Q: Any St. Louis hockey fan who bleeds blue knows the team was named for the popular W.C. Handy song “St. Louis Blues.” Has there ever been an “East St. Louis Blues”?
J.W., of Belleville
A: W.C. Handy may have put St. Louis on the national blues song map, but “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.”
At least, that seems to be the opinion of legendary folksinger Bob Dylan, who used that line over and over in his song about American music and slavery entitled “Blind Willie McTell,” which you can find on his “The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.”
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Born about 1900 as William Samuel McTier in Georgia, McTell was a Piedmont blues and ragtime singer who stood out from the crowd by playing the 12-string guitar exclusively. Adding to his appeal were his smooth, tenor vocals — a contrast to the often harsh voices of Delta bluesmen — and his slide guitar technique.
He was born blind in one eye and lost the sight of the other in childhood, but he showed musical talent from an early age. By his early 20s, he was making his living as a street performer in several Georgia cities. His talent must have struck a chord: By 1927, he was recording for Victor Records in Atlanta. Six years later, he, along with Vol Stevens, J. Mayo Williams and John Akers, co-wrote and recorded “The East St. Louis Blues (Fare You Well).”
“I walked all the way from East St. Louis,” it starts. “I never had but that one, one thin dime. I laid my head in a New York woman’s lap. She laid her little, cute head in mine.”
Like most blues songs, however, it does not have a happy ending.
“I tried to see you in the spring when the bluebird’s almost ready to sing. Faree, honey, faree well. And I walked on back to East St. Louis. Never had but that one, one thin dime.”
Recorded in 1933, the song finally was released in 1979 on a compilation album entitled “Atlanta Blues 1933,” and you can hear McTell’s performance at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVlyUNfkY8U. (Other versions can be found on YouTube as well.) As you might guess, it wasn’t his best-known song. That honor goes to “Statesboro Blues,” which he wrote in 1928 and, thanks to the Allman Brothers, is now ninth on Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 greatest guitar songs of all time. McTell (which he pronounced MAC-tell) died of a stroke in 1959.
Q: After President Trump’s recent comment about Puerto Rico’s debt being a financial burden on the United States, I was left wondering how, when and why Puerto Rico ever became a U.S. territory.
E.H., of Belleville
A: Remember the Maine?
In early 1898, the United States couldn’t get it off its mind.
In January, the 3-year-old American battleship had been sent to Havana to protect U.S. interests during Cuba’s War of Independence against Spain. Then, on Feb. 15, a mysterious explosion sent it to the bottom of the harbor.
At first, President William McKinley continued to plead for diplomacy and negotiations to end Spanish control of the Caribbean island. But anti-Spanish sentiment quickly grew, and, on April 21, the U.S. Navy blockaded Cuba, effectively launching the Spanish-American War.
Hopelessly outmatched, Spain waved the white flag just four months later. When the ink dried on the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898, Cuba had become a U.S. protectorate and all other Spanish colonies became American territories, including the Philippines, Guam — and Puerto Rico.
It’s something the United States had had its eye on for a long time. For example, William Seward, the secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, suggested that we annex the Domincan Republic and purchase Puerto Rico and Cuba, ideas which both the U.S. Senate and Spain rejected. In 1890, Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, a member of the Navy War Board, published “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History,” in which he called for the acquisition of Caribbean colonies for strategic purposes.
Today, it remains a U.S. territory, and its 3.5 million inhabitants are United State citizens, although they cannot vote for president, do not have a vote in Congress and pay no federal income taxes. But just last June, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood during the island’s fifth nonbinding plebiscite since 1967, although many experts seem to think the chances of that happening anytime soon are still somewhere between slim and none.
During his second voyage to the Americas, what did Christopher Columbus originally name Puerto Rico?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: If you’ve ever driven through beautiful Manitou Springs, Colorado, and wondered how the town acquired its name, you can thank the Almighty. In Native American mythology, Monetoo/Manitou is the spiritual and fundamental life force among the Algonquian peoples who lived in the region. Aasha Monetoo — the Great Spirit — created the world.