It’s a perfect crowd for Mose McCormack — old friends, fellow pickers, crusty bikers hoisting Buds beside their hogs, hippie cowboys and earth mothers, elderly Hispanic neighbors, gaggles of kids running around. There’s several plastic coolers full of beer, a table covered with crockpots of posole, chile con queso and baked chicken, dishes of enchiladas and tamales.
But the center of attention is the lanky guitar player singing ranchero-flavored country songs with his band on the creaky homemade stage beside the trailer home he shares with his wife Becky and their toddler Alma, just west of the Rio Grande. It’s a Mosey Mack picnic on a hot September night.
With his droopy mustache and bib overalls, McCormack looks a little like a cartoon character. Farmer Goofy. Cowboy Gumby. And when he sings his old songs, like “New Mexico Blues”, nearly everyone knows the words: “Rio Grande running fast and deep/Brown-skin child running in his sleep/Cross you river first chance I get/But this has been the best ride, the best ride yet.”
McCormack was born 48 years ago in Dophan, Alabama, which he left soon after reaching adulthood. He headed west to California. But this was not an era of flower power for Mosey Mack. “I was gettin’ kind of wild,” he recalls. In 1970, he flew to Hawaii and robbed a bank. He fled to the mainland, but the FBI caught up with him in Arizona. Because of his youth, he was let off with just a couple years probation. The felony was wiped off his record.
McCormack talks reluctantly about his criminal past. He’s never used it to boost his “outlaw cred” in the country music biz. While he was still on probation, McCormack learned a trade, which today still is his “day job.”
“My probation officer told me that I had to learn to do something for a living, something besides playing music in bars,” he said. “So I learned how to make jewelry. My teachers were the Hopis and the hippies. I started doing that for awhile, and people kept telling me I could sell more jewelry if I moved to Santa Fe.” In 1973 he did just that.
In 1976 he released his first album, Beans And Make Believe, on the CMH label. The title song is still one of his best, a quasi-autobiographical tune about a lovelorn recluse living in a dingy room behind Hamburger Heaven.
Last year, McCormack released Santa Fe Trail, a strong collection of honky-tonk tunes with subjects ranging from the romantic Old West to the title song’s hellish vision of modern Santa Fe, losing its soul to the turista dollar.
To his oldest fans, Beans And Make Believe remains the sentimental favorite, but Santa Fe Trail is tighter and tougher. In truth, the old outlaw Mosey is getting better with age.