With an exquisite voice, razor-sharp wit and sublime talent for the twelve-string guitar, Blind Willie McTell left behind a remarkable recorded legacy. From classics such as 'Statesboro Blues' and 'Mama, 'Tain't Long Fo' Day' to 'Broke Down Engine' and 'Georgia Rag' it's clear why Bob Dylan famously sang 'Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell'.
Born in Georgiain 1901, McTell was something of an anomaly in that he exploded every archetype about what a blues musician should be. He was no Robert Johnsonesque devil-dealing womaniser and didn't lose his sight in a jook joint brawl, but was a resourceful and articulate man with a razor-sharp wit and religious mind who became an adept professional musician. Blind from birth or early infancy, he never behaved as if blindness handicapped him, as he travelled widely and recorded more than 120 titles throughout his career. His voice was soft, clear and expressive and his musical tastes were influenced by blues, ragtime, gospel, hillbilly and popular music of the day.
McTell's early recording sessions produced such classics as 'Southern Can Is Mine', 'Statesboro Blues', 'Georgia Rag', 'Broke Down Engine' and 'Mama, 'Tain't Long Fo' Day', all of which are characterized by the incredible interplay between his warm, smooth voice and fluid guitar technique. With a voice charged with extraordinary sensitivity he's able to convey a variety of moods from deep pathos to broad humour, as he draws us into his world of corn whiskey, teasing browns, passenger trains, stomp down riders and razor balls. Unlike the mechanical delivery of many early country blues artists, McTell was able to give each of his blues songs and rags a distinctive flavour, and in true songster fashion could draw on a massive repertoire of material. Although he never produced a major hit record, he had a prolific recording career with different labels and under different names such as Blind Sammie, Georgia Bill and Hot Shot Willie.
In 1934 McTell married Ruth Kate Williams, with whom he recorded some duets including the gospel inspired'God Don't Like It' which warns about hypocritical preachers. He also teamed up with other blues artists including fellow East Coast guitarist Curley Weaver, who accompanies him on the lively 'It's A Good Little Thing' and 'Warm It Up To Me'.
Unfortunately, McTell died in obscurity in 1959, just before the folk-blues revival got underway, when many other original bluesmen were rediscovered. Although his song 'Statesboro Blues' was exposed to millions via cover versions by Taj Mahal and the Allman Brothers band, one can only imagine the impact that he would have had on the new generation of young white audiences had he survived. Luckily, we are blessed by a recorded legacy which lays bare both the personality and musical brilliance of this most remarkable of pre-war blues artists. Blind Willie McTell was more than just the King of Georgia Blues, he channelled the musical mosaic of the nation.