Steve LaVere

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Steve LaVere was well over his eyebrows in vintage blues beginning in the late '60s, when he got in early on a popular new wave of historical compilations involving genre material. LeVere was employed…
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Steve LaVere was well over his eyebrows in vintage blues beginning in the late '60s, when he got in early on a popular new wave of historical compilations involving genre material. LeVere was employed in 1968 as reissue coordinator for the Imperial label, busily tracking down masters by artists such as pianist Champion Jack Dupree. Name a blues singer -- Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Doctor Ross the Harmonica Boss -- and there is bound to be an association with LeVere, either through the promotion of live shows or a record deal, if not both. LaVere also managed enterprises that thrive on the international interest in regional American blues scenes: a record store in Memphis; a Mississippi complex housing a bakery, restaurant, music club, and museum.

LaVere was, however, much more controversial than most enthusiasts involved in this way, mostly because of his relationship with the publishing empire of Mississippi blues genius Robert Johnson. After determining that Johnson's feebly established publishing rights had not actually tumbled into the black hole of the public domain, LaVere worked out an agreement with people considered to be members of Johnson's surviving family. The latter subject opens a can of worms -- even unleashes a pack of hellhounds -- as a combination of paranoid theories, ritual Satan worship, high-tech DNA testing, Hollywood myth, and endlessly complicated efforts on the behalf of various researchers muddied the soup concerning Johnson's ancestry.

In the meantime, LaVere at one point had a sweetheart deal to collect royalties due to Johnson, which stars such as Eric Clapton were apparently only too eager to pay -- for which LaVere would get to keep no less than half for his trouble. Opinion varies on this arrangement, ranging from those who perceive LaVere as acting in good faith to descriptions of him as "...a shark...who demands money from anyone doing anything remotely related to Robert Johnson." LaVere also researched other aspects of Johnson's life and death, and was involved in the later performing careers of other great country blues performers from the Delta regions. LaVere was one of the founders of the Memphis Blues Caravan tour in the '70s.