Statesboro Blues: no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell
Blind Willie McTell LP cover
Bob Dylan's track Blind Willie McTell is perhaps the best tribute to this outstanding traveling street artist who has recorded about five dozen songs under various nicknames over several decades starting in the 1920s. Indeed, hardly anyone has reason to disagree with Dylan who emphasizes the originality of this not-too-famous blues singer by finishing each verse of the song with the laudatory "I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell".
Blind Willie McTell sang in an unusually high register for the genre in combination with a deep vibrato, while his humorous cheerful inflexions, woven even through the minor harmonies, set him apart from his peers. He invariably accompanied himself on a twelve-string guitar, skillfully combining blues techniques with popular ragtime rhythms.
Statesboro Blues is undoubtedly Blind Willie McTell's best-known track, although it doesn't stand out in any way from the other songs preserved as his heritage and the only viable reason for such distinguishment is the sheer number of influential covers the song has undergone in the 1960s and 1970s. McTell performs the song using three primary major chords in the key of C major and pays homage to his hometown in a typical blues stanza where the second line varies very little from the first line and the semantic development is concentrated in the closing third line. According to music history researchers, the lyrics of the Statesboro Blues are not autobiographical as the song was supposedly compiled from common blues themes found in the repertoire of any artist of the genre at the time.
Listen to Statesboro Blues by Blind Willie McTell:
It seems that the first cover of the Statesboro Blues did not appear until 1965 when an electric version of the song was recorded by Taj Mahal with The Rising Sons, a band that included now-famous slide guitarist Ry Cooder. A year later, folk singer Dave Van Ronk released his fully acoustic version of the Statesboro Blues, and perhaps the most famous cover was recorded by The Allman Brothers Band at the very beginning of the next decade.
Discover more songs composed in Ionian major mode and check out their harmonic analysis in the following articles:
- 6 songs to unpack Ionian mode and the major scale
- 9 Beatles songs that combine harmonic major with Ionian mode
- Tumbling Dice: hundred reels of tape for a messy Rolling Stones mix
- D'yer Mak'er: meaning of Led Zeppelin's most controversial song
- Sugaree: Jerry Garcia's song referencing his lyricist's criminal past
- Marie Laveau: ballad of the legendary Voodoo Queen
- Hushabye: folk roots of famous rock and roll lullaby
- Coal Miner's Daughter was forced to remove a third of the lyrics from her autobiographical song
- I Wanna Be Sedated: pure classical harmony cementing the Ramones' hit in punk rock history
- Seven Seas of Rhye: song of imaginary land brought to life by Ionian and Mixolydian modes
- Yakety Yak: teenager's answer to household chores in a hit song