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The Roots of the Blues – Statesboro Blues

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Sometime around 1910, young Willie McTell moved from Thomson, Georgia to Statesboro, Georgia and it was probably in Statesboro that he learned to play the guitar from his Mother. No one is quite sure if William Samuel McTell was totally blind at birth, partially sighted or became blind in his early youth. There is no doubt that by the time he ran away from his home, in Statesboro Georgia, to follow medicine and minstrel shows in his early teens he was totally blind – and its when he became known as Blind Willie McTell. He later hoboed around the East Coast, playing at parks and on street corners from around 1925 before making his first recordings two years later.

The semi-autobiographical ‘Statesboro Blues’ is arguably Willie’s best-known composition; it is certainly his most influential. He recorded it in October 1928 Atlanta, Georgia and come the folk-blues revival of the early 1960s it was picked up by all kinds of artists who put their unique stamp upon this fabulous song.

Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder were two of the first to record it with their band, The Rising Sons in 1965. In 1968 Taj recorded it on his solo album, without doubt ‘Statesboro Blues’ was the finest track on the Taj Mahal album, which also included Dust My Broom’. It was one of the songs that reached a large number of people in Britain as a result of being included on a low price CBS 1968 sampler album called ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’; it cost less than 75p (14s.6d). It inadvertently introduced many people to the music of Blind Willie McTell…and did Taj Mahal’s career no harm either. As Taj said in 1999 “The Blues for me is basically ancestor worship in the sense of accessing the great things that ancestors have done.”

The Allman Brothers Band’s version of the song was featured as the opening track to their live album recorded at the Fillmore East in March 1971. It has been called the band’s “defining moment”, and “one of the greatest live albums of the rock era”. The band featured Duane Allman on lead and slide guitar, his brother Gregg on keyboard and vocals, Dicky Betts on lead guitar, Berry Oakley on bass, Jai Johanny Johanson on drums and percussion and the wonderfully named Butch Trucks on drums. Unusually for a Blues song Gregg Allman does Willie the honour of singing it word perfect from the original. Seven months after the album was recorded Duanne Allman was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. It robbed the world of one of the great blues slide guitar players of the modern age.

Among the versions that have attracted our interest is one by Koerner, Ray & Glover three white kids who were among the first white boys to record the blues in the 1960s and a fabulous version by Taj Mahal and Gregg Allman. Check out our playlist for more…

39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. john

    July 12, 2014 at 2:18 am

    it’s not “arguably” one of the best live albums it is the best live album ever, they played continually thru the whole album, I’m sure taking a break or two in there somewhere. There is no way anybody could have performed a live album with the quality that they did, especially back then with sound equipment not of the quality of today, I was privileged to see them once before Duane died and the were tight. If they made mistakes you couldn’t tell at least I couldn’t. I was so amazed at the ease they played with it was…………………natural. They had a rare talent not seen hardly since then, there have been only a few that had that tightness they possessed and in recent years nobody and I mean nobody has the talent they did. This junk they are putting out now is just that………………………junk

    • Pablo

      July 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      John, not.sure what you mean by “continually”. It was recorded over three nights,not one
      .

      • Skydog junior

        July 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        most of the very good parts were recorded in front of just VIPS..That is why Gregg or Duane explains the origins of certain songs, they were being sure to credit originals and covers.. if I am not mistaken that was the last night they played, on Sunday.

        • Dan Childers

          August 19, 2014 at 5:03 am

          I agree with you 100%. The “Live at the Fillmore East” was the last and final concert at the Fillmore East. You can hear the full uncut album with the owner announcing ABB and bunch of good stuff at my favorite website http://www.wolfgangsvault. You have to register but it is free! They have almost every LIVE concert since 1969. Many bands. Check it out for the treat of your life. Danny Childers on FB. I see your name as Skydog junior. I know Duanes nickname was Skydog. Any relation? danchilders3440@comcast.net Atlanta, GA.

    • ted

      August 18, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      yes, lots of today’s music is junk, but you’re not looking too hard if you don’t think there’s talent out there….Maybe start with Derek Trucks’ and Warren Haynes’ work outside of the Allman Brothers

      • Frank

        April 28, 2015 at 5:19 am

        thank you ted! I’ve been telling people this for years. All you have to do is seek it out and you will find good music, even today. It might be a little different in some cases than you grew up with, but it’s still good.

  2. Co

    July 12, 2014 at 2:30 am

    So many good memories of the life album Filmore East.

  3. barrywest

    July 12, 2014 at 2:35 am

    if you have older tunes from blues player muddy waters,and artis like that please time,i like eric clappton,coco montoya muddy waters and old stuff like that do you have copys or a real copy please send to addy send

  4. Kent Bugg

    July 12, 2014 at 4:20 am

    What an awesome comparison of the talented musicians you compiled here. All of these legends are immortally ingrained in the music they created and shared with us all and for those yet to come. Touche’

  5. Gordon Bobbin

    July 12, 2014 at 4:24 am

    I love the blues .
    where can I get his c/ds from in Australia im in a town called Narrandera new south wales or maybe a web site or ebay

    • Rod Liefman

      July 13, 2014 at 3:24 am

      Google his name – you’re sure to get a listing!

  6. Phillip Remaker

    July 12, 2014 at 4:46 am

    Love the playlist! I was pointed to this article by friend who also has a page dedicated partially to this song at http://www.1-4-5.net/~dmm/modern_blues/.

  7. Blues Boy Kings

    July 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

    We have done a version of this. Like Taj, we love to perform covers to show respect to our influences and to present their music to new audiences. However we also love writing new blues. Our 2nd album is available now on iTunes. .. Blues Boy Kings – Second Time Around. Check it out!

