It is uncertain whether Willy McTell was blind from birth, but his disability only spurred him on to make something of himself in music, as a means to making a living, and in particular the expressive medium of the blues. He showed an aptitude for music whilst very young and by the time his mother died in 1920, he was playing the streets of Atlanta, and during this time he came into contact with and was greatly influenced by many of the town's 'Hillbilly' artistes such as Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner.
Although he had a 'strained nasally' voice his singing was delivered in clean and precise terms accompanied by his 'twangy, tinny' but brilliant guitar playing undoubtedly influenced by his friendship with the 'Hillybilly' set.
He was in much demand throughout the Depression but come the 40's his popularity was in the decline and although massively popular on the Atlanta club scene his recording career was all but over and he died in relative poverty in 1959.
"Atlanta Strut" contains most of his best recordings amongst which shine "Writin' Paper Blues', "B&O Blues No 1", and "Love Changing Blues". Whilst he was never a huge-selling artist in his lifetime he drew a powerful tribute from no less than Bob Dylan, whose song "Blind Willie McTell" includes the immortal line "I know one thing, nobody can sing, them blues like Blind Willie McTell". Come to think of it Blind Willie and Bob Dylan 'shared' a similar 'strained and nasally' voice and a 'twangy, tinny' guitar delivery.