Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes

Michael Gray’s Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell (Chicago Review Press) is an exhaustive reconstruction of McTell’s life and times. It will surely stand as the definitive work on the man Michael Gray calls “the greatest blues singer Georgia has ever produced” and “The finest 12-string guitarist of his generation, barnone.”

Beginning in the 1990s, Gray made several trips to Georgia searching for information about McTell. His interest endured years of frustration. (He was even rousted by security officials while trying to photograph the Milledgeville state hospital where McTell died.) Nonetheless, he finally assembled a family tree which includes over 100 of McTell’s relatives, beginning with the singer’s white great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War under Robert E. Lee.

Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes is the portrait of a self-sufficient man who was blind from birth, a gifted black musician who moved freely about the American South during the mean years of segregation. When he died in Atlanta at the age of 56, McTell was just short of the early 1960s folk revival, which most certainly would have embraced him as a major figure. Despite this historical mischance, recognition for McTell would begin to grow within a months of his death. In 1983, Bob Dylan stepped forward to say, “Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” has become universally known as a Southern Rock anthem as played by the Allman Brothers. McTell was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.

Michael Gray writes for the UK Guardian and many other publications. He’s the author of several books, including The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia and The Elvis Atlas: A Journey through Elvis Presley’s America.

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