Carroll County lost one of its most well-known-and-loved native sons last week as rockabilly music legend Carl Mann passed away at the age of 78.
Mann died on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16 at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.
Funeral services for Mann were held at Chase Funeral Home in Huntingdon on Sunday, Dec. 20, and he was interned at Palmer Shelter Cemetary.
According Mann’s niece, Andrea Gulledge Salazar of Huntingdon, her uncle contracted COVID-19 about a month ago, but ultimately it was a urinary tract infection turned septic that took his life.
“Although he wasn’t in the best of health, we weren’t expecting this,” said Salazar. “We are going to miss him so much.”
And Mann will not only be missed by his family and close friends. Over the years, his music has been enjoyed by millions all over the world, and he has been a big influence on many songwriters and musicians, particularly in the rockabilly scene.
In the later part of his career, Mann frequently performed for his hometown crowd at The Dixie in Huntingdon.
Mann was born back in 1942 to the late Tommie Mann and Iva (Smothers) Mann, and during his childhood, the Mann family lived out on Highway 70 near the Leach Community – right across the street from the childhood home of Huntingdon Mayor Dale Kelley. And, according to Kelley, both he and Mann attended the former Tate Elementary School, which has since been converted into a church.
“I’ve known Carl since we were in the fifth grade together. We became friends and remained friends for life,” said Kelley. “I was very sorry to hear of his death. He meant a lot to this area, and he has been a real celebrity for Carroll County.”
Mann started showing his talent for music at a young age, singing in church and playing guitar and piano in local talent shows. He released his first single, “Gonna Rock and Roll Tonight,” in 1957 on Jaxon Records with “Rockin’ Love” on the B side.
He continued to release several singles on Jaxon, but his career hit the next level when Carl Perkins’ drummer, W.S. Holland, became his manager, and the legendary Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records in Memphis – the same record company that first recorded artists like Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash – signed Mann to a three-year contract.
In 1959, Mann’s first and most successful single with Sun Records, a rockabilly version of Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa,” reached No. 24 on the U.S. R & B Singles chart and No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Mann’s follow-up singles were not as successful as “Mona Lisa,” and after his 1960 LP release, Like Mann sold poorly, he began to withdraw from the music business and served for a time in the U.S. Army in 1964. After releasing his single, “Down to My Last I Love You,” on Monument Records, which did not do well, Mann put his music career on pause for nearly a decade.
In 1974, Mann made a comeback as a country artist, releasing several singles, including “Twilight Time,” which made it into the Top 100. Then in 1977, he landed a deal with a Dutch record label, put out two albums that included both live performances and studio recordings, and did some touring in Europe during the 1980s.
After that, Mann took a long break from music and returned to Carroll County to run the family logging business, but he came out of music retirement in 2005, doing numerous performances at The Dixie as part of Huntingdon Hayride and Fun On The Farm Jamborie events in conjunction with 100.9 FM.
Former radio personalities Kelly Green and Chris Lash remember those comeback days for Mann and both played a hand in helping Mann to revive his musical career. At that time, Green was a morning show host with 100.9 FM, and Lash was owner of The Farm’s sister station, 1530 AM in Huntingdon.
“Any time we had him on the show, it was an instant sellout. People would absolutely love it,” said Green. “And what a great guy. He lived to play for his hometown crowd, and they loved him just as much.”
According to Lash, the Huntingdon Hayride was originally conceived as way to promote Mann’s career.
“It was an honor to be his friend and business partner on many projects,” said Lash. “He was one of the kindest, most giving guys you’ll ever meet. I never saw him get mad, and he always had a great sense of humor.”
Lash also said that Mann would have been a much bigger star in his early days if he had been better promoted by the record companies.
“In my opinion, he is one of the most underrated artists in the history of rock and roll and country music. I think his early career could have been huge,” said Lash. “He was such a talent.”
Lash said he was glad to see Mann finally receive a Gold Record for one million copies sold of his “Mona Lisa” single during a 2006 ceremony at The Dixie. That same year, Mann was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson.
According to local musician Ernie Smothers of Hollow Rock, he never had the privilege of performing with Mann, but he has spoken with him on a few occasions and he described Mann as “very genuine and down to earth.”
“We talked a lot about Johnny Cash,” said Smothers. “My daddy was a sawmill man and so was his. He was humble but he had a lot of talent and a lot of drive. I just think he had to go away for awhile before he could come home a hero.”
Smothers has performed with another West Tennessee music legend, Carl Perkins, and Smothers said Perkins always spoke very highly of Mann.
Mann continued to perform for the next few years, both in the U.S. and overseas, and in 2008, Mann, Holland, and Rayburn Anthony released a CD together entitled Rockabilly Highway. A book chronicling Mann’s life and musical career, The Last Son of Sun, was published in 2011.
For more information regarding Mann and his family, see the obituary page of this edition.