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Author Topic: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip  (Read 8003 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« on: February 01, 2006, 11:58:23 AM »
On a kind of a side note - Has anyone ever met the famous Mack McCormack? Or corresponded with him?
From here (admittedly a long way away from the US), he seems a mysterious an inscrutable figure....
I think the kindest term is "eccentric".  I had some correspondence with him in the early 70s.

He still lives in Houston doing his own thing at the age of almost 80. A few years ago he was the subject of a long feature in, I think, The Texas Monitor. In the late 70s he was goaded into writing a lengthy open letter to Blues Unlimited because of all the 'bad press' they and others were giving him. I might unearth it and post a scan. Any folk interested in my doing so?

Offline Hamhound

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2006, 01:27:29 AM »
Yeah Bunker Hill - I would definitely be interested (for one).

I have vague recollections of being told (purely anecdotally) years ago that Mr McCormick laid a claim to possessing (or knowing the whereabouts?) of an unissued obscene Robert Johnson side - too crude ever to have been released etc etc..

I could have the memory all wrong and be doing the man a disservice in this. (Anyone?...)

I think the memory's a little stronger in recalling that Mr McC also has laid claim to having in his possesion a 3rd Johnson photograph (that few have ever seen). I *think* Gayle Dean Wardlow either wrote this or mentioned it in an interview...

Again, would be happy to stand corrected.

Although it's a bit of a sideshow I guess, I find myself wondering about a lot of these guys - I mean collectors, "discoverers", writers etc etc from the (late)50s & 60s-

Guys like McCormick, Wardlow, Fahey, Perls, Kltazko, Waterman, Evans, Spottswood, Calt etc etc etc...

At any rate, this probably doesn't belong in this thread (if anyone is even remotely interested anyway!) -
- but yes Bunker Hill, I'd love to read the interview you mentioned.
 :)

Best,
H

Offline waxwing

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2006, 09:43:22 AM »
Funny, someone who posts here occasionally (and I wish more often) mentioned to me a while back that he thought someone should write a book about the "Blues Mafia" as he described it. I pointed out that he might be a perfect candidate himself, having been a junior member of the Washington DC scene and still in touch with many of the living members. But he demurred that he was a player and an artist in other media, but not a writer. He suggested Andy Cohen as a likely author of such a book. It would certainly sell well here at Weenie Campbell.-G- Imagine all the researcher v. collector intrigue, incredible longshots paying off, interaction between old players and new players (Did someone really reteach Son House to play his old material?). There really is quite a story to be told.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2006, 10:20:09 AM »
Quote
....but yes Bunker Hill, I'd love to read the interview you mentioned.
 :)
It's an open letter from McCormick published in Blues Unlimited in which he answers some of his 'critics'. I'll unearth the issue, scan and post as a new topic when it's located.

Between about 1960 & 1975 Paul Oliver researched and wrote a 500,000 word, 3,000 page typescript on Texas Blues, passed it to MMc to incorporate his field notes etc and find a publisher. Oliver has never seen his typescript again! Paul being the gentleman and scholar that he jis ust shrugs it off with "that's life". I keep meaning to ask PO if he kept a carbon copy - can't imagine he wouldn't.

Offline Hamhound

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2006, 01:01:40 AM »
Quote
Imagine all the researcher v. collector intrigue, incredible longshots paying off, interaction between old players and new players
- ...and the antipathy, mud-slinging and antagonism! !  :D  (er,..sometimes)

Quote
researched and wrote a 500,000 word, 3,000 page typescript on Texas Blues, passed it to MMc to incorporate his field notes etc and find a publisher. Oliver has never seen his typescript again!
That is most................extraordinary.

Look forward to the open letter article Bunker Hill, in the fullness of time.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2006, 07:30:32 AM »
Quote
Between about 1960 & 1975 Paul Oliver researched and wrote a 500,000 word, 3,000 page typescript on Texas Blues, passed it to MMc to incorporate his field notes etc and find a publisher. Oliver has never seen his typescript again!

