Wednesday, March 30, 2011

At Athens' Dog Ear Books: Michael Gray, "Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes"

Michael Gray has been tracking his favorite music and musicians since the early '70s, when his first book about Bob Dylan, Song & Dance Man, was published in 1972. Since then he's been busy documenting the history of rock and pre-war blues for an uncounted number of publications and publishers. Thursday night in Athens he'll visit Dog Ear Books at 7 p.m., part of his American talk tour which retraces the official Willie McTell Trail from Statesboro.

McTell has an Atlanta connection as well. He made his first records here, and In 1940 he recorded for John and Ruby Lomax somgs for the Library of Congress. Then in the 1950s he returned to commercial recording for several record labels with material that was performed in Atlanta radio station studios. And there's no telling if his spirit wanders through Blind Willie's blues club in Virginia-Highlands, but there's no doubt he would feel right at home at the club that bears his name.

This is not Gray's first visit to Athens. He came to town more than a decade ago researching his book
Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: in Search of Blind Willie McTell (Chicago Review Press, re-published 2009). At the time he interviewed Sister Fleeta Mitchell, who knew McTell at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, in Macon, when she had been a young girl. As he posted recently on his Willie McTell blog, Athens resident Sister Mitchell passed away just weeks ago at the age of ninety-eight. Gray writes about his visits in 2000 that it was "... amazing to be able to be told first hand in the 21st Century the details of life for Willie and his fellow-pupils in a segregated school in the early 1920s."

Before his visit at Dog Ear Books, Gray will be giving several talks at UGA. Today at 4 p.m, at the Miller Learning Center on the UGA campus, he'll give a Dylan presentation which is free and open to the public. Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. also at the Miller Learning Center, he'll talk about his McTell book, with the visit to Dog Ear Books at 7 p.m. For bookstore information: 706-244-4580.

His big, personal
website is a worth a good browse for those interested in music history, with suggestions for further reading and listening, as well as links to his own books The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (republished in paperback 2008), and the upcoming audiobook version, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia Greatest Hits, which is coming in April.

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