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Author Topic: Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?  (Read 5645 times)

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Offline SpikeDriver

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Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?
« on: October 25, 2006, 05:30:39 PM »
Just wondering about the status of a few books.

Mack McCormick - His book on Robert Johnson? "Biography of a Phantom"

Jas Obrecht - His book on pre-war blues players (many articles have appeared over the years in Guitar Player, Acoustic Guitar, etc.) "The Blues before Robert Johnson"

Gayle Dean Wardlow - I remember reading that he was updating his C. Patton book "King of the Delta Blues"

Also, a book on Blind Lemon (with a second photograph?)

Thanks well-read weenies.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2007, 11:46:25 AM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Books??
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2006, 08:33:05 PM »
Re. Wardlow. I had heard he was updating Chasing That Devil Music, not the Patton book. It would be interesting to have a Patton update to say the least, though.

The Blind Lemon book is due from Paul Swinton. I will be very excited to see this, and last I heard it is closer rather than farther from being finished.

I would be very curious to hear anything about Mack McCormick.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Books??
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2006, 11:36:17 PM »
The Blind Lemon book is due from Paul Swinton. I will be very excited to see this, and last I heard it is closer rather than farther from being finished.
Seems like that's been the case for a couple of decades now...and yet another year has almost past. ;D

Re. McCormick's Biography Of A Phantom, he did make reference to it in a published interview of a few years back. I'll unearth the periodical and see what was said.

Offline outfidel

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Re: Books??
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2006, 04:13:31 AM »
I'd love to see a book from Jas Obrecht -- his articles are very good, like this one on Blind Blake
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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Books??
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2006, 10:16:09 AM »
What follows are two sections abstacted from Michael Hill: Mack McCormick Still Has The Blues, Texas Monthly April 2002. These I've chosen to post as they give an insight to McCormick's persona and health as well as a to the state of his various projects:

"Mack is one of the most important Texas vernacular-music historians," says Arhoolie Records president Chris Strachwitz, himself a collector for forty years. McCormick "discovered" and recorded living musicians, like Lipscomb and Hopkins, and reimagined the lives of dead ones, like Robert Johnson. He's written dozens of magazine articles and album liner notes. He's worked for the Smithsonian Institution. He's knocked on more doors than a traveling salesman, seeking?connections. "Mack set out to live his life on his own terms with all the passion of someonewho has made a vocation of his avocation," says Peter Guraluick, the author of many acclaimed music books, including two about Elvis Presley and several about the blues. "He pursued it in territories where there were no maps and no rules."

After McCormick's decades in the field, he has amassed one of the most extensive private archives of Texas musical history in existence. He has hours of unreleased tapes, perhaps twenty albums' worth of field and studio recordings by Hopkins, piano players Robert Shaw and Grey Ghost, Lipscomb, zydeco bands, and the polka-playing Baca Band. He took pictures everywhere he went and owns some 10,000 negatives, many of famous artists and many more of the army of unknowns he rescued from oblivion. Then there are his notebooks, which are like the Dead Sea Scrlls, holding thousands of pages of field notes and interviews testifying to the amazing diversity of Texas music, not just blues. Maybe the most important thing McCormick did was to document the lives and music of a broad group of some of the American century's most-influential musicians, people like Lipscomb, Thomas, Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, and Blind Willie Johnson. Much of the archive sits in storage in Houston, much more at a place McCormick owns in the mountains of Mexico. And it's in danger. The pages are fading, the tapes need restoring, and McCormick is sufficiently hoary to worry about dying suddenly with no home for it all. As Strachwitz says, "It would be a horrible tragedy if all his stuff disappeared."

McCormick calls his archive the Monster, a term of both affection and fear. Inside the Monster are secrets-on the origin of the blues, on the story of Texas music, and on the lives of some of the greatest musicians in American history. But the Monster holds secrets about McCormick too, about "some destructive block," as he puts it, that has kept him from completing the many history books he has begun over the past half-century. "I'm the king of unfinished manuscripts," he told me with a self-conscious, pained laugh. Maybe it was the agony of writing. Maybe it was the seclusion. Maybe it was just the blues.

