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Author looks for Blind Willie memories

Bob Dylan once sang, "No-one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell," and British writer, critic and broadcaster Michael Gray agrees.

Mr. Gray, who gained critical acclaim for his biography entitled Song and Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan is now writing the life story of Blind Willie McTell, the great blues and gospel artist from Happy Valley in McDuffie County.

The professional writer, who has visited the Thomson area and conducted interviews numerous times in the course of his research, hopes to add even more details and is asking local residents to help. Those with any knowledge or memories of Blind Willie McTell, who died in 1959 and is buried at Jones Grove Baptist Church in Happy Valley, may contact Carolyn Gilbert at the Chamber of Commerce.

"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 said.

A big fan of Blind Willie McTell's music, Mr. Gray especially likes "Mama Taint Long Fore Day" from 1927, "Broke Down Engine" from 1931 and some of the great gospel tracks Mr. McTell made later in life like "Sending Up My Timber" and "Hide Me In Thy Bosom."But his biography of Blind Willie McTell will appeal to more than just music fans.

"It's for anyone with an interest in the history of the 20th Century, and especially the history of 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.

The book is nearing completion after almost four years of research, which included traveling the back roads of Georgia, visits to archives and libraries in Atlanta and Savannah, and a trip to Chicago where Blind Willie McTell once recorded. Initially, the book will be published in 2006 in Britain by Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Harry Potter series. A publishing deal in America has not yet been finalized, he said.

Although the book is nearing completion, "I'd still like to hear from anyone else who remembers Willie, as a man, as a churchgoer or as a performer," Mr. Gray said.

Anyone with information to share may contact Ms. Gilbert at the Chamber, 597-1000.

Web posted on Thursday, November 18, 2004

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Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01


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