I sure hope he kept a copy! Ouch. I suspect a Texan might have reacted differently. ;)

The prospect of a Paul Oliver book on Texas Blues is very appealing. I guess this is one that will be unlikely to see the light of day? There isn't really much out there on early Texas Blues that I know of. Alan Govenar has something called Meeting the Blues, about which I know nothing. Someone should publish Oliver's manuscript.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2006, 12:41:00 AM »
Quote
Imagine all the researcher v. collector intrigue, incredible longshots paying off, interaction between old players and new players
- ...and the antipathy, mud-slinging and antagonism! !  :D  (er,..sometimes)

Quote
researched and wrote a 500,000 word, 3,000 page typescript on Texas Blues, passed it to MMc to incorporate his field notes etc and find a publisher. Oliver has never seen his typescript again!
That is most................extraordinary.

Look forward to the open letter article Bunker Hill, in the fullness of time.

I'm damned if I can find it. It's not been imagined, it commences with MMc stating that a conference he attended Bruce Bastin told him about all the ill-feeling there was in Britain concerning his not doing anything with the Texas book. I'll persevere.
What I did come across was a page long open letter from Calt & Wardlow having a go at David Evans and his 'methodology'. DE made a similar lengthy reply. The editors of Blues Unlimited headed these "Bitching Boogie" which about a decade ago were cited in a Japanese bibliography of piano blues! ;D
« Last Edit: February 04, 2006, 12:42:38 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2006, 02:18:41 AM »
What follows is an entire page but not listed in the table of contents of the issue in question. Hence my problem in locating it in the letters:

An Open Letter from Mack McCormick
(Blues Unlimited 117 Jan/Feb 1976 p.17)

Apart from the great cuisine of Galatoire's and the Acme Oyster Bar the most stimulating part of the recent American Folklore Society meeting in New Orleans was the gatherings of blues and country music enthusiasts. Tony Russell, John Cowley, and Bruce Bastin made the long trip from England. The American representations were a diverse group that included Dave Evans, Jeff Titon, Michael Taft, Charles Wolfe, Bill Malone, Chris Strachwitz, Harry Oster, Bill Nowlin, Marian Leighton, D.K. Wilgus, Bob Palmer, Carl Fleischhauer, Alan Jabbour, Archie Green, John Bentley, and others whose names I'm unforgiveably omitting.

These were people who share a common interest in recorded music and in its preservation, and mostly people who have behind them solid field work experience which has resulted in significant information or documentary recordings.

In the course of some of our private and hallway conversations there was some candid talk in which I realized that there is a general feeling, particularly in England, that Mack McCormick is sitting on top of a mountain of material that he won't publish. I learned too that I'm regarded with some grumpiness.

To reply to this, let me first of all admit that it is true.

In 1958 when I began serious documentary recording and field research it was not my plan to acquire such a mountain.

In the early years, a steady sequence of records - Treasury of Field Recordings, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Shaw, etc. - made available to other people a great deal of what I had come upon.

Indeed, I have always been eager to get material into the hands and ears of those who expressed the greatest interest. That interest seems to come most persistently from England, and a great deal of my inspiration has been those characteristic blue air letters from collectors asking if I had learned about Texas Alexander or Son Becky or Hop Wilson.

As some of you know, this body of information, representing a number of years of field research has been tied up in a collaboration with Paul Oliver, which has ground exceedingly slow, and now has come to a virtual halt.

There are a number of problems, unrecognized at the outset, which are responsible, although chief among them is the incredible and indescribable mechanics of a trans-Atlantic collaboration. It is a partnership which does not halve the work, but doubles it, and threatens now to make it impossible.

The dilemma exists and I would hope that a way out of it can be found by seeking some fresh and different approach which will in a reasonable amount of time actually produce the book or books on the Texas traditions that everyone is quite weary of hearing about.

A related problem that may help explain my personal conflict is the pressure of death and the passage of time. Many times I have elected to pursue a series of interviews rather than take the time to organize an article or publish some thing already collected. It is a very real and specific problem. I have hundreds of leads which need to be followed up, and my tendency has been to put my energies into following them up so long as those who can answer our questions remain alive. Thus, inevitably, the mountain grows larger. I'm presently seeking a grant for a research assistant to help organize what has now become an archive scattered in several locations and too often inaccessible even to myself.

In this connection it is particularly important to salute the work of Pete Lowry and Bruce Bastin on the East Coast. There's little time remaining in which to balance the emphasis on Texas and Mississippi, and without such balance our knowledge of the blues tradition is badly biased.

