Monday, October 5, 2009

Retracing Blind Willie's blues

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2009 at 9:59 PM

click to enlarge BLUES CLUES: Michael Gray's book details his journey to uncover the story of Blind Willie McTell.
  • BLUES CLUES: Michael Gray's book details his journey to uncover the story of Blind Willie McTell.

I want eight crapshooters for my pallbearers, let ‘em all be dressed down in black.

I want nine men going to the graveyard, but only eight mens coming back.

I want a gang of gamblers gathered around my coffin side, with a crooked card printed on my hearse.

Don’t say that crapshooters will never grieve over me, my life’s been a doggone curse.

— Blind Willie McTell, "Dying Crapshooter’s Blues"

Take a walk over to the corner of Luckie and Cone streets in downtown Atlanta and you won’t find much today, just a parking lot, a parking garage and a convenience store. Back in 1940, when the Tabernacle down on Luckie Street was still the Third Baptist Church, John and Ruby Lomax were staying at the Robert Fulton Hotel, a hulking mass of red brick that towered over that street corner.

Late one afternoon during their stay, Ruby noticed a blind black man playing a 12-string for change in front of a Pig’n Whistle barbecue stand on Ponce de Leon Avenue. He accepted their invitation to record a few songs for the Library of Congress archive, on the condition that he was paid a dollar plus cab fare. In his notes about the day, Lomax would write, “He sang some interesting blues. His guitar picking was excellent. ... He shuffled away from me across a busy street in the downtown district. I watched him until he was out of sight.”

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(Image courtesy Bloomsbury)

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