Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell

Overview

By the time he died in 1959, Blind Willie McTell was almost forgotten. He had never had a hit record, and his days of playing on street corners for spare change were long gone. But this masterful guitarist and exquisite singer has since become one of the most loved musicians of the prewar period, spurring Bob Dylan to write, "Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” Now this richly evocative and wide-ranging biography illuminates for the first time the world of this elusive and fascinating figure, a ...

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Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell

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Overview

By the time he died in 1959, Blind Willie McTell was almost forgotten. He had never had a hit record, and his days of playing on street corners for spare change were long gone. But this masterful guitarist and exquisite singer has since become one of the most loved musicians of the prewar period, spurring Bob Dylan to write, "Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” Now this richly evocative and wide-ranging biography illuminates for the first time the world of this elusive and fascinating figure, a blind man who made light of his disability and a performer who exploded every stereotype about blues musicians.

 

Traveling the back roads of Georgia, interviewing relatives and acquaintances, and digging up fascinating archival material, author Michael Gray weaves together his discoveries to reveal an articulate and resourceful musician with a modest career but a mile-wide independent streak. Whether selling high-quality homemade bootleg whisky out of a suitcase, bragging about crowds of women chasing him, or suffering a stroke while eating barbecue under a tree, McTell emerges from this book a cheerful, outgoing, engaging individualist with seemingly limitless self-confidence.

 

This moving odyssey into a lost world of black music and white power is also an unprecedented portrait of the culture, language, and landscape of the deep South—the violence, the leisurely pace of life—and of the blues preservationists who ventured into its heart. A long, thoughtful stare into the world of Blind Willie McTell, Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes is sure to find a place among the classics of American music history.

 

To learn more about the book, visit www.handmemytravelinshoes.blogspot.com

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Blind Willie McTell may be "the most important Georgia bluesman to be recorded" in the first half of the 20th century, but so little information about him has survived that, for Gray, who's previously written about Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa, "getting the story is itself part of that story," making this less a biography of the blind musician than a memoir of the effort to uncover his past. At its best, the results are colorful anecdotes about Gray and his status as a British tourist in rural Georgia, where being neither a Yankee nor a white Southerner usually makes it easy for him to get along (save for one disturbing encounter with a state prison security detail). At other times, however, Gray pads his account with arguably superfluous details, including descriptions of the public libraries he visited during his research. He is quick to acknowledge where the facts leave off and his speculations begin, and unafraid to offer critical judgment, especially when it comes to evaluating the racist culture in which McTell lived. Those who were hoping for a definitive biography of McTell may be disappointed, but enough of his story pokes through for even nonblues fans to grasp his enduring appeal. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Booklist
The most comprehensive work to date on the bluesman
Kirkus Reviews
Investigation of the great Georgia bluesman. Since the British journalist and music researcher has mainly been known as a Bob Dylan authority (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, 2006, etc.), it's natural that Gray would have more curiosity than many about Blind Willie McTell, whose artistry inspired the Dylan song of the same name. Though McTell never enjoyed a popular hit during his brief but rich life, his "Statesboro Blues" posthumously became a signature tune for fellow Georgians the Allman Brothers Band. Less a conventional biography than a mixture of history, travelogue and detective story, Gray paints an evocative portrait of an artist who defied blues stereotypes. He was an educated man whose musical training ranged from church to glee club. He found it so easy to get around that he would help direct other blind people, and he benefited from white patrons and audiences-though the author by no means minimizes the racism of the society in which McTell lived. It's curious that Gray intends the book less for the blues fan than for "those who have never heard of him, and have no particular interest in that particular kind of old music," since it's hard to imagine casual readers wading through all the minutiae, half truths and dead-ends that the author encounters as he attempts to render the details of McTell's life. Yet his recounting of his last years-when the diabetic artist, bereft after the death of his second wife, suffered a stroke that led to his hospitalization in a mental institution, where he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1959-has a poignancy that rewards all the research. After the book's initial publication in the United Kingdom in 2007, Gray has continued to update. Whatmatters most about McTell is his music, and Gray's solid book will lead readers there.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556529757
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,559,562
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Gray is the author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, Mother: The Frank Zappa Story, and others. He has written many travel features for U.K. newspapers, as well as obituaries for major figures in rock ’n’ roll. Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes was shortlisted for the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography.  For more information, please visit www.michaelgray.net

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