Country Blues > SOTM - Song Of The Month

SOTM - May 24, 2015 - Pal of Mine - Blind Willie McTell

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Well, sounds like the weenies are starting to rattle the cages, so it's time to get going on SOTM #2.   :P

First off, thanks to frankie for suggesting this idea, and for setting the bar so high (well, not really the second comment, since it may be hard for me to reach).

I selected 'Pal of Mine' by Blind Willie McTell mostly because I know many on here could hear things in the guitar playing that I can't, therefore, I'll sharpen my take on a song that I love to sing.  Hope that doesn't sound too selfish of me.  Additionally, it's always fascinating to learn the history of a song, and its antecedents, and how others perceive the actual performances.    ... Also, I guess this is the last song BWM recorded, which makes it somewhat special right there.

It's also a reminder that what we call the country "blues" players  actually cast a really wide net when it came to repertoire.

It appears that McTell recorded the song three times, twice in 1949, and once in 1956.  But I'd guess that he'd been playing it for quite some time before he recorded it.

In the BWM Guitar Style - Queries and Tips, banjochris notes that on the '49 recording, McTell plays it in the 'C' position, with the actual key as 'F'.  Curley Weaver is playing along on these two takes in 'F', which makes it a bit tricky to follow McTell's guitar lines.

Here's a youtube clip of the '49 version with Weaver

And here's Willie solo in '56 (note that in his intro he actually references the original WWI era version)

And here's my humble version that I'd posted in the Back Porch a few years back (linked at the bottom):

It appears that the origin of the song begins during WWI.  Lieutenant Gitz Ingraham Rice, a Canadian officer who served in the First World War, is credited with composing Pal 'o Mine.  Here's an excerpt from a web source:

It was in this way that, in addition to singing and playing the piano for the concert parties, Rice turned his hand to songwriting. Rice became known for hit songs such as "Dear Old Pal of Mine", in which a soldier laments his absence from his girlfriend. The first line states, "All my life is empty, since I went away"; and the refrain affirms the soldier's loneliness: "Oh, how I want you, dear old pal". Rice's song was popularized by the singer John McCormack, who adopted it as his signature tune? It is a typical popular song of the First World War era and was recorded variously as a ballad, a waltz and a foxtrot, as well as being released in sheet-music form. Rice was on active duty in Ypres, Belgium, when he composed the theme of this song.

And here's that version from youtube:

Original sheet music (linked below):

But the real source version for McTell's own pieces is undoubtedly this version, 'Call Me Back Pal 'O Mine', from 1922, sung by Charles Harrison on Victor, with the composer listed as Harold Dixon, and lyricist as Lawrence Perricone:  (the link will take you to the LOC page)

So, points to ponder:

1.  What do you think are the connections between the 1918 version and the more McTell-like 1922 version, if any? 

2.  What are your collective thoughts on Willie's '49 version compared to his '56 version?

3.  What are some tips or suggestions in the guitar parts when comparing Willie's to mine?

Thanks for reading this, and I'd surely welcome any weenie versions of this great song.


Great song. Im going to dig in a bit to this song and try and post something that adds more than complimenting the song. haha ;)

Great topic, Tom!

These recordings are all pretty interesting. The 1918 recording seems to me to be a different song entirely - both melodically and lyrically...  only sentiment of the title seems to be the same. The LoC page lists Harold Dixon as the composer of the 1922 recording, and that one seems clearly to be related to the McTell recordings as you pointed out.  Can't help wondering if there's another recording of "Call Me Back, Pal Of Mine" from the teens out there that's more closely related to the 1922 Harrison recording...

Your recording is deeply McTell-y both vocally and instrumentally - that guitar in particular sounds great!

I might take a crack at this at some point, but it's pretty far outside my comfort zone...  I do have a couple of nutball ideas for doing it, though! You have been warned...

It's just great to hear that Weaver and McTell version...  I always forget those recordings!

uncle bud:
Nice, Tom, interesting to hear those older versions, and yours again. Like frankie, I wonder if there were other recordings, or perhaps how popular the Harrison recording was.

I don't hear a relationship between the 1918 song and Harrison's. There seems to have been a fondness for the phrase in titles though - the Carter Family did Little Darling Pal of Mine, not a related song, and the Red Fox Chasers did the same tune as Little Sweetheart Pal of Mine. The McCormack record was very popular according to this:
Perhaps that's why the title pops up in other songs.

I was kind of surprised to see a number of covers of the McTell song on YouTube. I've always thought of this as an obscure one.

BTW, the Last Session version YouTube link doesn't work for me. I get a "video not available" message. I've seen this before and wonder what the deal is. Only available in certain regions?

Thank you for posting this great topic.

I think Mctell may have been familiar with both McCormack and Harrison versions as he mentions that he liked ithe song from 1916-17 in the later 1956 version and may taken from those and others he heard in both lyrics and melody where he felt it worked and come up with his own version to add to his repetoire.

Its always interesting to me to hear how there are different versions over time and I have no preference.

I don't have much of an ear for 12 string as I have not studied it or listened to much playing so my most educated opinion would be that I enjoyed your version.


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