Monday, August 3, 2009

Blind Willie McTell and Bob Dylan

Blind Willie McTell was a blues singer who was born in 1901. He is well regarded by many prominent musicians and critics today as one of the great blues legends due to his haunting vocals, brilliant lyrics, and deft picking on his 12 string. He spent most of his life struggling through many hardships. Although he never recorded what would have been considered a hit song, McTell would record under a different pseudonym for each record agent he encountered, using such incredibly cool names as Georgia Bill, Barrelhouse Sammy, and Red Hot Willie Glaze. In doing so, he left behind an interesting and prolific body of work that spanned over 50 years. Late in his life, McTell became a preacher before passing away in 1959. You can read more about him in this article by Jim Powers here.

Here are four of the best recordings from Blind Willie McTell:

Blind Willie McTell - Statesboro Blues
Blind Willie McTell - Brokedown Engine
Blind Willie McTell - You've Got to Die
Blind Willie McTell - Deathroom Blues

Many musicians have named McTell as a huge influence, including such greats as the Allman Brothers, Taj Mahal, and Jack White. They've recorded many of McTell's songs and used some of their favorite lines of his in their own work. It can be argued though that no one has ever paid greater tribute to a fellow musician than what Bob Dylan achieved with his astounding song "Blind Willie McTell." Recorded in the early 1980's, Dylan chose to leave the song off of his Infidels album. Some have argued that Dylan feared writer's block and wanted to keep some of this best songs in reserve or never felt the song was fully realized, but for whatever reason it remained unreleased until a version from the Infidels sessions appeared on the 1989 box set The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3.

Bob Dylan - Blind Willie McTell (from The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)

Another interesting take on the song from the Infidels sessions has been widely bootlegged. I prefer this version due to the looser, wilder feel that it has.

Bob Dylan - Blind Willie McTell (Infidels Outtakes)

Dylan began performing the song live in the late 1990's and it was often the highlight of the night when it made it into the set.

The best cover of the song that I've heard was recorded by The Band, who included this excellent version on their 1993 album Jericho.

The Band - Blind Willie McTell

Bob Dylan also paid tribute to Blind Willie McTell by recording two of his songs for his tremendous and often overlooked 1993 album of covers, World Gone Wrong.

Bob Dylan - Broke Down Engine
Bob Dylan - Delia

If you're new to the site, be sure to check out my post about Bob Dylan's appearance promoting Infidels on "Late Night With David Letterman" in 1984 here.

Buy Blind Willie McTell's Atlanta Twleve String, an excellent recording of a 1949 session at

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