Saturday, October 18, 2008

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

"No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell," declared Bob Dylan; in this engaging, meandering biography Michael Gray follows in the footsteps of the great prewar bluesman. Willie spent his life travelling ("Baby, I was born to ramble," he told his first wife) and seemed almost magically to transcend his blindness (he was also a crack shot with a pistol, provided his target made a noise). Gray makes his research a large part of the story, soaking up the atmosphere of the American South and describing the brutal, racially segregated world into which Willie was born, although as an entertainer Willie's personal experience of whites was comparatively benign. Willie never had a hit record and eventually became an alcoholic. Rediscovered in 1956, he made his last recording in a record store in Atlanta, Georgia, where his career had begun in 1927. "I don't want this ever published while I'm alive," he said, "'cause if I did ever get any money for it, I would just drink myself to death."

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