Tag Archives: Blind Willie McTell

The Evolution of the Statesboro Blues

11 Apr

List five of the most famous blues songs you can think of. Was “Statesboro Blues” on your list? It is a mainstay on most lists not only because of its excellence as a song, but also because of its proliferation – i.e. the song was re-recorded by the right people. Even if “Statesboro Blues” didn’t find a spot on your list, it is certainly a staple of blues history and a widely recognized song today. You hear the opening few notes of the riff and hear “Wake up Mama, turn your lamp down low” and you just know you are traveling to Georgia to experience the Statesboro blues. But with whom are you traveling with. The original creator of the famous blues piece, the first modernizer, or the performers with arguably the best version of the song? I think we are in need of a Blues Evolution.

By the way, before I continue, if you are interested in the blues and want to learn more about famous originators check out the list that John Phillips is compiling over at the Real Canadian Music Blog. His Let’s Explore the Blues section offers a deep dive into pre-rock blues (http://therealcanadianmusicblog.wordpress.com/category/blues/)

The best way to explore the evolution of “Statesboro Blues” is to work backwards. Instead of starting in 1928, let’s start 43 years later at the Fillmore East in March of 1971. The Allman Brothers recorded a version of blues piece for their live album At Fillmore East, which is one of the most extraordinary live albums ever released. The song is now a staple during Allman Brothers’ concerts. Why did the song succeed initially? One name. Duane Allman. His slide work on “Statesboro Blues” is some of the greatest ever done by any guitarist ever. It is spine-tingling, goose-bump inducing, holy sh*t how is he making that sound, good. You can listen to it over and over again, transcribe it and play it until your fingers are blue and pulsating, NO ONE will ever play the slide guitar and this song like Duane Allman. Let’s not forget Dickey Betts who also creates a magical tone with his guitar. The riff is heavenly, the blues solo scary good, and the vocals fresh and original. The Allman Brothers makes the song theirs, which is partly why everyone thinks it is their song!

But it’s not. And it is not Taj Mahal’s either, who recorded a modernized version of the song for his eponymous debut album in 1968. The version, slower than the Allman Brothers piece, clearly influenced the Brothers. Taj Mahal’s voice is the strength of his version. I give him a whole lot of credit for turning this song into a late 60s blues piece, but he knocks the piece out with his chops. Listen here:

Will the real Statesboro Bluesman please stand up? Name is Willie McTell, Blind Willie Mctell. McTell was an early 20th century blues singer/songwriter/guitarist, with tremendous skill on the 12-string guitar – fingerstyle and slide (Allman inspiration of course). His music is more Eastern than Delta Blues. It is more ragtimey and his voice is not as granular as the deep south Delta blues performers like Big Joe Williams and Charley Patton.

The original lyric is different from the Taj Mahal and Allman Brothers versions of the song. The covers splice together parts of McTell’s original lyric, a narrative about some family struck with the Statesboro, Georgia blues. One of the most influential portions of the song is McTell’s fast-paced verse progression later in the song which is a bit atypical and certainly much appreciated. Anybody out there have the “Statesboro Blues?”

The Allman Brothers At The Beacon – A Review

23 Mar

Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks - Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images North America

When you go see a band like the Allman Brothers, a band that plays with effortless technical proficiency, it is easy to make the assumption that you will hear excellent music. There is no doubt about that. But it would be a wide misconception to believe that the music will not be tinged with passion. Even with several dates at the Beacon Theatre, The Allman Brothers vary set-lists and demonstrate true fervent blues playing, without jeopardizing what made them a great band in the first place, pure talent.

The Beacon Theatre is a perfect venue for the Brothers. It maintains the feel of an old city playhouse with its intricate wall designs and large statues. The venue shoots you back in time. The vintage playhouse juxtaposed wonderfully with the Allman Brothers ode to blues that became a pervasive force in Tuesday night’s set-list.

The concert began with “Statesboro Blues,” a blues staple written by Blind Willie McTell turned into a huge Allman Brothers hit. The band came out immediately on fire with a wall-of-sound that combined Gregg Allman‘s voice with the three-man percussion brigade and Trucks and Haynes’ guitar work.

This was my first time seeing the Allman Brothers and I was unsure how Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes balanced the skill that both have. Haynes played rhythm for most of the night, but shared some solos with Derek on extended jams. Haynes’ voice never tired through the show, which was good because Gregg Allman faded as the show went on.

Allman’s lack of participation in the show was my only complaint. He sat behind the piano/keyboard for the entirety of the show and sang only a few times. Allman does have the best voice of the bunch. When he did call and response with Haynes, Allman won the vocal chops battle. Luckily, Allman picked an excellent band to support him, and they did for the majority of the show.

The band played nine songs during the first set, including a jazzy rendition of “The Weight” which included Steve Molitz on keys and Rich Robinson on guitar. Molitz, for those who don’t remember, was actually featured on this blog before with his side project Headtronics. He is an excellent keyboard player and it was awesome to see him live. (Check out that post here: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/open-your-mind-for-headtronics/)

A classic rendition of Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” dominated the first set. It was not only an ode to a favorite blues musician, but, it displayed the wide range of musical talent that the band shares. Joining the Allman Brothers on stage was the Juke Horns, a group of talented horn players. They provided a wave of sound that complimented the backbone guitar riff. It was a bluesy rendition that blew the top off the Beacon.

The jams were on target all night and Trucks did an excellent job leading guests into solos and then whipping them at the solo game. During a lengthy jam, Trucks paired himself against Haynes and guest guitarist Tom Guarna in a three-way guitar duel, that Trucks won hands down. He is an astounding slide guitarist and a worthy successor to Duane Allman, who was honored along with Berry Oakley at the closing visual slideshow.

By the way, Derek Trucks totally teased “Norwegian Wood” in his solo for “Jessica” which was hilarious and awesome.

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