Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blind Willie McTell bio

Visitors to this site (and I know there are one or two) might not be aware that Michael Gray recently published a biography of Blind Willie McTell, Hand Me My Travellin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell (Bloomsbury, hardcover, 2007). It has just come out in paperback. Strangely, it is still only available in the UK.

A biography of McTell must have been a real challenge. Information about him has - until now - been uncertain and, depending upon one's source, contradictory. Michael Gray has accomplished a remarkable feat with this book, which will be a valuable and absorbing read for anyone interested in "roots" music, early blues, Blind Willie McTell or "St. James Infirmary." This is an important book about an important musician. The Sunday Times, for one, calls it “Shrewd, lucid and immensely well informed.”

McTell, of course, was responsible for resurrecting the remarkable SJI-influenced "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues." McTell actually did record "St. James Infirmary" - in a small Atlanta record store owned by Ed Rhodes. That was in 1956. Unfortunately the CD, Last Session, is incomplete, and so his rendition is not generally available. (Although in 2004 record producers Laurence Cohn and Marino De Silva teamed up to create a box set of McTell recordings that was to include the complete Ed Rhodes tape, the complete John Lomax recording session, and many other treats. People who got wind of this kept their eyes and ears open through 2004 and 2005 and 2006 . . . the web site finally went down in 2008. There are odd rumours afloat about the cause of the project's failure, but the much anticipated box set is dead - and one wonders when these items will come into the light.)

I ordered my copy of Gray's book from and was impressed by both the final cost and the speed of delivery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There may indeed be "rumours" about what happened to the deluxe McTell box set that Cohn was producing.

However, this is the full and complete text of the e-mail that Mr. Cohn himself sent in July to subscribers of that box set:

To All:

I'm not sure as exactly how to begin this,
so I'll just say that I am sorry beyond words
as to what has happened regarding the Blind
Willie McTell project and I accept complete,
unconditional blame. By way of explaination:

{Some of you may be aware of the following
and if so, I ask that you bear with me while
I review the situation.}

13 Months ago we discovered quite by accident
that the German company that was financing
CohnDeSilva, had been duped by my former
partner into sending $500,000 that was to be
for the McTell project, into an account that
he maintained under another name and which
had absolutely nothing to do with Larry Cohn,
CohnDeSilva or the Blind Willie McTell Boxed
set project. [There's a further amount of
$128,000 involved; I'll spare everyone details.]

For the last 13 months since this was uncovered,
I've been faced with huge legal bills in order to
dissolve CohnDeSilva and in this regard, the State
of California has many, many requirements, and gives
the advantage to the person against whom the action
is being brought. The cost to me both financially
and emotionally has been unbelievable. Further,
after 2 years of trying to obtain the McTell Sub-
scribers list from my former partner, I only received
it last week and this as a result of a Court Order.
All of the funds received from Subscribers went to
my former partner who to this day unbelievably re-
fuses to account for the monies and further, refuses
to restore the funds {to me} for distribution back to
everyone. So to the point: the obligation is now mine.

We are in process of speaking to various people about
the prospect of new financing and that being said, I ask
that you all bear with me and accept my promise that no
one will lose their money; either the Box will be completed
and all subscribers will receive same or if I see that it
is not going to happen, I will refund everyone's money
out of my own pocket. At the moment, I am still paying
legal bills and require some much needed time.

I can not even begin relate to everyone my sorrow and
shame and the fact that I trusted someone has caused me
unspeakable grief. Those of you who know me, well I don't
think that I have to make a case for my character & honesty.
Those of you who don't know me personally or who have never
dealt with me, please contact those who know me for a fair
evaluation of my efforts and my dealings with people over
the years.

I shall keep everyone informed every step of the way, from
this point forward, and thank everyone for taking the time to
read this angst-ridden EMail.

Sincerely to all,

Larry Cohn