  8. dutchy

    July 12, 2014 at 11:09 am

    For all of those blues lovers, check out http://www.michaeldejong.com, straight from the heart music.

  9. Leedzy

    July 12, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Dave Bromberg did a pretty wild take on this song during which he also segues in and out of Church Bell Blues on his Wanted Dead or Alive album.

    • Mark

      August 19, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      I’ve always loved Bromberg’s version. I think it’s closer to the original than any of the others.

  10. Jim Hunter

    July 12, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    The Koerner, Ray & Glover version is from “The Return of Koerner, Ray & Glover”, 1965. It is performed by Dave Snaker Ray. They actually didn’t all three play together too often. They’d trade off solos & duos more frequently.

  11. Paul Stevenson

    July 12, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Hopefully I won’t seem pedantic, but the version Taj Mahal did that inspired Duane to play this tune and slide in general was the version that featured Jesse Ed Davis playing the slide

  12. uDiscover

    July 22, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments, we love doing these pieces on old blues songs, check back for more soon…

  13. Chebon

    August 18, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Jesse Ed Davis was the slide player in Taj Mahal’s band.

  14. Michael Jones

    August 19, 2014 at 12:17 am

    The Blues does not generate as much income as other genres. Therefore, I’ve noticed a trend of artists self publishing and offering their music on the internet either with CD’s or through itunes like sourcing. I’ve depleted what I’ve wanted from my local CD store that specializes in Blues music and now buy off the web.

  15. Collin Nunis

    August 19, 2014 at 1:26 am

    Please add the version from their ‘One Way Out’ live album, with Derek Trucks sliding away.

  16. Curtis Lowell

    August 19, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Actually, Gregg did not sing Statesboro Blues perfectly until sometime later in his career.

    The words Blind Willie sang on the verse in questions were: “Ain;t good lookin’ baby, but I’m someone’s sweetest child.”

    On the Fillmore recordings, Gregg sang, “Ain;t good lookin’, baby, but I’m somewhat sweet and kind.”

    By the time the Allmans got to recording live at the Beacon with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, Gregg had sussed out the correct lyric on these lines.

    • glen delpit

      August 7, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Actually Mctell sings,” I’m some sweet woman’ Angel Child”

  17. John

    August 19, 2014 at 3:38 am

    Another great version by The Devil Makes Three is definitely worth checking out, influenced more by the Rising Sons version in my opinion, from an Allman Bros lover’s view.

  18. Jimmy Marshall

    August 19, 2014 at 3:41 am

    Check out the version of “Statesboro Blues” by The Allman Bros with Taj Mahal sitting in 8/17/14 at The Peach Music Festival. Probably the last time that will happen.

  19. Van Grant

    August 19, 2014 at 4:27 am

    I grew up in and around Statesboro GA and was totally blown away when I first heard this song performed by the Allman Brothers! Set me on a life long journey discovering the blues!

  20. bilbo

    August 19, 2014 at 5:14 am

    I really would have liked to listen to that playlist but I will not give access to my F.B. profile nor my list of friends.

  21. Bob Garza

    August 19, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Live At The Filmore Still Blows My a Melon!

  22. David Cox

    August 20, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Live at the Fillmore East greatest live album by the greatest live band of all time!

  23. Dave C

    August 20, 2014 at 3:04 am

    Live at the Fillmore East greatest live album by the greatest band ever!

  24. OddBall

    October 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Great version here: http://goo.gl/k5GeR9

  25. Frank davenport

    October 6, 2014 at 1:27 am

    The Holy Modal Rounders were doing this before all the above mentioned. Please give credit where credit’s due. I think Kweskin and Muldaur did it way back.

  26. Jeff Anzevino

    December 1, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    To my ear–and from the first time I heard it nearly 20 years ago-it is clear that Taj Mahal’s 1968 recording heavily influenced the Allman Brothers’ cut on Live at the Fillmore East. I am not being critical here. But everything from the vocals to the guitar solo are nearly identical to Taj Mahal’s version.

  27. Phil Powell

    March 31, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    My favourite version of Statesborough Blues is by Pat Travers on the Making Magic album. An awesome version!

  28. Charley Walters

    April 1, 2016 at 1:53 am

    I’m surprised not to see mention of the 1966 version by the Youngbloods.

  29. George Wehrheim

    June 15, 2017 at 2:34 am

    I’m surprised that Elmore James was not brought up in this thread I think he influenced the ABB more that any other blues man

  30. Buck

    July 13, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    While the Brothers’ Statesboro Blues is certainly one of the finest adaptations ever done, the lyrics were not sung “word perfect from the original”. Several word substitutions and at several omitted verses, for example: “Big Eighty left Savannah, Lord, it did not stop / you ought to saw that colored fireman when he got the boiler hot / reach over in the corner mama, hand me down my travelin’ shoes / you know by now I got them Statesboro Blues” does not appear in the ABB version, among others.

    To my ear at least, the ABB was looking for the same kind of adaptation that Clapton and Cream achieved by covering Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’. Duane idolized Clapton and such an adaptation would be logical.

    Still, a wonderful and iconic bit of American music.

  31. John Lowen

    September 4, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    John Koerner, who insists he is retired, can occasionally be found at Palmers Bar on the West Bank of Minneapolis, and once and awhile can be induced to play some tunes. Tony Glover can be found scowling somewhere still. Dave Ray has passed away I’m sad to say. They brought blues music to the ears of thousands of white kids in the early sixties, me being one. They were quite meticulous in giving credit where credit was due.

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