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Author looking for Blind Willie stories

British author Michael Gray has traveled a long way in his quest to bring the story of Blind Willie McTell to music fans.

Mr. Gray, critically acclaimed for his biography entitled Song and Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, is wrapping up the life story of Blind Willie McTell, the great blues and gospel artist from Happy Valley in McDuffie County.

"I've been working very hard on it all this year, after many research trips in the previous few years. It's a labor of love," he said.

Mr. Gray appealed to McDuffie County residents for information on Blind Willie McTell in a letter to the editor of The McDuffie Mirror in December 2004.

He has traveled the back roads of Georgia and other states where Blind Willie McTell lived and played the guitar, and has come up with several interesting facts about the musician's life.

"Essentially, the research is done, but there are still a couple of mysteries I still hold out some hope of solving in the next few weeks," he said.

The book should hit the shelves of stores in England in June 2006, although the publication date for the United States is not yet settled. Mr. Gray's book will be the only biography about the extraordinary blues singer from McDuffie County.

"I was surprised to find that no one had ever written his biography - he's a very interesting figure, and he lived in an interesting time and place: the Georgia of the pre-Civil Rights era."

Mr. Gray is impressed with both the music and the man.

"Being born blind into a black working class family in rural Georgia in an era of strict segregation was a big combination of obstacles for anyone. But in the end, his blindness freed him from the fate of being a farmhand, and so enabled him to travel further afield and develop his musicianship," he said.

"Because he was a bright, resourceful man, who never behaved like he was handicapped, yet took the trouble to go to the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon and learn to read Braille, and because he was a brilliant 12-string guitar player and had a lovely voice, he succeeded."

Mr. Gray is a big fan of Blind Willie McTell's music, and especially enjoys, "Mama Taint Long Fore Day," "Broke Down Engine," "Sending Up My Timber" and "Hide Me In Thy Bosom."

His book won't be just about music, however.

"It's for anyone with an interest in the history of the 20th Century, and especially the history of the African Americans in Georgia. It's written for people who've never even heard of Blind Willie McTell, and it aims to be a rattling good story," he said.

Although the book is almost complete, Mr. Gray is still interested in any Blind Willie McTell stories. For those with information to share, contact Carolyn Gilbert, Chamber director, at 597-1000.

Web posted on Thursday, May 19, 2005


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