Category Archives: Folk Blues documentary

Blind Willie Mc Tell – The Georgia blues documentary

Blind Willie Mc Tell – The Georgia blues documentary

David Fulmer made for Georgia Public Television a beautiful documentary about the life of bluesman Blind Willie Mc Tell. This documentary shows how blues music grew out of a desire for better jobs and a better life, how the guitar became a popular instrument and found its way into black hands. It shows how Willie Mc Tell heard the blues for the first time when he moved to Statesboro with his mother and how the blues gave him a life and legacy.

Blind Willie Mc Tell Ragtime Blues from Georgia

Fulmer explains that Blind Willie was the son of Eddie Mc Tier a gambler and moonshiner born in Thomson Georgia. Mc Tier wasn’t much of a father or an influence for Willie as a Bluesman. When Willie and his mother moved to Statesboro and heard that blues, he picked up the guitar and played it like a piano using a bass-rhythm and a melody. It is the Boom – Chick, Boom – Chick rhythm of a dance beat and a melody we know from a honky-tonk piano in the bar.

It is the Ragtime Blues Mc Tell learned in Statesboro. He ran off with the medicine show in Georgia to travel around and play the ragtime blues. He was a real talent and no one could reflect Atlanta’s patchwork energy like Willie Mc Tell. Ragtime is a great style of blues and unlike the delta blues a more melodic and harmonious style. You could hear it a lot on the East Coast in states like Georgia and the Carolinas.

Learning the Blues in Atlanta

In the mid twenties, when Blind Willie Mc Tell’s mother died he really went on his own. For a while he put down his guitar to make moonshine. But soon Mc Tell moved to Atlanta, a city where he could play the blues. The Georgia Rag! Atlanta was the biggest metropolis in the region. Atlanta became a place where entertainment centered and was a recording center for blues and country artist like Fred mc Mullin and Hot Shot Willie Mc Tell.

Atlanta is a great city and was the place where Blind Willie Mc Tell his dreams could grow, but it was also a place with a lot of racism during those days. The Klu Klux Klan was feeding on the fear of whites and they entered city hall. Blacks were forced into the ghetto’s of the city. But even in those roaring 20s Blind Willie Mc Tell kept playing blues. And in 1927 Blind Willie Mc Tell released his first recording at victor records. It would be the start of a marathon through different record labels like Okeh.

Blind Willie Mc Tell was influenced by other bluesman like Blind Blake and he also borrowed from Blind Boy Fuller and from Charlie Patton. But Willie never copied. He was a musician you would think he wrote his own music.

“He was the bob Dylan of his day. Mc Tell played very few covers like other blues musicians did.”

photo credit: Blind Willie McTell – Trying To Get Home #blues #vinyl #music #LP #bw #1949 via photopin (license)

This video was created by David Fulmer for Georgia Public Television (year unknown) and is a part of the South Georgia Folklife Collection at Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections. This video has been uploaded for educational purposes only.

‘Delia’ BLIND WILLIE McTELL

Blind Willie McTell- Last Session (Vinyl LP)

‘Kill-It-Kid Rag’ – BLIND WILLIE McTELL

‘Will Fox’ – BLIND WILLIE McTELL (1940)

Baby It Must Be Love : Blind Willie Mctell

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Les Blank Documentary: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins

The Blues Accordin to Lightnin’ Hopkins from SOUNDWERK MUSIC on Vimeo.

Les Blank Documentary: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins

In 1968 independent filmmaker Les Blank made a beautiful documentary about Texas Blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins called “The blues according to Lightnin’ Hopkins”. “Blank’s work offers intimate glimpses into the lives, culture and music of passionate people at the periphery of American Society” (lesblank.com).

Celebrating music as a mode of life

By che (Please credit as "Petr Novák, Wikipedia" in case you use this outside Wikimedia projects.) (che) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
By che (Please credit as “Petr Novák, Wikipedia” in case you use this outside Wikimedia projects.) (che) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
This documentary shows how the blues and living with the blues made Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins. Roger Greenspun wrote on December 21, 1970 for the New York Times a story about this documentary. “The Blues according To Lightnin’ Hopkins is as much a celebration of a mode of life as it is a study of a kind of music”. “Almost everyboy seems to be a performer. But Hopkins himself controls the film’s mood”.

Blank met his hero Lightnin’ Hopkins in a nightclub called the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, were like many other blues musicians also Hopkins performed. The blues seemed a good way for Blank to escape from problems like divorce and gave him a strong sense of connection to pain and suffering. After Lightnin’ performance, Blank went with his 16 MM projector camera backstage and gave him a copy of his film about Dizzy Gillespie. He asked Lightnin’ to go to his home in Texas and do a film on him. Lightnin’ was satisfied with the offer, and Les Blank was able to film Lightnin’ Hopkins in Texas.

Blues Storyteller

The blues is about stories, and if one thing is sure after watching the documentary, that Lightnin’ Hopkins is a fantastic storyteller, he tells about meetings with the police, about what the blues is, and show how the blues should be played. You will be chained to the screen while watching this short movie. Hopkins is one of the best guitarist around and a fascinating person.

Filming the life of Lightnin’ Hopkins

When Les Blank went to Houston he find a place to stay at a friend´s apartment. With the help of local Folklorist John Lomax (the only white man lightnin’ was known to trust), he was able to immerse in the life and music of Hopkins.  There is no other Blues musician that recorded so many songs as Lightnin’ Hopkins did.

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Arhoolie movie Down Home Music

“Without collector Chris Strachwitz, there’d be no record of some of America’s greatest folk music, from zydeco to the Delta blues.”

— San Francisco Chronicle headline

Chris Strachwitz Arhoolie Records

Arhoolie records played a major roll in the development of Folk, Blues, Zydeco, Cajun and Tex-Mex music. Founder Chris Stachwitz always had a lot of love for roots music. So when he started recording his heroes in 1960s the start of one of the best label around was a fact. Stachwitz is a hero for recording the artist he, and we too, like so much. He travelled around the country to find his heroes and in many cases the adventure to finding these musicians is very intersting, danger and funny.

DVD Down Home Music

On the DVD Down Home Music – A Journey Through the Heartland 1963 you will see how in 1963 German filmmaker Dietrich Wawzyn set out to shoot a series of films for German television that took him through the southern US in search of American jazz and roots music. He contacted Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, who jumped at the chance to join him and share his enthusiasm for regional musical traditions. (source Arhoolie)

Gospel, Blues and Hillbilly music


Wawzyn made three films, dealing with blues, gospel, and hillbilly music. The negatives to those films were lost. This film re-creates the journey from the best elements still available and includes much previously unreleased footage.

This film documentary is absolutely worth watching with a pencil in your hand, because every artist in it, is worth looking up. Musicians such as Clifton Chenier, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, George Lewis, Los Pinguinos, Big Joe Williams, Jesse Fuller, Country Joe McDonald and many more would not have otherwise been heard — or would have been less heard — if it weren’t for Strachwitz’s determination and love for the art.

More from Arhoolie Records…

Visit the Arhoolie Website to find more musicians and also check Chris Strachwitz blog-site. You will find it here.

A World of Down Home Music from Megan R. Orr on Vimeo.

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