Willie McTell is Cooler Than You

Blind Willie McTell (1898-1959)

Think uptempo, with a smooth voice backed by a peppy twelve-string guitar:

Well you see that chick she’s four feet four

Come on honey, let’s learn me some more

Of that haw haw

When you kick it at the razor ball

There’s a great big mis-er-y

You know it’s really grievin’ me

That old haw haw

When she kick it at the razor ball.  (Razor Ball.)

Now some more at the same tempo:

You gonna twist it like a tadpole, wallow like a frog

Every time you kick it you holler “hot dog!”

Kill it kid, take it easy when you [guitar “says” “kill it kid”] (Kill it Kid.)

Whatever else you say about Blind Willie McTell, you have to give him his due: he’s cool.  He’s so cool he even narrates his guitar playing with comments like “play it low and lonesome” and “kick it six!”  You know he’s part rascal but you like him anyway.  Even when you feel like you should wag your finger and scold Willie McTell, you can barely hold back your smile.  Look at the way Willie describes his women:

I’ve got two women

Swear you can’t tell ’em apart

I got one in my bosom

The other one in my heart

Well now the one in my bosom

Somewhere in Tennessee

But the one in my heart

Don’t give a darn for me

Willie McTell did some travelling with Willie Johnson, and maybe Johnson was a good influence.  McTell did some spirituals and became a preacher towards the end of his life. But, on the whole, his spirituals don’t seem all that convincing. You’ve Got to Die and Hide Me in Thy Bosom are good listens, but it can’t be easy to portray religious earnestness when you’re as cool as Willie.

Stairway to Heaven is to Led Zeppelin as Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues is to McTell.  It’s a great piece of story-telling worth a long excerpt:

Police walked up and shot my friend Jesse down
“Boys I got to die today.”
He had a gang of crapshooters and gamblers at his bedside
Here are the words he had to say
“Guess I ought to know
Exactly how I want to go”
(How you wanna go Jesse?)
“Eight crapshooters to be my pallbearers
Let ’em be veiled down in black
I want nine men going to the graveyard buddy
And eight men comin’ back
I want a gang of gamblers gathered ’round my coffin-side
Crooked card printed on my hearse
Don’t say the crapshooters’ll never grieve over me
My life been a doggone curse
Send poker players to the graveyard
Dig my grave with the ace of spades
I want twelve polices in my funeral march
High sheriff playin’ blackjack lead the parade
I want the judge and solic’ter who jailed me 14 times
A pair of dice in my shoes (and what else?)
Let a deck of cards be my tombstone, buddy
I got the dyin’ crapshooter’s blues.”

Recommended first CD: Atlanta Twelve String

You can learn more about Willie McTell at Jas Obrecht Music Archive


Filed under Blues

2 responses to “Willie McTell is Cooler Than You

  1. Blind Willie McTell is not the most famous, but he’s the best!

  2. Nice link to the Jos Obrecht music archive. I saved that in my favorites and read a few of the articles there. I listened to the Jerry Garcia interview too.

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