Those who know Todd Mack from the Parking and Community Services Center may not recognize him on stage with his guitar at Atlanta clubs. One listen to the vested, long-haired performer should be enough to convince most people that the stage is where Mr. Mack belongs.
Judging purely by his educational background, one would not assume that Mr. Mack intended to pursue a career in music. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Emory in 1986, and has been working for the University since 1987 when he became a parking attendant at the Tower Deck behind The Emory Clinic.
Over the years, Mr. Mack has worked his way up to his current position of operations manager. He is responsible for ensuring that all parking facilities are functioning properly, which includes scheduling, gate openings, accounting of parking revenues, and managing a staff of 15 that includes attendants, trades helpers, cashiers, and customer service representatives. However, Mr. Mack always knew that music was in his future.
“I started playing the violin at age eight,” he recalled. “I ended up on the clarinet and stuck with that through high school.” In the meantime, Mr. Mack had also started playing the guitar. “As soon as I was able to strum it, I started writing—mostly because I couldn’t pla anybody else’s stuff!” he said.
The demands of college forced music into the background. “I knew I wanted to do something with music when I started school, but I knew the music would always be there.”
Ironically, Mr. Mack’s college career exposed him to an aspect of music that helps him tremendously now: the business side. Mr. Mack got involved with a campus organization called MOVE, whose primary purpose was to provide organized study breaks for Emory students. These study breaks consisted largely of keg parties featuring live bands. Mr. Mack’s part in this involved “going out to clubs and looking for bands.” In addition to his involvement in MOVE, Mr. Mack also broadened his musical horizons by taking music history and music theory courses in the music department.
After graduation, Mr. Mack decided to pursue music as a career. he joined the Atlanta Songwriter’s Association and bought a four-track recorder. “I started recording some of my songs because I knew I had to get them out of my living room,” he explained. After a while, Mr. Mack realized he had to take it one more step: he had to start performing publicly. “I soon discovered that if I wanted to make this something more than a hobby, I had to learn to perform and to do it well.” he said.
Mr. Mack lists Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Loudon Wainwright, and Johnny Cash as musical influences, and adds Athens-based Vigilantes of Love front man Bill Mallonee as an inspiration. The 38-year-old Mallonee, who began writing songs and playing guitar at age 30, “is a great example,” said Mr. Mack. “He has so much respect and is in such demand in the local scene.”
Mr. Mack has a clear conviction about where he fits into the local music scene. “I consider myself a folk performer, not an acoustic performer.” He differentiates between the two by using Bob Dylan as an example. “With Bob Dylan, his music is not necessarily soothing or pretty. it’s music from the gut. It’s folk music.”
If his songwriting is any indication, Mr. Mack has been quite successful so far in producing this gut-level music. Currently backd up by a bass player and a percussionist who plays various ethnic percussion instruments, Mr. Mack fronts the band on guitar and harmonica. They perform mostly original tunes and feature songs with titles such as “Where Are We Gonna Go?,” “Old Navajo,” “Empty Hands,” and “Shut Up, Please…I’m Trying to Sing,” which parodies a musician Mr. Mack once opened up for.
After six years of performing mostly in Atlanta, Mr. Mack is setting his sights on the Southeast and the East Coast. “I make four trips a year to New York, where I’ve played Greenwich Village. The last time I was there, about 100 people came out,” he said. And, while he “may not have a big name on paper, (he) has a big following” thanks in large part to a mailing list with 1,000-plus names on it. Many of these people are friends from his college days, friends who have relocated all over the country and even internationally. Mr. Mack is counting on connections from his mailing list to help him get bookings in towns between Atlanta and New York “to fill in the gaps.”
With his second c assette/CD release due out this fall, Mr. Mack is preparing to play as much as possible to help promote his new material. His long-range goals are summed up nicely in one statement: “ My goal is to be able to sustain myself and my family (he and his wife were married last year) with my music. My goal is not to his that MTV level, but I’m not fighting it either. The minimum I’m willing to accept is to make a living at it.”—Jennifer Carlile