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Statesboro Blues: The Early Years 1927-1935

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Album Review

Blind Willie McTell is unique among country bluesmen in having a 30-year recording career while remaining essentially an itinerant musician, and during his lifetime he was a familiar sight on the streets of Atlanta and other Southern cities as he performed his varied repertoire of blues, rags, and vaudeville pieces on his 12-string guitar. This three-disc collection assembles all of his commercial 78s (as well as alternate takes) from Victor, Columbia, OKeh, and Vocalion, including his signature tune, the magnificent "Statesboro Blues." Whether McTell actually wrote a lot of these songs (or merely adapted them) is unclear, but there is a sharp writer's eye at work here, as evidenced by lines like "Mother died and left me reckless/Daddy died and left me wild" (from "Statesboro Blues") or "I got the blues so bad/I can feel them in the dark" (from "Dark Night Blues"). These recordings feature the early McTell, when his voice was a high and expressive tenor — that voice deepened and grew rougher as a lifetime of street singing began to take its toll, and by the time Alan Lomax recorded him in the 1940s, McTell had slowed the pace of his songs down considerably as well. All three of the discs included here have been available as individual sets from Document, but having them all together in one package brings the full sweep of McTell's commercial career into focus. Few country bluesmen of his day could boast as varied a repertoire, one that embraced deep blues, Piedmont, and hokum styles, as well as religious and gospel pieces, and he was a remarkably consistent performer in all of these guises. There are multiple takes of some songs that might irritate some casual listeners, and since the set unfolds chronologically, the pacing at times bogs down, but as the lion's share of his life's work, these recordings show why artists like Bob Dylan hold Blind Willie McTell in such high regard.


Born: 05 May 1901 in Thomson, GA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

Willie Samuel McTell was one of the blues' greatest guitarists, and also one of the finest singers ever to work in blues. A major figure with a local following in Atlanta from the 1920s onward, he recorded dozens of sides throughout the '30s under a multitude of names -- all the better to juggle "exclusive" relationships with many different record labels at once -- including Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill, as a backup musician to Ruth Mary Willis. And those may not...
Full Bio

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