The work of Europeans both in discography and in on-the-spot field work continually staggers me, pleases me, and yet it is an embarrassment that we should leave so much to be done by those who live on the other side of an ocean.

Without others to guide us, America would have long ago managed to totally ignore and junk its own native music.

On the subject of the overdue mountain however, let me point to the recent Henry Thomas double album (Herwin). The extensive notes there were done specifically out of an awareness of how frustrated some people had become. That was an effort to get some of this information out, and, in order to act fairly, some new research was done specifically on behalf of the album's notes.

A more substantial effort is underway.

As far back as 1967 it was obvious that the Texas work was beset with too many delays. I decided then to concentrate on field research outside of Texas and in time this began to focus on the outstanding mystery of Robert Johnson.

Very slowly and gradually a few breakthroughs were made. Each one stands amid dozens of false starts and dead ends, but during the 1970-73 period I located former neighbors and friends who had known him as a youth. I also traced his children, two half-sisters, a widow, and women who had known him closely if briefly.

In each case where a major relative was located, I made a share-of-earnings agreement with the individual in return for the information and personal reminiscences they could provide for this biography.

The work involved travel to Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Maryland, and other places where the people of Mississippi have scattered. These travels produced photographs of Robert Johnson, his family, as well as related documents and memorabilia.

It has also produced two concise, confirmed eye witness accounts of his murder.

This material is now a 12 chapter manuscript of 150,000 words undergoing final editing. It has an unusual narrative structure becoming a kind of detective story as it relates the quest and moves, step-by-step, through the five year search.

The book is also a tribute to those who preceded me, to the record collectors who guessed at clues I was sometimes in a position to follow up, and to other researchers whose published interviews made it possible for something fresh to be uncovered. It has been a collaborative process.

This is not a definitive book on Robert Johnson. I doubt if there ever will be such a thing. Let's just say that it answers a lot of the questions we've long been asking and puts him more fully in the context of his time and style of life. The final mystery of his incredible passion remains.

When it appears, please look upon it as a piece of work which was inspired by certain eloquent passages written about the mystery of Robert Johnson and by those blue air letter sheets which have been coming to me from a lot of people for a lot of years. I thank you for that inspiration.

Cordially, and with thanks to Blues Unlimited for carrying this message.
Mack McCormick
9023 Autauga
Houston
Texas, 77055
USA
October 28, 1975

Offline Hamhound

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2006, 04:33:55 AM »
Well looks like you did find it Bunker Hill!(http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=83&topic=2047.0) - thanks for the (doubtless vexing) rummaging!

Quote
I did come across was a page long open letter from Calt & Wardlow having a go at David Evans and his 'methodology'. DE made a similar lengthy reply

In one of the appendices of Calt & Wardlow's Patton book (King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton) they have a major go at David Evans - and, with slightly less savagery - John Fahey (for his thesis-cum-book of early 70's - reissued in the Revenent Charley Patton BoxSet).

IMHO, the criticism of many of Evans' suppositions is warranted for argument (mainly concerned with ideas of a "Drew tradition" in the Delta and ideas of Blues as "Folk Music") ..

But the ferocity of the attack !..  Good Lord!  There's some real savagery there.. :P

I dunno if anyone else has been struck by this in reading this book - I think I've seen one or two references to it being 'unreadable'.. :o

If anyone that loves Patton's music hasn't read it though, I would urge them to do so

Ah, I have 2 cents, and here it is  (spent now)

Hugh

Offline Hamhound

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2006, 05:03:11 AM »
Thanks for finding & posting this B.H. - v. interesting

Mr McC doesn't come across as a raving loony or anything similar, but does seem to be a man who promises much - or even tantalizes......

The R. Johnson book has never come out has it?
And the Texas Blues book (with or without Oliver) hasn't been issued has it?

I would love for a weenie member to contradict or confirm my vague recollections (previously) of McCormick laying claim to knowledge or possession of
1. A 'dirty' Robert Johnson test-pressing (never issued)
2. A Johnson photo (3rd) never publicly seen

I do have vivid dreams and my MD has told me that my medication may need adjustment - maybe I've imagined these? .......   :o

thanks Bunker Hill

HH

Offline dj

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2006, 07:47:13 AM »
At least one of your vague recollections is correct, Hamhound.  Pete Guralnick, on pages 64 - 67 of Searching For Robert Johnson, recounts Mack McCormick's showing him pictures of Robert Johnson and his family, and describes a picture of RJ standing next to his nephew, who is in a Naval uniform.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2006, 07:49:34 AM »
The R. Johnson book has never come out has it?
And the Texas Blues book (with or without Oliver) hasn't been issued has it?

