“Statesboro Blues” is a blues song in the key of D written by Blind Willie McTell; the title refers to the town of Statesboro, Georgia. Covered by many artists, the version by The Allman Brothers Band is especially notable and was ranked #9 byRolling Stone in their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. In 2005, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ranked “Statesboro Blues” number 57 on its list of 100 Songs of the South.
The lyrics, a first-person narrative, appear to relate the story of a man pleading with a woman to let him in her house; the speaker calls himself “Papa McTell” in the first stanza (“Have you got the nerve to drive Papa McTell from your door?”). Throughout the song, the woman, addressed as “mama,” is alternately pleaded with (to go with the speaker “up the country”) and threatened (“When I leave this time, pretty mama, I’m going away to stay”). Throughout the non-linear narrative, the “Statesboro blues” are invoked—an unexplained condition from which the speaker and his entire family seem to be suffering (“I woke up this morning / Had them Statesboro blues / I looked over in the corner: grandma and grandpa had ’em too”). Later versions, such as the one played by The Allman Brothers Band, have shorter, simplified lyrics.
As with many blues lyrics, it can be difficult to establish rules for the narrative order of the stanzas. In the case of “Statesboro Blues,” Richard Blaustein attempted a structural analysis of McTell’s song in an approach influenced by Claude Lévi-Strauss; it is unclear whether his results are applicable to other blues songs also.
McTell borrowed part of the lyrics from a 1923 Sippie Wallace recording of “Up the Country Blues,” which was later popularized by Canned Heat as “Goin’ up the Country.”