Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
The true story of legendary blues musician and singer Blind Willie McTell, inspiration for the much-loved Bob Dylan track of the same name
Blind Willie McTell, 1903—1959, was one of the most gifted musical artists of his generation, with an exquisite voice and a sublime talent for the twelve-string guitar. As Bob Dylan wrote, “nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”—yet his repertoire was infinitely wider than that. Why, then, did he drift in and out of the public eye, being ‘rediscovered’ time and again through chance meetings; and why, until now, has so little been written about the life of this extraordinary man?
Blind from birth, McTell never behaved as if he were handicapped by his lack of sight and he explodes every stereotype about blues musicians. Michael Gray has travelled the American South and beyond to unearth the fascinating story of McTell’s life—uncovering the secrets of his ancestry, the hardships he suffered and the successes he enjoyed at a time when recording contracts didn’t lift you out of singing on the street.
In this personal and moving odyssey into a lost world of early blues music, a vulnerable black population and more, Gray peels back the many layers of a tragic, occasionally shocking but ultimately uplifting story. He gives us an intimate portrait of a remarkable man, showing how his life connects to the tumultuous sweep of history. Getting the story is part of the story itself, and Gray’s quest for facts and details reveals that little may have changed in the Deep South even today. Part biography, part travelogue, part social history, this is an atmospheric, unforgettable tale.