Blind Willie McTell

Bob Dylan
Language: English

List of versions

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First Release and Recording: 1983
Lyrics and Music by Bob Dylan
Testo e musica di Bob Dylan
The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 [1991]

Blind Willie McTell, 1901-1959.
Blind Willie McTell, 1901-1959.
"Blind Willie McTell" is a song by Bob Dylan, titled after the blues singer Blind Willie McTell. It was recorded in 1983 but left off Dylan's album Infidels and officially released in 1991 on the The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991. The melody is loosely based on "St. James Infirmary Blues". For the song, Dylan, seated at the piano and accompanied by Mark Knopfler on the acoustic guitar, sings a series of plaintive, heartbreaking verses depicting allegorical scenes which reflect on the history of American music and slavery. Each verse ends with the same negative refrain: "Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell."

Following three albums with overt Christian themes, Infidels struck most major rock critics (perhaps erroneously) as dealing largely with secular concerns, and they therefore hailed it as a comeback. Yet contrasted with Dylan's contemporary live performances, the studio album seemed flat and stagnant to many fans. "Blind Willie McTell" confounds the story further. When bootleggers released the outtakes from Infidels, the song was recognized as a composition approaching the quality of such classics as "Tangled Up In Blue", "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower".

It is unclear why Dylan shelved "Blind Willie McTell" and several other famous outtakes from Infidels in favor of the inferior songs released on the LP. Unfortunately, it seemed to set the precedent for much of the remainder of his recording career in the 1980s.

According to the Rolling Stone, September 7, 2006 interview "Dylan can't possibly be sorry that the world has had the benefit of hearing, for instance, "Blind Willie McTell", - an outtake from 1983's Infidels that has subsequently risen as high in most people's Dylan pantheon as a song can rise, and that he himself has played live since. Can he? Bob Dylan - "I started playing it live because I heard the Band doing it. Most likely it was a demo, probably showing the musicians how it should go. It was never developed fully, I never got around to completing it. There wouldn't have been any other reason for leaving it off the record. It's like taking a painting by Monet or Picasso - goin' to his house and lookin' at a half-finished painting and grabbing it and selling it to people who are 'Picasso fans.'" - en.wikipedia

Blind Willie McTell

blidnwWilliam Samuel McTell, better known as Blind Willie McTell (May 5, 1901 – August 15, 1959), was an influential American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was a twelve-string finger picking guitarist, and recorded from 1927 to 1955.

Born in Thomson, Georgia, blind in one eye, McTell had lost his remaining vision by late childhood, but became an adept reader of Braille. He showed an inherent proficiency in music from an early age and learned to play the six-string guitar as soon as he could. His father left the family when McTell was still young, so when his mother died in the 1920s, he left his hometown and became a wandering busker. He began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records in Atlanta.[citation needed]

In the years before World War II, he traveled and performed widely, recording for a number of labels under a variety of names. His style was singular: a form of country blues, bridging the gap between the raw blues of the Mississippi Delta and the more refined East Coast sound. The style is well documented on John Lomax's 1940 recordings of McTell for the Library of Congress.[citation needed]

In 1934, he married his wife Ruth Kate Williams (now better known as Kate McTell). She accompanied him on stage and on several recordings, before becoming a nurse in 1939. Most of their marriage from 1942 until his death was spent apart, with her living in Fort Gordon near Augusta, and him working around Atlanta.

Post-war, he recorded for Atlantic Records and for Regal Records, but these recordings met with less commercial success than his previous works. He continued to perform live in Atlanta, but his continued career was cut short by ill health, predominantly diabetes.

A record store manager, Ed Rhoades, met McTell in 1956 and captured a few final performances on a tape recorder. These were later released on Prestige/Bluesville Records as Blind Willie McTell's Last Session.

McTell died in Milledgeville, Georgia of a stroke in 1959.

A blues festival in McTell's honor is held annually in his birthplace, Thomson, Georgia.

One of his most famous songs, "Statesboro Blues", has been covered by artists such as Taj Mahal and The Allman Brothers Band. Jack White of The White Stripes considers McTell an influence (their 2000 album De Stijl was dedicated to him and featured a cover of his song "Your Southern Can Is Mine"), as did Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Bob Dylan has paid tribute to McTell on three occasions: first in "Blind Willie McTell" (recorded in 1983, released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 in 1991), then with a cover of McTell's "Broke Down Engine" on his 1993 album World Gone Wrong. In his song "Po'Boy", off the 2003 album Love & Theft, Dylan again paid homage to McTell by appropriating the line "had to go to Florida dodging them Georgia laws" directly from the latter's "Kill It Kid".
Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, "This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem."
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
(I can) hear the undertaker's bell
(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There's a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He's dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There's a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what's his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I'm gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Contributed by Carles Viadel - 2007/12/27 - 14:43

Language: Italian

Versione italiana di Michele Murino
Da Maggie's Farm - Sito italiano di Bob Dylan

Nota di Alessandro Carrera:

The charcoal gypsy maidens sono probabilmente le zingare che portano il carbone, ma potrebbero anche essere “zingare color carbone”.
Nella terza strofa, nelle espressioni “See the big plantation burning” e altre simili il verbo va inteso come imperativo: “Guarda la piantagione che brucia” ecc. Così le ha intese Greil Marcus, autorevole studioso americano di Bob Dylan

Ho visto la freccia sullo stipite
Che dice "Questa terra e' condannata
In ogni direzione da New Orleans
A Gerusalemme."
Ho viaggiato attraverso l'East Texas
Dove tanti martiri sono caduti
E non conosco nessuno che sappia cantare il blues
Come Blind Willie McTell.

Beh, ho sentito cantare il gufo
Mentre stavano smontando le tende
Le stelle lassù, gli alberi spogli
Erano il suo solo pubblico
Quelle ragazze zingare di carboncino
Sanno muovere bene le loro piume
Ma nessuno sa cantare il blues
Come Blind Willie McTell.

Guarda le grandi piantagioni bruciare
Senti lo schioccare delle fruste
Senti l'odore di quella magnolia in fiore
Guarda gli spettri delle navi di schiavi
Riesco a sentire il lamento delle tribù
riesco a sentire la campana del becchino
Nessuno sa cantare il blues
Come Blind Willie McTell.

C'e' una donna presso il fiume
In compagnia di un bel giovanotto
E' vestito da signorotto di campagna
whiskey di contrabbando ha fra le mani
C'e' un convoglio di prigionieri sull'autostrada
Riesco a sentire i ribelli gridare
E non conosco nessuno che sappia cantare il blues
Come Blind Willie McTell.

Beh, Dio e' in paradiso
E tutti noi vogliamo ciò che è suo
Ma potere ed avidità e corruzione
Sembra essere tutto quello che c'e'.
Sto fissando fuori dalla finestra
Del St. James Hotel
E non conosco nessuno che sappia cantare il blues
Come Blind Willie McTell.

Contributed by Riccardo Venturi - 2007/12/27 - 23:39

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