Monday, September 30, 2013

Blind Willie McTell - Statesboro Blues (sound file & lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is part of a continuing series about Blues songs that include the expression "turn your lamp down low" or the expression "turn your damper down".

This post showcases a sound file of and lyrics to the 1928 song "Statesboro Blues" by Blind Willie Tell.

Comments about the meaning of "turn your lamp down low" and "turn your damper down" are found in

A link to a pancocojams post about a Blues song that includes the expression "turn your damper down" is found in the Related Links section below.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.


'Statesboro Blues' BLIND WILLIE McTELL, Blues Guitar Legend

RagtimeDorianHenry, Uploaded on Apr 3, 2009
Click for information about Blind Willie Tell (May 5, 1898 – August 19, 1959).

(Blind Willie Tell)

"Subject: Lyr Add: STATESBORO BLUES (Blind Willie McTell)" posted by Rustic Rebel Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:39 PM

....Blind Willie McTell recorded this classic in 1928.

Wake up mama, turn your lamp down low
Wake up mama, turn your lamp down low
Have you got the nerve to drive papa McTell from your door

My mother died and left me reckless, my daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild
Mother died and left me reckless, daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild
No, I'm not good lookin', I'm some sweet woman's angel child

You're a mighty mean woman, to do me this a-way
You're a mighty mean woman, to do me this a-way
Going to leave this town, pretty mama, going away to stay

I once loved a woman, better than I ever seen
I once loved a woman, better than I ever seen
Treat me like I was a king and she was a doggone queen

Sister, tell your Brother, Brother tell your Auntie, Auntie, tell your Uncle,
Uncle tell my Cousin, Cousin tell my friend
Goin' up the country, Mama, don't you want to go?
May take me a fair brown, may take me one or two more

Big Eighty left Savannah, Lord, and did not stop
You ought to saw that colored fireman when he got that boiler hot
Reach over in the corner, hand me my travelin' shoes
You know by that, I got them Statesboro blues

Sister got 'em, daddy got 'em
Brother got 'em, mama got 'em
Woke up this morning, we had them Statesboro blues
I looked over in the corner,
Grandpa and grandma had 'em too.

Click for a post about a Blues song that includes the saying "turn your damper down".

Thanks to Blind Willie Tell for his musical legacy. Thanks also to the publisher of that sound file on YouTube.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I received permission to re-post this email that I recently received from Brennan Carley:.

    "Mrs. Powell,

    First, I really enjoy your blogs! Thank you for creating them.

    I am trying to decipher the lyrics to Blind Willie McTell's Statesboro Blues, which you have touched on in your blog.

    In particular, I am trying to understand the origin of "Turn your lamp down low."

    The theories I have heard are variations of "turn your damper down" (i.e. cool down).

    There are two other distinct possibilities though.

    The first is that the song is about infidelity: Bobby Grant was a contemporary and friend of McTell, and around the same time that McTell recorder Statesboro Blues, he recorded "Nappy Head Blues" ( which includes the lines:

    "When you hear me walkin', turn your lamp down low
    And turn it so your man'll never know"

    Which obviously implies something more mischievous than "chill out"!

    On the other hand, Statesboro Blues seems to be more about McTell being rejected... In a way it is an "answer song" to Sippie Wallace's "Up the Country Blues," which makes it unlikely that McTell is suggesting cheating with the woman ("Wake up mama") it is addressed to. (Sippie Wallace's song is about throwing her man out on the street, and McTell sings about how much nerve she has to treat him this way.)

    Which leads to another theory: The song is about escaping Jim Crow (and possibly has origins in earlier spirituals about escaping slavery.) McTell was familiar with Blind Willie Johnson and his work, including "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" ( which is based on an earlier spiritual (credited to the Jubile Singers in 1874 but certainly older than that.) "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" was apparently code for being ready when the time comes to take the underground railroad, and was based on Matthew 25: 1-13 which tells the parable of the bridesmaids and the wedding. Some of the bridesmaids allow their lamps to burn out and miss the arrival of Jesus. So "turn your lamp down low" means to keep your lamp trimmed and don't waste oil, i.e. don't miss the savior (either in the religious sense or the sense of escaping North.)

    This would be consistent with "going up the country" (escaping) as well as "wake up mama, turn your lamp down low" (i.e. wake up and don't be asleep when the times comes.)

    I would love to get your thoughts on this.

    Thank you so much."
    In his second email to me Brennan indicated that he learned about the song "the origins of "Statesboro Blues" from the book "Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell" by Michael Gray.

    My response to Brennan's email is given below.

    1. Here's my response to that email:

      ...I really appreciate your comments about Blind Willie McTell's Statesboro Blues. I can't add anything to the comments that I've already posted except to say that I think that within that song the phrase "turn your lamp down low" has the first two meanings you shared.

      I'm not a proponent of the theory that all or most Spirituals sometimes or always had a coded meaning about escaping slavery. It seems to me that if a song such as "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" was always sung before someone or several people attempted to flee their enslavement, someone- including Black snitches- would catch on to that connection and the secrecy needed to successfully escape would be ruined.

      Also, I don't think that that "turn your lamp down low" has anything to do with escaping Jim Crow.

      Brennan, I particularly want to thank you for sharing the information about the songs that Blind Willie McTell borrowed from for his Statesboro Blues song."...