guitarist and singer, who had a lasting influence on the development of both traditional blues
, and later folk rock
styles that grew out of the 1960's.
Blind Willie was born in Thomson, Georgia in 1902
; he became blind in later childhood. An able musician and theorist, who was able to read and notate music in Braille
, Blind Willie worked under a number of pseudonyms
, including Blind Sammie, Georgia Bill, Hot Shot Willie, Pig 'n Whistle Red, and Barrelhouse
Sammy. He lived an itinerant
lifestyle, supported by family, friends and even well off white patrons, performing at house parties, barbecues and juke joints in southern Georgia and Atlanta
. He died in obscurity in 1959, just missing the blues revival that would make his music famous.
He made several recordings during his lifetime, none of which achieved significant popularity in their day. The most important of these were recordings he made for the musicologist John Lomax
in the 1940's. Lomax's work was a primary influence for the early folk and folk rock movements in the 1960's, and it was through these Library of Congress
recordings that many later musicians would become familiar with his music. McTell recorded off and on through 1956.
McTell's most well known songs are Statesboro Blues
(notably covered by the Allman Brothers
) and Broke Down Engine
. He played, principally, twelve-string guitar, on which he developed an intricate picking style, later known as the "Georgia School" of blues pickers. His singing voice was soft and clear, which helped bring to life the vital story telling aspect of his songs. His output includes, in addition to blues
, folk songs, rags
As well as covering many of his songs, Bob Dylan
wrote a tribute to him, and each year the city of Thomson, Georgia holds a "Blind Willie McTell" Blues Festival in his honor.