Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTell
By James Calemine
Perhaps the most gifted of all blues artists, Blind Willie McTell ranks as a seminal figure in American music. Born in Thomson, Georgia, in May of 1898 (some say 1901); McTell's visual handicap befell him at an early age. Well educated, he mastered Braille and often traveled alone while memorizing streets in every city he visited. In his early years, McTell trekked through Georgia developing his own indelible acoustic and 12-string guitar style and brilliant lyricism that transformed him into a timeless songsmith.
Throughout his lifetime, McTell recorded under various pseudonyms. As a black, blind musician in the social climate of America during this time render McTell's achievements even more amazing. He performed for both black and white audiences at county fairs, carnivals, minstrel shows, dances, parties, street corners, auctions, on trains, and in barbecue dens.
His travels led him to New York, New Orleans, Michigan, Florida, California, North Carolina and many other untraceable destinations. McTell recorded 120 songs in 14 separate recording sessions. McTell's deep christian sentiment--as well as his sharp wit-- echoes throughout his work. Any of his songs remain worth exploration and committing to memory such as "Statesboro Blues", "Your Southern Can Is Mine", and "Savannah Mama".
McTell's album, Atlanta Twelve String, contains some of his greatest songs (and sound quality) like "Brokedown Engine", "Little Delia", "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues", "You Got To Die", and "Ain't It Grand To Live A Christian". Examination of McTell's lyrics on "Dyin' Crapshooters Blues" proves his command over language and songcraft. "Send poker players to the graveyard/Dig my grave with the ace of spades/I want twelve police in my funeral march/Playing blackjack leading the parade/I want the judge who jailed me fourteen times/Pair of dice in my shoes/Let a deck of cards be my tombstone/I got the dyin' crapshooters blues." Every line commands examination and wonder...
This album epitomizes the spirit and talent of Blind Willie McTell.