McCormick shuffles around the home he's lived in for thirty years with a cane, favoring a bad left knee. Last fall he suffered an aneurysm in his left leg, and it still hurts. He has snowy white hair and big glasses; he looks a little like crime writer James Ellroy, though without the bulldog ferocity. He has a reputation for being a crusty, reclusive old crank, and he rarely sits for interviews. Indeed, it took several phone calls and a long letter expressing my interest in doing a story on his search for Robert Johnson before I received a reply. No, he was not interested in the story I proposed, but he would cooperate on one that called attention to his collection. He was looking for a benefactor, someone to save it, and he invited me to see it firsthand. I jumped at the chance.
+++++++++++++++++++
I spent several days with him last fall and winter, and though he can be irascible, he is also sweet and generous to a fault, sharing history, tips on research techniques, and a somewhat holistic wisdom about the world. "All I learned," he wrote me later, summarizing his life as a folklorist, "was what others found staying home with the neighbors. Each of us are connected by an infinite number of threads." Though he has spent his life illuminating those threads for everyone else, sometimes he himself has lost sight of them.

The publication of Biography of a Phantom was announced for the following year but no book materialized. McCormick took his research and various other manuscripts and moved to another house in Mexico to get some work done. For a decade there were rumors about the book, exacerbated by growing anticipation of the Johnson box set. In 1988 McCormick wrote in the Smithsonian's American Visions magazine that he had promised Johnson's killer that he wouldn't publish until the man died. The next year, Guralnick, to whom McCormick had shown much of his research in 1976, published Searching for Robert Johnson, a book heavily indebted to his fellow historian. "My entire purpose in writing it was to announce the imminent arrival of Mack's book and perhaps spur him on," Guralnick says now. The gambit didn't work, and when the box set came out, in 1990 (Columbia finally decided to go ahead with the project), McCormick was, as he had once called Johnson, something of a phantom.

Indeed, McCormick was the forgotten folklorist. He was spending his time working on various projects-articles, albums, a family history, a little fieldwork here and there-but he had alienated many in the music world (and perhaps possible benefactors of his archive) when those books never came. Some thought he was playing games or hoarding information. McCormick says he wasn't, that he had always been addicted to field research and it just kept piling up. Also, he had a family and needed to make a living. "It was always something," he told me. "Most of the time it was some museum or the park service calling, asking, 'Do you want to go do this?"' Strachwitz, who had had a falling out with McCormick in the mid-seventies, knew him to be a champion procrastinator. McCormick rationalized his limitations and began withdrawing. He became reclusive and hard to get hold of. His home was robbed a couple of times, which fueled his mistrust. He declared himself retired. LA Weekly writer Robert Gordon says that after he spent two weeks trying to get him to agree to an interview, McCormick finally answered the phone but claimed to be a nonexistent brother. (McCormick denies this: "I told him, as myself, I did not want to contribute.") After a lifetime spent making connections, he was letting them go.

What no one knew was that McCormick was ill. "A great part of the reason I haven't published anything in years," he told me, "is I developed a manic-depressive illness. I'll have states of grandiosity and then a short time later no energy at all. I'd get started on something and then wake up a few days later and say, 'I don't see the point anymore.' It's a crippling and destructive disease." McCormick said that after trying twenty different antidepressants over fourteen years, he finally found the right medicine only four years ago. As for those stories of his self-imposed seclusion, he said, "People call and ask me things all the time. I've helped something like a thousand people. I'm not a recluse I don't know how I got that reputation." When pressed, though, he admitted, "I think it's because people know I've started and not finished these books."

Indeed, the manuscripts sit where they've sat for years, silently goading him, especially because a few need only a good, passionate editor or co-writer to finish them. The Texas Blues, all 500,000 words of it, is 80 percent done (McCormick said it grew far beyond being merely a blues book long ago, expanding through the years to include all Texas music), and The Aggressive Birth of the Blues is researched, with maps, fieldwork, and interviews-it just needs to be written. (All McCormick will say about the Robert Johnson manuscript is that it has been abandoned: "It ain't happening anymore. I lost interest.") If these works were completed, they would be the most anticipated music books in years and McCormick's reputation as a hermit would be moot.

« Last Edit: October 26, 2006, 11:01:44 AM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Books??
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2006, 05:45:53 PM »
Tantalizing.Thanks BH

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Books??
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2006, 11:41:35 PM »
I'd love to see a book from Jas Obrecht -- his articles are very good, like this one on Blind Blake
He wrote a much longer piece on Blake in Blues Revue Quarterly 7 (Winter 1992/93, p.18-21) at the start of which it states "Excerpt from book-in-progress Early Blues Before Robert Johnson". Obviously still in progress. :(

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Books??
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2006, 10:22:53 AM »
Thanks for the Mack McCormick info, BH. Tantalizing indeed. I knew I'd read somewhere about his illness but didn't want to post anything unless I verified.


Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Books??
« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2006, 12:19:08 PM »
Thanks for the Mack McCormick info, BH. Tantalizing indeed. I knew I'd read somewhere about his illness but didn't want to post anything unless I verified.
Former Houston resident and Texas blues enthusiast, Andrew Brown,  has gotten to know McCormick fairly well.

