One of Statesboro’s most famous residents was known by a different name to many locals, as well.
In the March 9, 1938, edition of the Bulloch Herald, a story was published about “Doug,” Statesboro's “wandering minstrel” who “picked his way with confidence about the streets of Statesboro, his guitar strapped over his shoulder.”
It is not explained in the story why “Blind Willie” McTell is referred to as Doug in the article.
Born blind in one eye as William Samuel McTier in Thomson, Ga., he said he lost complete vision when he was 6. His mother, Minnie, moved to Statesboro when her son was 9 and got a job cooking for the household of Mrs. H.W. Ellis. At 17, McTell 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 him to finish his schooling. Another local man, Mr. Morgan Waters, knew he was quite talented. Waters used his contacts to set up a meeting with the folks at the Victor Recording Company in 1927. Shortly, McTell’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, McTell made at least 12 more Victrola recordings in Camden, N.J.
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 that 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 included the song “Come on Round to My House Mama.”
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, one of a chain of barbeque restaurants, on Peachtree Road.
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 “Pig & Whistle Red” for Regal Records.
Doug told the Bulloch Herald's reporter that he knew Statesboro so well, he could ride his bicycle around town without hitting anything. This only changed, he said, when people went and put up new things in his path.
Sadly, McTell died in Milledgeville in 1959 from a stroke after suffering from the effects of both diabetes and alcoholism in the last years of his life. He was buried in Thomson under the name Eddie McTier.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at email@example.com.