I don’t know of any blues heroes for whom there isn’t even a recorded year of death, I have never seen a clip that struck me on my path like this one and I never read so many people experiencing exactly the same when they hear Blind Connie Williams for the first time.
He only did one recording session, on the 5th of May 1961 in Philadelphia, for Pete Welding‘s label, on which he played both guitar and accordeon. Most of these tracks are available on Youtube. This clip, however, is a true gem because there are only 1 or 2 pictures of Williams. The only other source of info are the liner notes of the album. The catalog number also makes clear that it wasn’t issued until more than a decade later: Testament T-2225 (1974)
The song was actually written by Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993):
His first wife, Nettie, who had been Rainey’s wardrobe mistress, died in childbirth in 1932. Two days later the child, a son, also died. In his grief, he wrote his most famous song, one of the most famous of all gospel songs, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. Unhappy with the treatment received at the hands of established publishers, Dorsey opened the first black gospel music publishing company, Dorsey House of Music.
The musical basis was taken from an older, traditional hymn and is generally played in a death march like tempo. It was Martin Luther King’s favorite song, who specifically liked Mahalia Jackson’s version, which I give here by way of reference as to how the song usually sounds.
Connie’s version is musically very different from the traditional version and could be transcribed as a traditional 8 bar blues:
But what Connie is playing contains almost every passing chord from the gospel book:
This may look infinitely intricate, but it isn’t. Connie’s guitar is tuned in open G tuning (DGDGBD tuned down to CFCFAC), so this will mostly be one or two finger chords; F7 – F6 is x00003 – x00002. There are a lot of rumours on the internet that he would be using Vestapol tuning, but the album track on guitar are all in G and detailed analysis of the video will show him picking the root bass on the second string, which is G (tuned down to F).
You could even take it a bit further: replace the Gm-like chord C7/G by a D7 and extend the walkdown which started on line 3 to include line 2. It would then virtually span an octave and a half, from “lead me on” until “storm.” It would change the lead a bit, but it need not. Connies steady singing seems almost independent of the changes he plays… and it always works.
It was a real revelation to see how flexible gospel chords are. You could almost go anywhere with the last line:
I haven’t figured out how to play it in open G, I hardly know anything in this tuning (contrary to open D), but this video of Lonesome Joseph playing another Blind Connie Williams track in open G, reveals a lot the positions: