Kill It, Kid (Blind Willie McTell)

Willie McTell was one of the few early blues artists who managed to record in every decade from the 1920s through the 1950s. This song mctell lp coveris from a session he did for the embryonic Atlantic Records in 1949, well before it became a powerhouse jazz and R&B label. In a long  interview for Rolling Stone magazine, Atlantic’s founder, Ahmet Ertegun told the story:

I was walking along a main street in the black section of Atlanta – to me this is the most incredible story of my whole career – and there was a blind man who was sitting on the corner of the street with his back to the side of the building singing gospel songs, with a hat in front of him for people to drop money into. I stopped to listen to him because he was playing incredible slide guitar and singing so beautifully. I handed him some money so that the fellow could tell it was bills, not coins, and he said, “Oh, thank you – thanks.” So I said, “Have you ever heard of Blind Willie McTell?” And he said, “Man, I am Blind Willie McTell.” I said, “I can’t believe it. You are?” He said, “Yeah, that’s who I am.” And I said, “I would love to record you. I’m from a record company in New York.”

Blind Willie Mctell2We went to the studio that same day, but he only wanted to play gospel songs. I said, “Oh, man, but we wanted some blues.” He said, “Well, I don’t sing blues anymore, I’ve found God.” I said, “But you make great blues music – this is not a bad thing – if you could just sing some blues.” “Well,” he said, “don’t put my name on it.” So I said, “OK, we’ll call you Barrelhouse Sammy.” So we made some blues records and they came out under that name until after he died, when we released them with his actual name. It would have been criminal not to let people know who he was.

 Actually, they released only one single under the Barrelhouse Sammy pseudonym — “Kill It Kid,” backed with “Broke-Down Engine Blues,” one of the songs he’d recorded back in the 1920s — and that was it until they released a full LP in 1972. By 1949 McTell wasn’t playing with the virtuosity of his first recordings, but he was singing beautifully, and that album has some of his best material, including a lovely version of “Delia,” and “Blues Around Midnight,” and “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues.” I loved that record, and listened to the blues side a lot — the gospel side, not so much — and I’m not sure why this is the only song that stuck with me, because I learned several of the others… but in any case, this is the one. (I also copped the turnaround lick at the end of each chorus for my version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Best of All Possible Worlds.”)