quite some time. Where else did you play when you were first getting started?

I know those folks well, because I've been playing there since I started playing out. This lady named Ellen used to work there, and she knew me because I had a shop nearby. She kept telling the people at the Center that they needed to get me to play there. She got me my first show, and I've been playing there ever since. Before that, this guy Earl the Pearl asked me to play in a band as a fill-in, and I played a couple of songs with them. The next Saturday night, they were playing at Green's Lounge. I was lying in the bed when he called again and said to come help them out. I went and played with them and came back home. The next Saturday night, I was lying in bed again when they called and said, "The guitar player didn't show up to play. We want you to be in the band permanently." That's how I joined the Fieldstones. When I first started playing, I figured that I would play small clubs or someone's house or something. I never dreamed I would play in a lot of the places I've been able to play. I just haven't made the money yet. But I have had a chance to see the world. These long drives we go on used to seem like they took a long time, but now driving to a show in Minnesota is just like driving up the street.

Daddy Mack Blues Band, Saturday July 11th, at the Center for Southern Folklore, 8 p.m. $10.

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