The mystery of Mingering Mike: the soul legend who never existed
by Jon Ronson
11 February 2015
When a ‘crate-digger’ found a massive vinyl collection at a flea market, he couldn’t understand how a soul star who’d released over 100 records could just disappear. But the truth turned out to be even stranger. Jon Ronson goes in search of Mingering Mike
Intensely shy … Mingering Mike at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photograph: Jocelyn Augustino for the Guardian
This story begins with a record collector unearthing something extraordinary at a flea market one dawn in 2003. His name is Dori Hadar. He worked as a criminal investigator for a law firm in Washington DC and he’d been up all night with a client at the jail next door.
“It’s a miserable place to be, the DC jail,” Hadar tells me. “It’s stuffy and muggy and everything’s old and decaying.”
“Do you remember what your client had been accused of?” I ask.
Hadar shakes his head. “It’s basically drugs, guns and murders. Mainly.”
Hadar finally left the jail at 5am, just as a nearby flea market was setting up. He was a regular there – a “crate-digger” – for ever rifling through boxes of secondhand soul and funk albums, hunting for rarities. “It’s very competitive, the crate-digger world,” Hadar says. “People guard their boxes, they don’t want you to see, they pull the records out really fast.”
But Hadar had never been at the flea market at 5am before, and was thrilled to find no other crate-digger in sight. “And suddenly this enormous collection turned up. There must have been 15 boxes of albums.”
“As a crate-digger, that must be …”
“It’s the dream.”
All artworks courtesy the artist/Smithsonian American Art Museum
Hadar was a true soul aficionado, with an encyclopaedic knowledge and 10,000 records at home. Which is why he was so amazed to discover 38 albums by a soul singer he had never heard of. His name was Mingering Mike. Hadar stared at the record covers. He read the liner notes. There was Mingering Mike’s 1968’s debut, Sit’tin by the Window. The cover art was a painting of a young man in a green T-shirt, good-looking, serious. The comedian Jack Benny had written the liner notes, calling him “a bright and intelligent young man with a great, exciting future awaiting him”.
So it transpired. There were greatest hits collections and a Bruce Lee concept album and movie soundtracks – including one for an action film called Stake Out. And there were live albums, like 1972’s Live from Paris, The Mingering Mike Review: ‘Their biggest show ever,’ read the liner notes. ‘What a night that was.’
Most of the song titles were upbeat and optimistic, like There’s Nothing Wrong With You Baby and Play It Cool, Don’t Be No Fool, Get Your Thing Together and Go Back to School. But other records had darker themes, like The Drug Store and Mama Takes Dope. Some were still wrapped in their original cellophane, price tags intact.
Hadar pulled out a few discs to see what condition they were in. Which was when he discovered to his enormous surprise that they weren’t vinyl. They were black-painted cardboard, with fake labels and hand-drawn grooves.
What had begun to dawn on Hadar was now totally apparent: Mingering Mike did not exist. He was somebody’s hugely detailed fantasy.
Read the whole story here.
Mingering Mike’s prodigious album collection is on exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2nd floor South, 8th and F Streets, N.W., February 27, 2015 – August 2, 2015