Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nobody Can Sing the Blues Like: Blind Willie McTell

What did Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill have in common?  They all shared the same body. That of the blues guitarist Blind Willie McTell.  After the devil dealer Robert Johnson, who rightly or wrongly, is almost universally heralded as the most mysterious and ‘greatest’ bluesman in history, there is probably no blues artist who is spoken of in such awesome tones, as Blind Willie McTell.

When the most celebrated songwriter in the past 50 years sings,

Well, God is in His heaven

And we all want what’s his

But power and greed and corruptible seed

Seem to be all that there is

I’m gazing out the window

Of the St. James Hotel

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

people tend to agree.

I’ll let you decide. Tonight’s selection is an album originally recorded in the late 1940s but only noticed when re-issued in the mid 70s.  Considering the age of the recordings the sound quality is superb. McTell’s singing is passionate and energetic and his guitar playing is masterful. He is an artist in his prime absolutely confident in his ability and taking great pleasure in showing it off.

Born in Atlanta at the turn of the 20th century as Willie Samuel McTier (or McTear) he came from an extended family that had music in its bones.  One of his uncles was Thomas Dorsey the ‘Father’ of gospel music. Both his parents played guitar and though born blind, the young Willie’s heightened sense of touch and hearing allowed him to master the guitar with grace and beauty.

He studied some music formally in various ‘schools for the blind’ around the United States and by the time he was in his early 20s preferred the 12 string version of the guitar, which he could make sound like multiple instruments being played at the same time.  He first recorded before the 1930s and put one of the all time classics of the blues, Statesboro Blues, to wax.  His repertoire, captured nicely on this record, covered both the profane and the pious. (His version of Motherless Children Have Such a Hard Time, is the definition of the word ‘awesome’.)

He recorded throughout the 30s and 40s, including being captured by the famous John Lomax for the Library of Congress. But his music faded from view during WWII and really did not re-emerge into the public until after his death of a brain hemorrhage in 1959. In this later years he careened between the life of a wino and being the pastor of a small church.  His last recording was in a hotel room in 1956.

His recent re-re-discovery can be traced to Dylan’s mighty song named after him, which he inexplicably decided not to include on Infidels. When it was made public it was immediately recognized as a masterpiece and for many reintroduced the prodigy of Atlanta to the wider public.

I’ve included Dylan’s song as an extra bonus in this stunning collection.  Atlanta Twelve String really ranks as one of the great blues records of all time.

            Track Listing:
            01 Kill It Kid
02 The Razor Ball
03 Little Delia
04 Broke Down Engine
05 Dying Crapshooter's Blues
06 Pinetop's Boogie Woogie
07 Blues Around Midnight
08 Last Dime Blue
09 On The Cooling Board
10 Motherless Children Have A Hard Time
11 I Got To Cross The River Jordan
12 You Got To Die
13 Ain't It Grand To Live A Christian
14 Pearly Gates
15 Soon This Morning
Bonus Track
16 Blind Willie McTell (Bob Dylan)

Listen here.

1 comment:

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