I would love for a weenie member to contradict or confirm my vague recollections (previously) of McCormick laying claim to knowledge or possession of
1. A 'dirty' Robert Johnson test-pressing (never issued)
2. A Johnson photo (3rd) never publicly seen
Biography Of A Phantom has never been published and neither has the Oliver magnum opus.
There were reports in Blues Unlimited of both the 'party' RJ test pressing and a third photo but as I recall McCormick alleged that Steve LaVere had helped himself to one of the RJ photos in his possession. In the 70s Peter Guralnick reported that McCormick showed him four family photos and a 5th which he didn't. The 5th, McCormick later claimed, was 'borrowed' by Steve LaVere and never returned - the studio portrait with guitar.

I think I've got all that correct but it can be found in Guralnick's 1980s Living Blues feature which was later reprinted as a small book entitled, Searching For Robert Johnson.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2006, 07:58:36 AM »

Quote
I did come across was a page long open letter from Calt & Wardlow having a go at David Evans and his 'methodology'. DE made a similar lengthy reply

In one of the appendices of Calt & Wardlow's Patton book (King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton) they have a major go at David Evans - and, with slightly less savagery - John Fahey (for his thesis-cum-book of early 70's - reissued in the Revenent Charley Patton BoxSet).
As was pointed out in a review of the book at the time, that appendix was scandalous and totally unprofessional. Within the pages of specialist magazines, where all parties and their particular 'foibles' are known to the readership, it's just about acceptable. To subject a general readerish to such is just not on.

Offline Hamhound

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2006, 02:50:23 PM »
Quote
Hi all,
I merged the Lightnin' on Recording thread from the point at which it started to focus on Mack McCormick, Evans, Wardlow, Calt, et al with the Mack McCormick letter thread.  It seemed a good idea to have one rather than several threads focusing on the internecine warfare that has been waged by blues researchers.
All best,
Johnm

Ah yes - sorry, that was me pushing off on that particular tangent back there...

I do think all these guys are a bit of a sideshow really to the real business of the music - but I would note (FWIW) that

1. Many of us would not be sitting in the comfort of our loungerooms tapping our toes to Police Dog Blues in it's remastered CD glory. or figuring out Black Snake Moan or whatever, without the work of some of these gentlemen in unearthing & preserving (& issuing!) this material.

2. Every now and then it just seems interesting - particularly when things get um, "internecine"... ;)  Spectator sport - y'know?

Thanks Bunker Hill & dj for aligning known reported evidence against the vagaries of my failing memory...
Quote
Biography Of A Phantom has never been published and neither has the Oliver magnum opus.
If either ever were (particularly the Texas book with Oliver) I doubt I could get to my local bookshop fast enough....

Still reeling at the thought that from March 21st I will be able to buy the lost Son House sides down at the local CD emporium..........

cheers,
hh

Offline thedeltablues

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2010, 12:58:46 PM »
I have spoken to Mack recently.  About 5 months back.  Interesting conversation.  i have his current phone number, and to my knowledge, he welcomes calls from SERIOUS blues scholars and researchers.

Offline harry

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #15 on: June 11, 2010, 04:21:31 AM »
I have spoken to Mack recently.  About 5 months back.  Interesting conversation.  i have his current phone number, and to my knowledge, he welcomes calls from SERIOUS blues scholars and researchers.

any news about his books being published?

Offline don o

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #16 on: December 17, 2010, 09:41:44 AM »
A few years ago he was the subject of a long feature in, I think, The Texas Monitor.

Texas Monthly, April, 2002. 
http://www.texasmonthly.com/preview/2002-04-01/feature

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Mack McCormick and Blues Researcher History/Gossip
« Reply #17 on: December 17, 2010, 11:46:13 AM »
Thanks Don O.

TM first ran a feature (A Case Of The Blues) about MM in their May 1977 issue. Well worth tracking down if you've not already done so.

 


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