Thursday, October 1, 2009
Blind Willie McTell
William Samuel "Blind Willie" McTell (May 5, 1898 (sometimes reported as 1901 or 1903) – August 19, 1959) was an influential American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was a twelve-string finger picking Piedmont blues guitarist, and recorded 149 songs between 1927 and 1956.Born William Samuel McTier (or McTear) in Thomson, Georgia, blind in one eye, McTell had lost his remaining vision by late childhood, but became an adept reader of Braille. He showed proficiency in music from an early age and learned to play the six-string guitar as soon as he could. His father left the family when McTell was still young, so when his mother died in the 1920s, he left his hometown and became a wandering busker. He began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records in Atlanta.His style was singular: a form of country blues, bridging the gap between the raw blues of the early part of the 20th Century and the more refined East Coast "Piedmont" sound. He took on the less common and more unwieldy 12-string guitar because of its volume. One of McTell's most famous songs, "Statesboro Blues", has been covered by artists such as Taj Mahal, David Bromberg, The Allman Brothers Band and Ralph McTell, who changed his name on account of liking the song. Jack White of The White Stripes considers McTell an influence (their 2000 album De Stijl was dedicated to him and featured a cover of his song "Your Southern Can Is Mine"), as did Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Bob Dylan has paid tribute to McTell on at least four occasions: Firstly in his 1965 song "Highway 61 Revisited" in the second verse, which begins, "Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose," referring to one of Blind Willie McTell's many recording names; later in "Blind Willie McTell" (recorded in 1983 but released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 in 1991); then with covers of McTell's "Broke Down Engine" and "Delia" on his 1993 album World Gone Wrong. In his song "Po'Boy", off the 2001 album Love & Theft, Dylan again paid homage to McTell by appropriating the line "had to go to Florida dodging them Georgia laws" directly from the latter's "Kill It Kid".
Post-war, he recorded for Atlantic Records and Regal Records in 1949, but these recordings met with less commercial success than his previous works. He continued to perform around Atlanta, but his career was cut short by ill health, predominantly diabetes and alcoholism.McTell died in Milledgeville, Georgia, of a stroke in 1959.