What follows is part of a much longer personal communication I had with Andrew earlier this year. In this respect I'm relying heavily upon the discretion of this forum that his comments aren't publicly passed around, thereby potentially jeopardizing what Andrew has been trying to achieve these past few years, namely, publication of this research. Thanks.

"McCormick has actually shown me his Texas Blues field notes as well as Paul Oliver's manuscript in recent months. Previously this had been a carefully guarded secret. The sheer quantity of information is overwhelming. The notes run over 3,000 typed pages, and Oliver's manuscript is 425,000 words. It is a senseless tragedy that this project did not get published back in 1975. All of this paper has been sitting in McCormick's file cabinets for the past 30 years, rotting away, doing nothing. Literally, some of the early typewritten paper (from 1960-65, when the bulk of the work was done) is brittle and falling apart.

The question is, can it be saved now? Possibly. I'm trying to convince  McCormick to let me try to do something with the field notes and he seems at  least willing to consider it. That's a major step. He is an extremely difficult man, so you try to measure progress in incremental steps."


MM, like Paul Oliver, will be 80 next year so I guess the Grim Reaper could also be another factor in this equation! :(

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Books??
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2007, 01:25:55 PM »
I'd love to see a book from Jas Obrecht -- his articles are very good, like this one on Blind Blake

He wrote a much longer piece on Blake in Blues Revue Quarterly 7 (Winter 1992/93, p.18-21) at the start of which it states "Excerpt from book-in-progress Early Blues Before Robert Johnson". Obviously still in progress. :(

I asked Obrecht about this just after Xmas and forgot to post his reply to me. Here it is cutting out some "personal stuff":

Hi Alan
My timing was off. I worked on the book for many years, interviewing musicians who were there or who played in similar styles (Hooker, Shines, Waters, Cooder, Richards, Winter, et al), and accumulated a lot of research material. I have a manuscript that is 90% finished...After "Rollin' & Tumblin'" came out, I revisited the idea of publishing "Early Blues," but there was virtually no interest. ...And, a sign of the times, the company that had offered me the original advance, Backbeat, is now out of business.

I still am exhilarated by blues music and continue gathering materials. I love writing about it, of course.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2010, 11:16:13 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Books??
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2007, 01:31:44 PM »
A shame. Backbeat was the publisher for Gayle Dean Wardlow's Chasin' That Devil Music as well. I guess that's then out of print.

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Books??
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2007, 01:36:12 PM »
Hi:

Surely the publishers who released Elijah Wald's recent book or some other firm could be persuaded to publish Mr. Obrecht manuscript! I as well have read some of his stuff on survey articles and CD covers and consider him one of the very best early blues writers in the business.

What about Weenie Publishing Inc. (forward by Unkie Bud, Western humour dedication by myself)?

I just don't want Mr. Obrecht's work to go the way of Mack McCormick!

Alex

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Books??
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2007, 01:49:32 PM »
Surely the publishers who released Elijah Wald's recent book or some other firm could be persuaded to publish Mr. Obrecht manuscript!Alex
In my reply to him I made that and various other suggestions, encouraging him to get the damned thing finished! Perhaps I'll give him another prod. ;D

Offline jostber

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Re: Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?
« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2008, 07:29:01 AM »
Any more news on these books? Would be great some see some releases here.


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?
« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2008, 07:35:39 AM »
Judging by this recent article about Mack McCormick, I'd say you can forget about Biography of a Phantom.

http://www.houstonpress.com/2008-11-20/news/the-collector-the-hoodoo-curse/

Offline jostber

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Re: Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?
« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2008, 09:50:28 AM »
But what about the books by Obrecht, Wardlow and Swinton?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?
« Reply #16 on: November 25, 2008, 11:54:13 AM »
But what about the books by Obrecht, Wardlow and Swinton?
Good question. I've known Paul for 35+ years and for the majority of that time he's been researching and writing a Blind Lemon Jefferson book. Grapevine chatter has from time to time suggested it was about to be published, then a few years of silence, followed by other reports of pending publication and.....nothing. 

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Re: Status of Books for Release: McCormick, Obrecht, Wardlow?
« Reply #17 on: November 29, 2008, 10:06:50 PM »
Judging by this recent article about Mack McCormick, I'd say you can forget about Biography of a Phantom.

http://www.houstonpress.com/2008-11-20/news/the-collector-the-hoodoo-curse/

The irony here is that the title 'Biography of a Phantom' may end up to be better suited to a book about McCormick.

 


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