Blind Willie McTell                                       Years active 1910s-1956

Blind Willie McTell (born William Samuel McTier; May 5, 1898 - August 19, 1959) was a Piedmont blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He played with a fluid, syncopated finger-style guitar technique, common among many exponents of Piedmont blues. Unlike his contemporaries, he came to use twelve-string guitars exclusively. McTell was also an adept slide guitarist, unusual among ragtime bluesmen. His vocal style, a smooth and often laid-back tenor, differed greatly from many of the harsher voices of Delta bluesmen such as Charley Patton. McTell performed in various musical styles, including blues, ragtime, religious music and hokum.


Background information From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


He was born William Samuel McTier in the Happy Valley community outside Thomson, Georgia. Most sources give the date of his birth as 1898, but researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc suggest 1903, on the basis of his entry in the 1910 census. McTell was born blind in one eye and lost his remaining vision by late childhood. He attended schools for the blind in Georgia, New York and Michigan and showed proficiency in music from an early age, first playing the harmonica and accordion, learning to read and write music in Braille, and turning to the six-string guitar in his early teens. His family background was rich in music; both of his parents and an uncle played the guitar. He was related to the bluesman and gospel pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey. McTell's father left the family when Willie was young. After his mother died, in the 1920s, he left his hometown and became an itinerant musician, or "songster". He began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records in Atlanta.


McTell married Ruth Kate Williams, now better known as Kate McTell, in 1934. She accompanied him on stage and on several recordings before becoming a nurse in 1939. For most of their marriage, from 1942 until his death, they lived apart, she in Fort Gordon, near Augusta, and he working around Atlanta.

In the years before World War II, McTell traveled and performed widely, recording for several labels under different names: Blind Willie McTell (for Victor and Decca), Blind Sammie (for Columbia), Georgia Bill (for Okeh), Hot Shot Willie (for Victor), Blind Willie (for Vocalion and Bluebird), Barrelhouse Sammie (for Atlantic), and Pig & Whistle Red (for Regal).

The appellation "Pig & Whistle" was a reference to a chain of barbecue restaurants in Atlanta; McTell often played for tips in the parking lot of a Pig 'n Whistle restaurant. He also played behind a nearby building that later became Ray Lee's Blue Lantern Lounge. Like Lead Belly, another songster who began his career as a street artist, McTell favored the somewhat unwieldy and unusual twelve-string guitar, whose greater volume made it suitable for outdoor playing.


In 1940 John A. Lomax and his wife, Ruby Terrill Lomax, a professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, interviewed and recorded McTell for the Archive of American Folk Song of the Library of Congress in a two-hour session held in their hotel room in Atlanta.[ These recordings document McTell's distinctive musical style, which bridges the gap between the raw country blues of the early part of the 20th century and the more conventionally melodious, ragtime-influenced East Coast Piedmont blues sound. The Lomaxes also elicited from the singer traditional songs (such as "The Boll Weevil" and "John Henry") and spirituals (such as "Amazing Grace"), which were not part of his usual commercial repertoire. In the interview, John A. Lomax is heard asking if McTell knows any "complaining" songs (an earlier term for protest songs), to which the singer replies somewhat uncomfortably and evasively that he does not. The Library of Congress paid McTell $10, the equivalent of $154.56 in 2011, for this two-hour session. 

The material from this 1940 session was issued in 1960 as an LP and later as a CD, under the somewhat misleading title The Complete Library of Congress Recordings, not withstanding the fact that it was truncated, in that it omitted some of John A. Lomax's interactions with the singer and entirely omitted the contributions of Ruby Terrill Lomax.

Ahmet Ertegun visited Atlanta in 1949 in search of blues artists for this new Atlantic Records label and after finding McTell playing on the street, arranged a recording session. Some of the songs were released on 78, but sold poorly. The complete session was released in 1972 as “Atlanta Twelve-String.” McTell recorded for Regal Records in 1949, but these recordings also met with less commercial success than his previous works. He continued to perform around Atlanta, but his career was cut short by ill health, mostly due to diabetes and alcoholism. In 1956, an Atlanta record store manager, Edward Rhodes, discovered McTell playing in the street for quarters and enticed him with a bottle of corn liquor into his store, where he captured a few final performances on a tape recorder. These recordings were released posthumously by Prestige/Bluesville Records .

Beginning in 1957, McTell was a preacher at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Atlanta.

McTell died of a stroke in Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1959.

He was buried at Jones Grove Church, near Thomson, Georgia, his birthplace.


Author David Fulmer, who in 1992 was working on a documentary about McTell, paid to have a gravestone erected on his resting place. The name given on his gravestone is Willie Samuel McTier. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990. In his recordings of "Lay Some Flowers on My Grave", "Lord, Send Me an Angel" and "Statesboro Blues", he pronounces his surname MacTell, with the stress on the first syllable.


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*Immanuel Kant


Created: 20220215

Updated: 20220310

Wikipedia: This page was last edited on 3 March 2022, at 16:37 (UTC).