Wednesday, 5 November 2008


I woke this morning at exactly the right moment to hear, live, Barack Obama's victory speech. We were thrilled, moved and happy. We're not so naive as to think revolutionary political change will sweep away all the meanies, abolish capitalism and the arms race and let the meek inherit the earth - but it is a great victory for all those black Americans who suffered under, and struggled against, the segregation and disenfranchisement that still reigned in the USA when Blind Willie McTell died and Barack Obama was born. And for those of us who were always on their side.

To see those long, long lines of black Americans, and a whole new young generation, waiting to vote with excitement, determination and hope, was electrifying. Obama's speech echoed that hope. He showed himself aware of the wider world, thoughtful about how the US dominates this world, and full of grace and dignity. And it thrills me that while he doesn't thrust black American culture down different cultural throats, his rhetoric sounds resonant chords with everyone at all familiar with black church worship in the States. You couldn't but hear Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come', itself a transmitter of the cadences of black preachers, when Obama said, without sentimentality or triumphalism, "It's been a long time coming..." Blind Willie McTell, adroitly non-political as he was (and needed to be, for safety's sake, in his lifetime) would surely have recognised the eloquent rises and falls of Obama's speech, and smiled, and rejoiced.

And it would have been no surprise to him, I imagine, that his home state of Georgia went to McCain.


Jim Klagge said...

Dear Mr. Gray, Do you know what has become of the Blind Willie McTell box set? I advance-purchased one on May 3, 2005, and have never received it. The web site no longer operates. I thought, since you are so knowledgeable about BWMcT, that you might know something. Please contact me at jklagge at vt dot edu. Thanks,
-Jim Klagge

Michael Gray said...

Thanks for writing.

First, let me say that the still-non-existent Box Set is nothing to do with me at all - in fact I had a lot of grief from Larry Cohn when, having wanted me to contribute highlights of my own research to the project when it was going to be released long before my own book, he responded with nothing but ill-tempered abuse when I demurred.

Second, I know nothing about the current Box Set situation, except that Mr. Cohn has said nothing further since the posting discussed at I urge you to read this, and perhaps even contribute your own experience to the pool. Again, this discussion group has no connection with me except that some of the contributors pay compliments to my book.

Third, I note that the people who have posted to this discussion group appear to think that the Box Set was going to offer not only the complete 1956 Last Session but also the complete Library of Congress 1940 Lomax recording. I'm pretty sure that the Box Set won't give the full version of the latter, but will recycle the same edited-down version blues fans have been asked to find sufficient in the past. My book, as you may know, describes in careful detail exactly what is missing from this version, and what a difference the excisions make to the impression one gets of this historic occasion. The reason I suspect that the Box Set, if it ever exists, will not bother to offer the complete version is that before Mr. Cohn and I fell out, I told him what was missing and encouraged him to go to the small extra expense of paying the LOC for the entire recording - and he told me he wasn't willing to pay that extra.

Draw your own conclusions.

Michael Gray said...

Further to this discussion, I've now been sent a copy of a more recent statement by Larry Cohn on the subject, as follows:

Date: 28 July 2008 18:06:39 BST

Subject:Blind Willie McTell Boxed 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 Marino DeSilva 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 Subscribers 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 refuses 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

Which is all very well, except that (a) from July until November is an awfully long time for Mr. Cohn to have the subscribers list back in his possession and still not have contacted everyone on it to give them all this information, and a further update, individually; and (b) speaking as a person who has had some experience of dealing with Mr. Cohn personally, I think a fair evaluation would be that he's belligerent, ego-centric, touchy, ill-tempered and impetuous. But that's just my opinion.

Nanna said...

Hello Michael,
Please excuse my using this blog to reach you butI haved just finished your wonderful book
Hand Me My Travellin' Shoes (In search of Blind Willie McTell.) and just had to let you know how much I enjoyed it
I cannot remember when we talked but I am very pleased to have my connection included.
My admiration for my hero has only grown and I will be enlarging my collection of his wonderful music over the next few months.( I had no idea there was so much out there)
I have just published an autobiography which I would like to send to you. Also an album of mine called
Blue Skies Black Heroes
which includes a version of Statesboro Blues.
Thanks again for a great and totally absorbing read which included tantalising links with so many of my other musical heroes, (I'd love to know more about Blind Blake if you ever get time!)
With very best wishes
Ralph McTell

Michael Gray said...

Dear Ralph McTell
Thank you so much for bothering to send your very kind comments - I was more than pleased to hear that you'd thought so highly of the book.

Thank you also for offering to send me your autobiography and the album Blues Skies Black Heroes (great title). If you would e-mail me at lawdylawdy(AT), I can then send you my proper contact details. Meanwhile, very best wishes~