He Spent His Life Chasing a Music Legend

'Texas Monthly' looks at the troubled life of folklorist 'Mack' McCormick
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2023 3:00 PM CDT
He Spent His Life Chasing a Music Legend
This 2006 photo taken in Crystal Springs, Miss., shows Claud Johnson, seated, son of legendary Mississippi blues artist Robert Johnson, shown in the poster on the right.   (Greg Jenson/The Clarion-Ledger, via AP Photo)

Two decades ago, Michael Hall wrote a flattering profile of music folklorist Robert "Mack" McCormick for Texas Monthly. Hall's new profile in Texas Monthly of McCormick, who died in 2015, is less flattering and far more complicated. The focus is on McCormick's decades-long quest to write the definitive life story of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. McCormick found and interviewed two of Johnson's sisters back in the 1970s, as well as countless others who knew the Mississippi legend, or of him. He kept voluminous notes and tapes in a stockpile that became known as the Monster. McCormick, however, never finished the work in his lifetime, and Hall explains that a big reason is that McCormick battled his own demons, including manic depression that led to "self-sabotage" and the destruction of relationships he had forged.

It is a fascinating, twisting tale, and Hall (who was able to read the Monster months after McCormick's death) floats the troubling possibility that McCormick began concocting a tale meant to torpedo the Johnson legend—that the man who hailed from Mississippi wasn't the same Robert Johnson who made the later legendary recordings. "Could it really be that Mack—angry and bitter at a world that had lionized Robert Johnson and never given his most enterprising biographer his proper due—had spent his final twenty years trying to destroy the Robert Johnson he had helped discover, telling anyone who would listen ... that we had the wrong guy?" It seems so. Read the full story, which notes that McCormick's biography of Johnson has finally been published posthumously, while the Smithsonian now has the Monster. (Read other longform stories.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.