Mac was holed up in a hotel room between gigs and asked me to come by, because he had dozens (or hundreds?) of his old demos loaded on iPop so that we could pick the tunes we were gonna cut for an album that we signed up to do together. Songs he had written for Percy Mayfield, Charles Brown, Cher. He had turned off his phone, because people were bugging him every three minutes, and he couldn’t concentrate.
After a while, he was getting tired and took a break. Then he came out, holding his phone saying, “Dese mf’ers won’t leave me the f alone!” I asked “Wassup?” He replied “I turned my phone back on and I’ve got about 15 massages and at least 20 textiles.”
Back in the Bay Area, I told Wardell that Mac was in town for a gig, and he asked me to get backstage and meet him. Wardell’s name, of course, was an instant pass. I told Mac I admired “When the Battle is Over,” (that he had written for Aretha Franklin), and he said “I’ve never cut it! Do you want me to cut it with you and Wardell?” When he got to the studio in New Orleans, Wardell had worked an arrangement for another tune Mac had written and forgotten “Tick Tock Tick.” Mac was floored. He started playing and singing other songs he wanted me to cut saying, “Will finds things in my songs that I didn’t know were there!” We never cut the other songs.
Although Mac got sick, when my album was nominated for R&B album of the year by OffBeat’s Best of the Beat, Mac managed a call to me, saying “Mf’er! Yer album is getting better reviews than my last two together.” I said “because you’re on there; the reviews from all over just love you, like I do.” He said “I know, I’m proud for you, and love you, darling! We’re gonna cut those other songs we found.”
I’m so grateful to Wardell Quezergue, Mac, Bunchy, Todd Duke (can you believe they’re all gone?), and thankful for OffBeat and WWOZ, who have been so kind to me, plus John Swenson (who likes me more than I like me) and Robert Fontenot, who have written so beautifully about my work with Wardell. Mac and I sat together at Wardell’s funeral, when he said, “Wardell did ’bout five of my albums and we won the Grammy together. Wardell, with all his hits, did more tracks on me and you (27 cuts for me) than any other artists.”
Please don’t let people forget what a great songwriter Mac was (for decades). He has over a thousand songs published. I will never forget him. RIP.
—Will Porter, San Francisco, California
I’ve been reading many condolences online and so many were surprised that he couldn’t, in fact, live forever as his music may have led us to believe.
I first witnessed the live enigma at the age of 15 at a music festival near my hometown. I’d been hoodooed. Before the end of his Huey Smith medley, I knew where I belonged in this world. My hometown didn’t have illustrious histories like his lyrics spilled out. I knew nothing of the city of New Orleans, maybe of the train of the same name, but that was it. I decided then and there, I had to find all his music and absorb the stories, rhythms, and histories he imparted.
The day I moved to New Orleans in January 2005—arriving just in time for his first show of the year—I wanted my entrance to the Crescent City kicked off with the right mojo ringing in my ears. The month I moved away, he and the Dalai Lama were second lining at Tulane. Many may not know how big of an activist he was for musicians, nature, cultural injustices—always helping the underdog and freely giving of his performances to any cause that needed a guttural melodic voice and a big name on the poster. He spent his life living it to the fullest, learning lessons the hard way more so than not, but then sharing so many of them openly with anyone who would listen.
His was a life to appreciate and celebrate over and over every year until everyone hears his music. If you feel a tear coming on, just pull up a video online and watch him do “Iko Iko,” with the Lower 911 band. You can’t help but smile and dance along. It’s just what the good doctor ordered. Yeah, you right.
—Kristal McManigal, San Francisco, California
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