Mack McCormick

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Mack McCormick
McCormick in Houston, December 2013
Robert Burton McCormick

(1930-08-03)August 3, 1930
DiedNovember 18, 2015(2015-11-18) (aged 85)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musicologist, folklorist

Robert Burton "Mack" McCormick (August 3, 1930 – November 18, 2015) was an American musicologist and folklorist.


McCormick was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was brought up by his mother, in Alabama, Colorado, West Virginia and Texas, as she traveled to find work as a hospital technician.


He dropped out of high school to work at a ballroom in Cedar Point, Ohio, running errands for the musicians performing there. He later worked as an electrician, cook, carnival worker and taxi driver. In 1946, he met record store owner and discographer Orin Blackstone in New Orleans and began assisting him in researching and compiling Blackstone's multivolume Index to Jazz. McCormick became Texas correspondent for Down Beat in 1949. He developed an interest in blues and began traveling and researching the lives and origins of undocumented blues musicians around the country and learning about folk traditions and customs.[1]

In the late 1950s, McCormick "discovered" and recorded Mance Lipscomb, Robert Shaw[2] and Lightnin' Hopkins.[3] At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he assembled a group of former convicts who had never performed together, and after trying but failing to get Bob Dylan to end his rehearsals with members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, cut off Dylan's electricity supply, possibly giving rise to the apocryphal story that Pete Seeger had attempted to cut the power with an axe during Dylan's debut performance with electric guitars and keyboards.[1]

McCormick wrote numerous magazine articles and album liner notes and assembled an extensive private archive of Texas musical history.[1] He researched the lives of dead blues musicians, such as Robert Johnson[4] and Henry Thomas. He began research on Johnson in 1972, while working for the Smithsonian Institution, and interviewed people who had known the musician. McCormick originally intended to publish his research as a book, Biography of a Phantom, but he never completed it, and he later said that he had lost interest in it.[5] The book Biography of a Phantom, edited by John W. Troutman, was eventually published by Smithsonian Books in 2023.[6]

McCormick's unfinished research with Paul Oliver on Texas blues was published in 2019 by Texas A&M University Press as The Blues Come to Texas.[7]


McCormick died on November 18, 2015, from esophageal cancer, at the age of 85.[1][8]


In 2022 it was announced that McCormick's archive, including 590 reels of sound recordings, unpublished manuscripts, photographs, playbills, booking contracts, and miscellaneous materials and ephemera concerning blues musicians would be housed at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.[9]

Beginning 2023, Smithsonian Folkways began releasing some of McCormick's previously unreleased recordings as Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from the Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958–1971.[10]


  • Oliver, Paul; McCormick, Mack (2019). The Blues Come to Texas: Paul Oliver and Mack McCormick's Unfinished Book. College Station. ISBN 978-1623496388.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • McCormick, Mack (2023). Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey. Washington. ISBN 978-1588347343.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)


  1. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (November 26, 2015). "Mack McCormick, Student of Texas Blues, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  2. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 166. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  3. ^ Russell, p. 64
  4. ^ Russell, p. 207
  5. ^ Searching for Robert Johnson, Frank Digiacomo, Vanity Fair, November 2008]. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  6. ^ "Biography of a Phantom", Penguin Random House. Retrieved November 18, 2022
  7. ^ "The Blues Come to Texas". Texas A&M University Press. 2019. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  8. ^ Dansby, Andrew. "Folklorist Mack McCormick dies - Houston Chronicle". Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  9. ^ Jon Blistein, "The Archive of the Folklorist Who Unplugged Bob Dylan at Newport Is Headed to the Smithsonian", Rolling Stone, November 17, 2022. Retrieved November 18, 2022
  10. ^ "Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from the Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958–1971". Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Retrieved August 18, 2023.

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