Johnny Mack was born John Boyce McCleskey on October 12, 1936 in the Pleasant Hill Community of Union County, Arkansas, the second of five children to Gordon and Athie McCleskey. He began playing piano at the age of eight, a music education he obtained from the Stamps Baxter Music Schools that were held during the summer in churches and schools around the country. He also took lessons from a Mrs. Anderson, Rodney Smith and Alice White as well as singing schools. He was considered a natural on the piano and had a family quartet who sang at local area singings and regional singing conventions. During his youth, he played with friends Glenn Daniels, Warren Bell and Billy Bruton, who were known as the El Dorado Boys Quartet. Virginia Adams played piano for them and the five became well known around the country for their singing.
An honor roll student in high school, he participated in high school band and the choral club. He played a pivotal role, along with Glen Daniels, in the success of the El Dorado Boys Quartet. In high school, they got KDMS, a local radio station in El Dorado, to allow them to have a weekly radio program. During that time, they were invited to sing on the Wally Fowler All Saturday Night Gospel Singing in Nashville, Tennessee, held at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
He played numerous other places and events until he graduated from El Dorado (Arkansas) High School. After graduating high school, he and his family relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana. He and his older brother Gerald began playing at Tony Almarico’s Parisian Room on Royal Street in the French Quarters with band members of Al Hirt—Peewee Spitolaira, Paul Farrah and Ronny Dupont. This led to a string of jobs in the area with local dance combos until turning pro around 1957.
He played at clubs across the country which included Joe Wright’s Club, New Orleans, Louisiana, the Chez Paree Club of Chicago, Illinois, Jimmy Orr’s Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, the Regency Hyatt House of Atlanta, Georgia, and the King of the Road in Nashville, Tennessee.
While working in Nashville, Tennessee at the King of the Road, he recorded a commercial for Miller Brewing Company. “If You’ve Got the Time, We’ve Got the Beer,” was written by Backer and Spielvogel’s front man Bill Backer. Johnny Mack’s version of the hit commercial, referred to as Country Version II F, has been referred to as the most popular version of the commercial by to Miller Coors. One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, “I feel that I, having helped in both the writing and production of the original campaign, contributed in large measure to their successful accomplishments and to this period of their growth.”
His career led him to cities across the nation. He settled in the Houston, Texas area and continued playing throughout the 1990’s. He passed away quietly at his home outside of Houston on August 30 of 2005, and was laid to rest at the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery in North Houston.