RockmanMOJO 354 ------
John Tefteller in Facebook
ANOTHER Robert Johnson book is out....from the mind of a mentally ill habitual liar.........
Some in the Blues collecting community are celebrating this weeks release of the book "Biography Of A Phantom" which attempts to make sense of the life's work of Mack McCormick who passed away a few years ago. I, for one, am not impressed and am not celebrating!!!!!
Mr. McCormick began researching Blues and specifically Robert Johnson back in the late 1950's/early 60's. At that time, Mr. McCormick was writing very interesting and well written liner notes for Blues LP's. He spent a LOT of time in the African American community asking questions and gathering information. Some of what he did was pioneer work that provided information that cannot ever be duplicated.
Somewhere along the way, he lost his way, proper perspective and his mind itself. He promised a book on Robert Johnson, which he never delivered. He lived alone in the Houston area, surrounded by mountains of boxes of research notes etc. He slowly went literally out of his mind.
My personal experience with Mr. McCormick came in about the mid-90's. I was on a record buying trip with longtime Chicago Blues collector George Paulus. We had gone to the Austin Record Convention and were headed to New Orleans. George wanted to make a stop in Houston to see Mr. McCormick because "he owes me a thousand dollars and I want to collect the money from him---either in cash or in records." So, we called Mr. McCormick and George told him he wanted to come by to settle the debt. "Come on over...we'll get dinner and then you can come and pick out some records and all will be good."
So, we went to his house. He opened to door and said "Do you like Yukatan food?" Neither George or I knew exactly what he meant, but we said "sure" and off we went. During the dinner, both of us asked Mack a bunch of questions. His answers were pretty astounding and mostly very unbelievable. Example: according to Mack, the Robert Johnson shown in the dime-store photo and Hooks Brothers Studio portrait, is NOT the Robert Johnson who made the records we all know and love. Nope, some other guy.....Could Mack prove that??? Nope...but he believed it to be true.
When I asked him about a "third photo" of Johnson, which he was supposed to have, he denied it. Of course it turns out that he did in fact have it, but was "hiding it" so that no one could steal it from him. He was paranoid that Steve LaVere (another Johnson researcher) would get a court order to turn that third photo over to him (as LaVere had made deals with the Johnson relatives who provided Mack with the photo for exclusive rights to ANY Johnson photos)....so lying about having it seemed a good way to avoid that.
But, his ability to lie straight to your face didn't end with that. Next, he claimed to have a white label, shellac test pressing of what he described as a "dirty" song by Robert Johnson that was recorded during the Vocalion sessions, but never released due to content. George and I were certainly anxious to hear that recording, but Mack quickly informed us that it was not at his residence, but rather , was stored in a storage locker "somewhere in the mountains of Mexico"---again to prevent it from being stolen. And of course, he had no tape of it to prove it.
McCormick also claimed to own Blind Lemon Jefferson's original guitar and a never before seen photo of Jefferson as well. When we asked about seeing that, once again, we were told that these treasures were in storage in the mountains of Mexico. IF, they exist, these were not provided to the Smithsonian, where his daughter donated all his boxes of notes etc. I don't believe they exist. I believe they were just the imaginative inventions of a guy who was rapidly losing a grip on reality and sinking into a morass of bizarre behavior.
The "third photo" of Robert Johnson that he claimed he didn't have....he did. That photo was shown to several people that visited him including author Peter Guarlnick. And it was indeed donated to the Smithsonian with Mack's collection of notes etc. So, why lie to me about it????
As for George Paulus and the owed "$1,000.00" he never got it from Mack. The records that were supposed to make them even were common Blues LP's and beat up 78's. Not enough value to make up to a thousand dollars. Yet, Mack had bragged to us about all the great Blues records he had. They were not there. It was all another lie.
Some interesting information has come out along with this new book. Apparently, Mr. McCormick was not GIVEN that photo by Johnson's relatives....the story now is that it was LOANED to him and he simply never returned it. And now, with the ownership of the photo in question, it is NOT part of this new book and remains, under lock and key, in the bowels of the Smithsonian, where we may or may not ever see it. And this story I believe, because when I asked Steve LaVere the whereabouts of the original dime store photo and studio portrait, his answer was "I don't know. Ask the family. I simply borrowed the originals, copied them and returned them to the family." So Steve returned what he had borrowed and Mack did not.
So now we have a book that has just come out and as a result of Mack never returning the photo he borrowed from the family....and apparently, the family requesting that NONE of what they told him about Johnson be included in the book, we also never get to hear those stories. They have been excluded from the publication.
As always, there is intrigue and accusations in regards to Robert Johnson. The family who provided those photos is not happy with what became of them, and all the money made from them and so they don't want any more photos out there---at least not in a book that they don't control and coming from the estate of someone who "borrowed" and never returned them.
Steve LaVere and Sony made Robert Johnson a household name in the 1990's and to this day, everyone who has even an inkling about Blues music brings him up as THE representative of vintage Blues. But, a whole lot of money was generated by all this and the family and relatives of Johnson did not see very much of that. I totally get why they are upset about all this.
It was pure JOY to see the photo of Johnson smiling and holding his guitar on the cover of Annye Anderson's book "Brother Robert" which came out a couple years ago. I hope that she benefited from the release of that book and photo. As for the photo that Mr. McCormick "borrowed" and never returned, well, someday we may get to see that...but no promises.
I get it that Mack McCormick was, in the beginning, a great researcher and that his early work in Blues research is to be commended. But, he lost his way. He started making up stories, lying and engaging in very much less than ethical writing. I fail to see why publishing a book about him and his craziness is worth a read and I, for one, will not be purchasing this new book. I am sure that the editors, who finally made Mack's book a reality, did a fine job with what they could make of his research.....but to me, once a person is a proven liar, I can't trust much of anything this new book has to say.
And once again, Robert Johnson, the man, is sullied with more lies, nonsense and unprovable theories. I hope his family still has all the photos that Steve LaVere returned to them. I would hate to think that those are now lost or destroyed. I hope one day the family will be treated fairly, compensated fairly and that any more information or photos that they have will come to light. I don't believe that Robert Johnson ever sold his Soul to the Devil at the Cross Roads....but with all the mess, greed and nonsense surrounding what has gone on with him in the past 50+ years or more, it sure seems like he might have.