Rock On – Jon Racherbaumer – May 2010


May – 2010

Old-timers are told they have too much free time. The chide goes something like this: “After all, how long does it take to refill prescription drugs, walk your dog, locate misplaced objects, restring a yo-yo, read your local Ring Report in The Linking Ring, and reconstruct the 21-Card Trick?” They are told that they are stuck in “the good old days” and are “sinking deeper.” But in many ways the “good old days” were much better than today’s texting-twittering-rapping-uploading, free-loading world. Even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Like movies on the Turner Classics channel, memories come in monochrome, replayed in shadow-laden black-and-white, and paced like the lope of Hopalong Cassidy’s horse…Trust me, if you remember the name of that horse, you’re definitely an old-timer. I admit being an old-timer, but when not monitoring my own pulse, I have a finger on the slightly erratic pulse of our Magic Nation. Thinking about it also triggers memories of magicians, past and present.

While recently sorting through boxes of miscellaneous memorabilia, I discovered this snapshot of Karrell Fox and Billy McComb, taken the night before Karrell died (March 12, 1998). (You can see the back of Obie O’Brien’s head to the left of Karrell’s head.)

Both Karrell and Billy look a tad enervated. It had been a lively Vegas Seminar and Karrell, despite feeling weak and shaky throughout the convention, hosted the teach-a-trick session and emceed other events. He was everywhere, meeting-and-greeting, schmoosing-and-sharing, and hobbling along with his ceremonial cane-which he used as a trusty wand, pointer, and partial support. After this photo was taken, I put my arm around his shoulder and asked, “How’s it going?”

Karrell shook his head from side to side. “I just feel terrible,” he said. “Just terrible…”


Karrell Fox and Billy McComb at Desert Magic Seminar – 1998

“You got to be kidding,” I said. “You were the Ever-Ready Bunny…you were everywhere!” Karrell simply stood there, leaning on his cane and smiling. No matter how he felt he managed to smile; it was reflexive because he was a soul who always sought sunshine.

After we said farewell that night, he said something like this:

“We do what we can…for as long as we can…”

There you have it. As wan as he looked, he beamed that unmistakably glorious, impish, and irrepressible grin-the grin of a man of his time, for his time, coming to the end of an era he helped create and make memorable.

The next morning he checked out for the last time.


Obie O’Brien found him on the bed, having gently passed away. Like his soul mate in slapstick (Duke Stern), Karrell also died at a convention. How fitting for their journeys to end in a world they knew, loved and made better?


Billy McComb lived on for 14 more years.

Like Jay Marshall, Billy was a walking, talking, squawking encyclopedia of magic-a flesh-and-blood incarnation of Google (on magic). He knew tons of facts and factoids, lots of gossip, rumor, dirt and dish, and he knew everything you-didn’t-know-you-needed-to-know-but-were-afraid-to-ask.


Early Billy

I met Billy forty years ago.

During an atypical break from the high seas where he entertained on cruise ships, he went on a lecture tour at the behest of Frances Marshall One of his stops was New Orleans where he lectured at the old Fontainebleau Hotel. The lecture was different. It was delivered in a large ballroom with strategically arranged the chairs that surrounded an expansive, rectangular dance floor. This made it a cruise-ship and allowed Billy to work in the round. Everything he did that night was illuminating. For example, he did not focus on tricks per se.

Instead, he talked about showmanship. Realizing that many students of magic tend to micromanage how a given trick works, they get lost in methodology. I particularly remember the way he forced a card. Our impression was that he nonchalantly approached a woman and flawlessly performed a Classic Force. We were impressed. It looked so casual and relaxed. In fact, he didn’t even look at the woman or the deck. In reality, the woman never chose a card. Billy indifferently approached her, saying: “Madam…please take any card you liked…any one at all…” Although his body language expressed utter insouciance, when the woman reached to take a card, he simply handed her the force-card.

What’s the lesson here? Billy would have said, “It’s not what you do, it’s what they think you do.”

Billy was also a generous guy.

I once had an amazingly discursive chat with Billy outside the kitchen of the Magic Castle. At one point I asked, “Have you ever been accused of using trick cards?” Billy flashed his leprechaun smile and said, “Have you seen those packaged sets of TV Magic Cards…the ones sold in magic shops and toy stores? They come bubble-wrapped with bold printing on the outside-TV MAGIC CARDS.”

Sometimes when he performed close-up magic at the Castle, he told the audience he was going to show them a few miracles with ordinary cards. Then he reach into his bag of tricks and pull out the TV Magic Cards. He would open the kit in front of the audience and then take out the deck, which ironically, was a legit deck that he had substituted. Because the audience saw the conspicuous advertisement of gimmicked cards, they assumed that Billy was being facetious…or as Billy would say, “Truth is the safest lie!”

I loved the idea…

Billy immediately said that he had the TV Magic Cards in his car. He then walked to the Castle parking lot and brought me the cards. “They’re yours,” he said.

