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‘The Legendary Blind Willie McTell’

Author strives to give Statesboro bluesman his proper place in history

‘The Legendary Blind Willie McTell’

‘The Legendary Blind Willie McTell’

Author David Fulmer tells the story o...


While the term “legendary” is casually used to describe many performers – a number who don’t deserve that lofty label – Blind Willie McTell is truly a legend. And he is – rightfully – the pride of Statesboro, where he spent his formative years.

That, in a nutshell, is what award-winning author David Fulmer, a scholar and unabashed fan of the bluesman, said Tuesday evening during a lecture at the Averitt Center for the Arts titled “The Legendary Blind Willie McTell.”

Fulmer, who wrote and produced “Blind Willie’s Blues,” a 1996 documentary on the blues master of the 12-string guitar, said McTell died in 1959 – just a little too soon.

“If only he had lasted another five years,” Fulmer said. “The folk revival would have rushed to embrace such a sterling talent and large personality, pulled him out of obscurity and elevated him to his rightful place in the blues pantheon. But that was not to be. His time simply ran out.”

During the lecture, which including the question-and-answer session lasted nearly 90 minutes, Fulmer addressed almost every facet of McTell’s life as a person and as a musician.

McTell was born William Samuel McTier in 1903 near Thomson and grew up in Statesboro. It’s not known whether he was blind at birth or if he might have had a few years before totally losing his vision. Yet he never treated his blindness as a handicap. In fact, his hearing was the stuff of – for lack of a better term – legends.

Those who knew him best said he could feel a suit in the closet and tell what color it was. He could hear certain cars pass by on the street and accurately describe the make and model, even the year they were made. And this superior sense of hearing made its way into his music.

Take a line from his most famous song – the one later made famous to a generation of rock fans by the Allman Brothers Band – “Statesboro Blues.”

“Big Eighty left Savannah, Lord, and did not stop, you ought to saw that colored fireman when he got that boiler hot.”

Fulmer quoted that line, then said: “It conjures a picture: the speeding train, the engine, the huffing boiler, the sweating fireman and his fire. … It begs the question, ‘How was a blind man able to come up with such imagery?’”

Fulmer’s speech was the 22nd in the Averitt Lecture Series, which was begun in 1990 by the late Dr. Jack N. Averitt and his wife, Addie. The series is sponsored by the Bulloch County Historical Society with the support of the Jack N. and Addie D. Foundation.

 

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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