Superstar guitarists are a dying breed, and there’s one particular blues artist that has helped Jack White has mould his style. The former White Stripes figure is a rare breed among his contemporaries, and his love of pioneers who helped forge rock ‘n’ roll have had a lasting impact on him.
White is an anomaly in the current mainstream musical sphere. After all, he’s a perennial outsider who has somehow bulldozed his way into household name status. He’s even made an invitingly dark Bond theme tune and can just about turn his hand to anything. However, his true love will always be the blues.
It’s a sound that has crept into his work, with The White Stripes’ ‘Ball and Biscuit’ coming to mind as the most shining example of how White has dragged the genre into the 21st century. He’ll be a guitarist that will be discussed for decades to come and already got one foot in the door to becoming a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
One artist that he’s paid tribute to over the course of his career is Blind Willie McTell. The bluesman was a searing inspiration for White since his childhood, he even once said, “nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”.
It’s not just White who is infatuated with McTell. Bob Dylan even wrote a song as an ode to him, appropriately titled ‘Blind Willie McTell’, which shows White is in good company in the McTell appreciation society. Others who have cited him as a source of inspiration include The Allman Brothers Band and Taj Mahal.
McTell intriguingly only used 12 string guitars and wandered from town to town as a ‘songster’. However, he never enjoyed commercial success, and personal problems with alcoholism would scupper his opportunities after briefly signing with Atlantic Records in 1949.
Rather than playing theatres, he used to wander from town to town and would play impromptu concerts to unexpected spectators in restaurant car parks for tips. McTell circumvented the industry and just did his own thing. While the singer didn’t achieve the level of success that equated to his talent, his impact on White shows that his legacy is still alive.
On another occasion, White told the Los Angeles Times, “I like the sense he wasn’t just a blues singer. He was a street-corner entertainer who would play in front of Piggly Wiggly markets and stuff.”
White’s love for him is so powerful that The White Stripes’ sophomore album, 2000’s De Stijl, was dedicated to him, and it included a cover of McTell’s ‘Southern Can Is Mine’. Furthermore, that same year they also covered another one of his song’s, ‘Lord, Send Me An Angel’.
Additionally, since setting up his Third Man Records, White has even re-released a collection of work from McTell, which provided him with the opportunity to spread his work to a whole new generation.
McTell has been a constant hero figure in White’s life, and The White Stripes’ cover of ‘Lord, Send Me An Angel’ during a session for John Peel is a work of art that is a fitting tribute to the guitarist’s ultimate musical hero.