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Statesboro's wandering minstrel, Blind Willie McTell
Bulloch History
W Blind Willie Mctell

Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at places and events of interest in Bulloch County history.


In the March 9, 1938 edition of the Bulloch Herald, a story was published about Statesboro's “wandering minstrel,” Doug, who “picks his way with confidence about the streets of Statesboro, his guitar strapped over his shoulder." 

Born as William Samuel McTier in Thomson, Georgia, Doug said he lost his eyesight at the age of 6. His mother, Minnie, moved to Statesboro when he was 9, and got a job cooking for the household of Mrs. H.W. Ellis. At 17 Doug entered the State Academy for the Blind in Macon.

His local guardian, Mr. Brooke Simmons, along with well-known doctor R.J. Kennedy, helped arrange for Doug to finish his schooling. Another local man, Morgan Waters, knew that "Doug" was quite talented. Therefore, Waters used his contacts to set up a meeting with the folks at the Victor Recording Company in 1927. In a very short order Doug's first Victrola recording was made in Atlanta. 

Unfortunately, because of mechanical problems, they were not able to make a record from his very first recording at the Atlanta studio. Between 1927 and 1932, however, Doug made at least 12 more Victrola recordings in Camden, New Jersey. These recordings were later used to make the newer “double-faced records.” He is thought to have made 24 recordings while in New Jersey. Music aficionados say that his most popular song recorded at this time was his ballad “Drive Away Blues.”

His most famous recordings were made later, when he was playing under the stage name of “Blind Willie” McTell. Still under contract with Columbia Records, his No. 1 selling record at this time was the one which included the song “Come on Round to my House Mama.” 

For a while, Doug told the reporter that after he returned to Georgia he decided to move to Atlanta where he got a job playing regularly at The Pig and Whistle (a chain of barbeque restaurants) on Peachtree Road in Atlanta. 

McTell recorded as Blind Willie McTell (for Victor and Decca Records), Blind Sammie (for Columbia Records), Georgia Bill (for Okeh Records), Hot Shot Willie (for Victor Records), Blind Willie (for Vocalion and Bluebird Records), Barrelhouse Sammie (for Atlantic Records), and as Pig & Whistle Red (for Regal Records).

It was at this time he made his last recordings at an Atlanta music store for Edward Rhodes on a tape recorder after Rhodes had discovered McTell playing for quarters on a nearby street corner. These songs were released after his death on the Prestige label by Bluesville Records.

Doug told the newspaper's reporter that he knew Statesboro so well that he could ride his bicycle around town without hitting anything. This only changed, he said laughingly, when people went and put up new things in his path. 

Sadly, McTell died in Milledgeville in 1959 from a stroke, but suffered from the effects of both diabetes and alcoholism in the last years of his life. He was buried back in Thomson under the name of Eddie McTier. 

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.