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Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Blind Willie McTell may be the most important Georgia bluesman to be recorded in the first half of the 20th century, but so little information about him has survived that, for Gray, who's previously written about Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa, getting the story is itself part of that story, making this less a biography of the blind musician than a memoir of the effort to uncover his past. At its best, the results are colorful anecdotes about Gray and his status as a British tourist in rural Georgia, where being neither a Yankee nor a white Southerner usually makes it easy for him to get along (save for one disturbing encounter with a state prison security detail). At other times, however, Gray pads his account with arguably superfluous details, including descriptions of the public libraries he visited during his research. He is quick to acknowledge where the facts leave off and his speculations begin, and unafraid to offer critical judgment, especially when it comes to evaluating the racist culture in which McTell lived. Those who were hoping for a definitive biography of McTell may be disappointed, but enough of his story pokes through for even nonblues fans to grasp his enduring appeal. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"The most comprehensive work to date on the bluesman." Booklist
"The blues is the bedrock of popular music, and while its story has been told many times, rarely has it been told as effectively as this." Record Collector
"A wonderful book about a spellbinding musician." Guardian
Top customer reviews
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Once Mr. McTell finally shows up, the book moves at a lively pace and contains a wealth of information about Mr. McTell previously unknown to the general public. And as can be expected, Mr. McTell turns out to be a much more complex character who lived a more complex life than what one might expect.
Although he never had a hit record, Willie lived a decent working-class life as a local musician and his superior musical skills earned him the respect of both white and black audiences as well as the respect of his fellow musicians. Willie might've been riding the rails, all right, but he wasn't riding in any box cars. Rather, he'd be working his way through the passenger cars earning his living playing for tips.
Again, Mr. Gray deserves to be commended for his hard work on this project. All blues historians owe him a pat on the back and the rest of us know much more about Mr. McTell than we ever would've without Gray's efforts. His approach was/is much like a good reporter sniffing out an important story dispite the fact that Willie had been dead almost 50 years before work on the book started. Indeed, most of the 'first-person' sources (people who actually knew Willie in person) died before the book made it to publication.
You can't have everything but if you could I wish Mr. Gray would've researched more information about Willie's guitars. As a guitar player myself, I am curious.
Any hard-core blues historian will enjoy this book. As for me, I couldn't put it down. I read the whole thing in one sitting.
Michael Gray's book is a nice biography of Willie McTell and, it contains a pretty good history of the area around Thomson, Georgia. (We call this area the Central Savannah River Area, or CSRA.) Although, Mr. Gray doesn't seem to think much of this part of the deep South, it is home to me and it was home to Willie as well. Blind Willie's music would not have been the same had he been born and raised somewhere else.
Many of the reviews posted don't like the TRUTH of the evil and virulence of white American racism against its helpless African American population, they just want a sugarcoated story about guitars and minstrels.
If these posters would be as angry and as critical of the evil of white racism instead of denying it the entire country would be better off.
Blind Willie Mctell was a genius who overcame great odds including the racist caste system of his country, this book finally does a little bit of justice to his memory and that of the people who gave us the Blues.