Sometime around 1910 Willie McTell moved from Thomson in Georgia to Statesboro in the same state. It was probably in Statesboro that he learned to play the guitar from his Mother. He ran away in 1914 and began working on the medicine shows and playing street corners. The semi-autobiographical Statesboro Blues is acknowledged as one of Blind Willie McTell’s greatest work, it is certainly his most influential. He recorded it on 17th October 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia
My poppa died and left me,
I ain't good looking baby,
Want someone sweet and kind.
I'm goin' to the country, baby do you wanna go?
But if you can't make it baby,
your sister Lucille said she wanna go. (and I sure will take her).
In 1965 Taj Mahal’s band, The Rising Sons recorded Blind Willie’s song for their unreleased album on CBS produced by Doris Day’s son, Terry Melcher produced. Taj Mahal covered the song on his debut solo album in 1968 after the Rising Sons split up, also featured on the album was 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.
“The Blues for me is basically ancestor worship in the sense of accessing the great things that ancestors have done.” - Taj Mahal 1999
In 1971 it featured as the opening track to The Allman Brothers Band’s live album recorded at the Fillmore East on 12th & 13th March. 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 motor cycle accident. It robbed the world of one of the great blues slide guitar players of the modern age. On The Allman Brothers Band Live at Fillmore East, Statesboro Blues is credited to Will McTell.
Other versions include.
Koerner, Ray & Glover 1966
The Youngbloods 1967
Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera 1969
Deep Purple 1975
Pat Travers Band 1977
Dave Van Ronk 1997
The Charlie Daniels Band 1999
Dan Fogelberg 2000