I never opened or used the set of cards. It remains a treasured memento on my shelf.

One of the old-timers in my hometown is fond of saying:”It’s hard to be nostalgic when you can’t remember anything.” He, of course, is older than me (much older). He does, however, remember Karrell and Billy.

If anyone reading this column is unfamiliar with the works of Karrell and Billy, I recommend checking out the videos Stevens Magic Emporium produced. In fact, I think the first video in the Greater Magic Series featured Karrell Fox.

Meanwhile, if you own the “Mind Power” deck or are contemplating buying one, here is another way to exploit its applicability. Call it…

Jon Racherbaumer

This application of the “Mind Power” deck permits you to perform an offbeat presentation of Wild Card. Properly done, it will fool fast company.

Suppose that your “Mind Power” deck is red-backed.

Set-up: First, remove the blue-backed 3S and the extra regular card. Then place a regular 3S at the face of the deck.

To perform, ribbon spread the deck face up to show a mixture of fifty-three, different cards, including a Joker. Then scoop up the spread and fairly riffle shuffle the deck a couple of times, retaining the 3S on the bottom.

Pick up the deck and perform a straight cut, retaining a left pink break below the regular 3S. Explain that you could have a few cards chosen as you spread the deck face down between your hands. As you utter this patter, spread the cards between your hands. When you reach the break at the 3S, pause and let the 3S drop face down to the table as you add, “…like this…!”

Close the spread and then ribbon-spread the deck face down on the table. Continue: “Instead we will use a hands-off approach. Please touch three different cards and slide each one halfway out of the spread.”

Permit the spectator to do this. Emphasize the cleanliness and freedom of this selection-procedure. Once the cards are designated, cleanly remove each one from the spread and place them face down onto the tabled 3S.

Place the deck aside. Pick up the four cards and place them face down into your left hand. At this stage, the regular (different) indices should be at the outer right corner.

Flip the packet sideways and perform a tight fan to reveal four different (?) cards with the regular 3S at the face. Say, “Here are the four selected cards!”

Flip the packet face down sideways and mix the cards between your hands, supposedly changing the relative positions of the cards. In reality, you actually change the positions of only the gaffed cards, making sure the regular 3S ends up on the bottom. Say, “After mixing these four selections, I want you to touch any one of them. The one you touch will be the designated Wild Card!”

After the apparent mixing, grasp the outer right corner of the designated card with your palm-down right hand-thumb on top, first and second fingers below.

Slide out the card and turn your right hand so that the designated card rotates end-for-end and face up, showing a 3S. Your right fingers cover the fake index.

(Note: If the regular 3S on the bottom is chosen, you can turn it face up, using a modified grip to clean show both indices.)

Say, “You have designated the Three of Spades to be the Wild Card!” Replace the card and pretend to mix them about again, making sure that the regular 3S ends up on the bottom.

You will next apparently show each card to be a Three of Spades, using a false display that shows a regular 3S each time. (This is a preemptory strategy to cancel out the suspicion that faked indices are a possibility. Magicians will assume that you have three different cards in play and are using a false display to show duplication.)

With the cards face down in your left hand, use your left thumb to angle the top card to the left. Make a magical gesture. Then grasp the right side of the bottom three cards with your right hand.
Flip the card(s) face up and onto the top card to show a full-faced 3S. Say, “This card has now changed into the Wild Card!”

Flip the top three cards face down and take the top card with your right hand. Next, push over two cards and use the right-hand card to flip the card(s) face up to show another (?) 3S. (Use a two-card push-off or buckle to facilitate the double turnover.)

Flip the “double” face down and again take the top card with your right hand, which is holding two cards in spread condition. Take the card underneath the right-hand card.

Push over the top (single) card of the remaining pair in your left hand. Then use the two right-hand cards to flip the card face up to show another (?) 3S.

Flip this single card face down and then momentarily place the two right-hand cards onto the squared left-hand cards. Keep your left thumb against the top card as your right hand moves its uppermost two cards, plus the bottom card of the left-hand pair to the right.

Finally, use the three right-hand cards to flip the left-hand card face up to show a fourth (?) 3S.

Flip this regular 3S face down and place them right-hand cards onto it. Say, “Amazing, isn’t it? We now have four Wild Cards!” Turn the packet end-for-end and spread the cards face up to show four Threes of Spades. The spread can be wide. Just make sure that you do not expose the faked indices at the inner right corner.

If you do not want to spread the cards all at once, YOU CAN SHOW THEM ONE AT A TIME. In this case, stating with the top card, grasp each card at its outer right corner and turn it end-for-end. Your right thumb will cover the fake index.

After you show it, simply flip it face down to the table. When you show the last 3S (the regular card), you can show both indices just prior to flipping it face down.

As they used to write at the end of instructions (in the good old days), “Have fun!”