brief artistic biography of Blind Willie McTell. under non-fiction but poetic in structure
|Blind Willie McTell was born McTear in Thomson, GA and blind by birth in one eye (the other would go by age six)
(they say he changed his name because his father's side was “big whiskey still people” and McTear became McTell)
his papa left and McTell moved to Statesboro and got the Blues
in 1927 his mama was dead and he was a wandering busker in Atlanta
Atlanta was a big city but not a Big City (thank you Bill Sherman)
it was big enough however to have an agent of the Victor Talking Machine Co. in town
WAKE UP MAMA TURN YOUR LAMP DOWN LOW
McTell recorded with Victor and Decca and Blind Sammie recorded with Columbia and Red Hot Willie Glaze recorded with Bluebird and Pig n' Whistle Red recorded with Regal
ya' see the Race Record system was designed to make the records and make the money
but to keep the money too because them negroes didn't need it anyway
Blind Willie was smart though and he got the money by pseudonymy
HAVE YOU GOT THE NERVE TO DRIVE PAPA MCTELL FROM YOUR DOOR?
He played a mean twelve string and never a six string every recording because more strings meant more volume and more volume meant more people getting the Blues
ya' see the blues is all about hard times and when ya' got hard times you cain't keep it to ya'self ya' gotta share it all around and spread the pain like butter on bread so it ain't too heavy all in one place or person mmmm
YOU'RE A MIGHTY MEAN WOMAN TO DO ME THIS A-WAY
McTell found his way around by echolocation like blind bats by making little click click click click noises and listening the walls and obstacles and he found a wife named Kate
Kate sang with him a couple of times but McTell was a ramblin' man by birth and then the Empire flew their planes into the Arizona and Kate became a nurse.
the pair spent most of their lives living apart but I guess the Blues is about hard times
GONNA LEAVE TOWN PRETTY MAMA GOIN AWAY TO STAY
in 1940 a queer little man and his wife came into town and got Blind Willie off the street and into the Clermont Lounge. They took him to a drab little room with a bed and a nightstand and a mirror and a stand-up mic and John Lomax on behalf of the Library of Congress and the United States Government asked McTell about his life and his beliefs.
McTell was awkward and uncomfortable when he talked to Lomax but when he started picking the guitar and singing the Blues in his distinctive whistle the man and his wife were duly impressed and gave him ten dollars.
they gave him ten dollars.
they gave him ten dollars and left but hey the Blues is about hard times.
I ONCE LOVED A WOMAN BETTER THAN I EVER SEEN
When America entered the second war to make the world safe for democracy they took all the shellac and sold it and fought Hitler with the proceeds and McTell suddenly didn't have a mic to sing the Blues into anymore
(and when he did they flopped because the bobby soxers were buying the music and the older ones had turned to Big Band music anyway)
McTell was a friend of the bottle but by now he was a lover of it and diabetes would pick off the carrion alcoholism discarded
so he did the only thing he knew how to do and he went to the streets with his twelve string and played his soul out for the busy masses of people who walked all around Atlanta
and he sang into the drafts of wind that would blow down from the mountains along the wide roads
and he sang into the hot summer nights in with a backing symphony of crickets and the occasional owl
and he sang when nobody would listen with both ears because they might be shocked at what they heard
and he sang for tips of quarters and loose change and the glances of people as they hurried by him
TREAT ME LIKE A KING AND SHE WAS A DOGGONE QUEEN
Eddie Rhodes, proprietor of a record store in Atlanta, was one of the men who gave a quarter
and even though he didn't care much for the blues (the blues wasn't exactly the cash crop of the music business)
he knew he was looking at history on the streetcorner by the Pig n' Whistle
so he asked Willie to come inside for a while where he'd be more comfortable and maybe sit down and play a little bit of music into a little tape recorder
and McTell said no
so Rhodes threw in a bottle of corn liquor and McTell played the Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues and Pal of Mine and Goodbye Blues
Eddie kept the tapes in a big old trashbin in the attic and was cleaning them out later and there was only one salvageable tape
REACH OVER IN THE CORNER HAND ME MY TRAV'LIN' SHOES
McTell saw the Light one day even though he was blind and started talking about God instead of Gamblers
gone were the days of the Blues because the Blues was about your soul and God was about your salvation.
He knew he was gonna go soon (How you wanna go Willie?)
that was in 1959
a couple of years later the blues fell back into style and Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt enjoyed the popular success they deserved
but William Samuel McTear was in a little grave in Thomson, GA
YOU KNOW BY THAT I GOT THEM STATESBORO BLUES
the Clermont Lounge is a strip club and the Pig n' Whistle is gone
they redecorated the clubs he played in but they kept the parking lots the same which is something I guess
and when you drive down Ponce you don't hear a twelve string anymore and almost never the symphony of crickets
but hey maybe that's just the Blues.