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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

We return to the mystery of Mingering Mike. While rummaging through record bins at a flea market, a vintage vinyl collector named Dori Hadar found what looked, at first, like a vast trove of recordings by an R&B great from the late '60s and early '70s.

But a closer look revealed that the whole thing was fake. Inside these elaborately illustrated covers were just cardboard discs with hand-drawn grooves. Dori shared the cover out with fellow record collectors online. The fictitious soul superstar Mingering Mike became Internet famous, and so Dori made it his mission to track this mysterious artist down. We left off in part I of this story where Dori tracks down one of Mike's cousins.

Mr. DORI HADAR (Vinyl Record Collector): I knocked on his store, and I asked him if he knew who Mingering Mike was, and he just started laughing hysterically.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Now, DAY TO DAY's tech correspondent Xeni Jardin returns with the rest of the story.

XENI JARDIN: Vinyl collector Dori Hadar works as a criminal investigator by day, and he used those skills to keep trying to locate whoever was behind all those obsessively crafted cardboard fantasy records.

Mr. HADAR: So I left a note, but I never heard from anyone.

JARDIN: Then the message got through.

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: I called the relatives, and they just happened to say that someone came and left their phone number. So after a couple of days delay or something, then I called.

JARDIN: Finally, a breakthrough.

Mr. HADAR: This guy peeked out from his door very suspiciously…

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: Well, he and Frank had came to the door, and he said I have some items that belong to you. I said, my babies? You have my babies?

JARDIN: The man known as Mingering Mike says he lost all those pretend LPs, 45s, the lyric sheets, because he'd fallen behind on rent at the storage space where they were kept. They ended up at the flea market where Dori bought them.

Mr. HADAR: He thought they were gone forever, so he was really happy that they were still around.

JARDIN: But all of that added up to only a fourth of the work he'd produced, and some of it still missing. What Dori did find were meticulously illustrated album covers with crazy, funky themes and hand-lettered liner notes, pretend shrink wrap around the covers, saran wrap and scotch tape.

There were songs with tiles like, "Underwear Drying at my Front Door," "I'd Like to Teach the World to Eat Like Me," and "Sometimes I get So Hungry I can Eat a Light Bulb or Chair or Even My Hair".

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: (Singing) (unintelligible) said the old lady.

I used to think of titles all the time, and they just gradually started coming in a little clearer. You know, it's like a fog, that like you're going through a fog and all of a sudden you see sunshine. You know, it was just a creative time.

JARDIN: Mike's brothers, sisters and cousins figured into the fantasy. That cousin whose doorstep Dori showed up on, the guy who laughed hysterically? Audio Andre, just one member of this legendary soul superstar family. Mike and his siblings did record song songs on reel-to-reel tape, sometimes tapping out percussion with an afro pick struck against the mattress or a phone book.

(Soundbite of music)

JARDIN: Around the time real world soul superstars were taking off in the late 1960s, Mingering Mike was launching his imaginary career on record companies he'd made up: Minger Records, Sex Records, Nation's Capital records. This is the heyday of the album, according to historian Gerald Early at Washington University in St. Louis.

Mr. GERALD EARLY (Historian, Washington University-St. Louis): Records were interesting artifacts that - I mean, the labels themselves or records were just often very interesting pieces of graphic art. Mingering Mike, what he's doing is sort of echoing or mimicking this transformation that's taken place, and how the public sees the music and album as a creative act.

JARDIN: On many of Mike's cardboard records, the credits say written, produced, arranged, performed, accompanied by Mingering Mike. It was as if he was emulating multi-talented musicians at the time who wrote, produced and performed their music, like James Brown and Curtis Mayfield. Gerald Early.

Mr. EARLY: Mayfield and Brown were two of the really leading figures of the periods who were leading this transformation of black music into this kind of album-oriented music.

JARDIN: If you scan through Mike's album covers, you notice they change as the years pass. Themes like the Vietnam War, drug abuse, kung fu movies crop up, and imaginary live performances at venues like D.C.'s Howard Theater, one of many real places in African-American neighborhoods where touring soul greats would play live - theaters that would begin closing in years to follow.

Mr. EARLY: So he's kind of capturing with this album art what you would say as sort of a world that's entering its twilight phase at the time he's doing it between '68 and '76.

JARDIN: Suddenly, another part of the real world intruded.

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: I received a letter that everyone received back in the '70s about greetings, this is Uncle Sam, and I - being inducted into the Armed Forces. And, you know, there's no way out of that.

JARDIN: The career of the imaginary soul superstar was cut short of its peak.

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: So the night before, I just put my feelings on into the music and words, and I just did that acapella, right at the spur of the moment.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: (Singing) But all I can do is try.

JARDIN: Mike went AWOL and went into hiding. He resurfaced later, after the government offered evaders an amnesty program.

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: Did community service, and after that, just got a regular J-O-B.

JARDIN: So who is the real Mingering Mike now? He doesn't want to be identified because he fears losing his J-O-B and his privacy. But people still want to know more about him. Music journalist Neal Strauss remembers when he and the rest of the world discovered Mingering Mike.

Mr. NEIL STRAUSS (Music Journalist, New York Times): I think of all the stories I wrote in the New York Times, I do think it was the one that kind of got the most response after I wrote it, like, gallery owners called. People want to become documentary films called.

(Soundbite of music)

JARDIN: And now, Mike has a book out, produced with Dori Hadar - "Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar." A gallery in Washington, D.C. will open an exhibition of his album covers this June. Mike and Dori are also producing a real vinyl 45 version of one of those cardboard 45s.

Mr. MINGERING MIKE: This is like a long dream that just you having so constantly, and then all of a sudden, you forget about it. And all of a sudden, you know, years later, it returns, and it's a reality. And it's rather shocking, surprising, amazing, everything wrapped up into one.

JARDIN: For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: If you want to take a look at some of Mingering Mike's album covers, and take a listen to some of his music, go to our Web site. That's npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

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