Friday, December 25, 2009
Big Mama THORNTON - With The Muddy Waters Blues Band 1966
In the mid- '60s, Big Mama Thornton was a relatively obscure blues singer known mainly for her original recording of "Hound Dog" in 1953, three years before Elvis had a monster hit with it. Due to a lack of gigs, Thornton had a tough time keeping a steady band on the road and would scramble to gather consistently decent musicians. Fortunately, Arhoolie Records' founder and president Chris Strachwitz had witnessed an amazing performance of the era which had Thornton backed by a group of Chicago musicians who included Buddy Guy on guitar. With that performance in mind, Strachwitz was determined to capture that excellence in the studio. He offered the gig to Muddy Waters, whom he met in San Francisco a few days prior to this session. Muddy accepted and brought with him James Cotton (harmonica), Otis Spann (piano), Sammy Lawhorn (guitar), Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson (bass), and Francis Clay (drums). What came out at Coast Recorders on April 25, 1966 is presented on this 17-track disc including seven previously unreleased cuts. From the low-down gutbucket blues of "Black Rat," and "Big Mama's Shuffle" (featuring both Thornton and James Cotton engaging in a battle of the harps), to the hazy, late-night atmosphere of "Life Goes On," "Since I Fell for You," and "I Feel the Way I Feel," all of this material is absolutely timeless. One can only imagine what would have happened if Big Mama's hopes of recording a gospel album with this band had been fulfilled.
By Al Campbell. AMG.
Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton only notched one national hit in her lifetime, but it was a true monster. "Hound Dog" held down the top slot on Billboard's R&B charts for seven long weeks in 1953. Alas, Elvis Presley's rocking 1956 cover was even bigger, effectively obscuring Thornton's chief claim to immortality.
That's a damned shame, because Thornton's menacing growl was indeed something special. The hefty belter first opened her pipes in church but soon embraced the blues. She toured with Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue during the 1940s. Thornton was ensconced on the Houston circuit when Peacock Records boss Don Robey signed her in 1951. She debuted on Peacock with "Partnership Blues" that year, backed by trumpeter Joe Scott's band.
But it was her third Peacock date with Johnny Otis's band that proved the winner. With Pete Lewis laying down some truly nasty guitar behind her, Big Mama shouted "Hound Dog," a tune whose authorship remains a bone of contention to this day (both Otis and the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller claim responsibility) and soon hit the road a star.
But it was an isolated incident. Though Thornton cut some fine Peacock follow-ups -- "I Smell a Rat," "Stop Hoppin' on Me," "The Fish," "Just like a Dog" -- through 1957, she never again reached the hit parade. Even Elvis was apparently unaware of her; he was handed "Hound Dog" by Freddie Bell, a Vegas lounge rocker. Early-'60s 45s for Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay did little to revive her sagging fortunes, but a series of dates for Arhoolie that included her first vinyl rendition of "Ball and Chain" in 1968 and two albums for Mercury in 1969-70 put her back in circulation (Janis Joplin's overwrought but well-intentioned cover of "Ball and Chain" didn't hurt either). Along with her imposing vocals, Thornton began to emphasize her harmonica skills during the 1960s.
Thornton was a tough cookie. She dressed like a man and took no guff from anyone, even as the pounds fell off her once-ample frame and she became downright scrawny during the last years of her life. Medical personnel found her lifeless body in an L.A. rooming house in 1984.
By Bill Dahl. AMG.
Muddy Waters- Guitar
Otis Spann- Piano
Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson- Bass
Francis Clay- Drums
Sammy Lawhorn. Guitar
James Cotton- Harmonica
Big Mama Thornton- Harmonica,Drums, Vocals.
01. I’m Feeling Alright [3:02]
02. Sometimes I Have A Heartache [3:49]
03. Black Rat (take 4) [2:53]
04. Life Goes On [3:28]
05. Everything Gonna Be Alright [5:06]
06. Big Mama’s Bumble Bee Blues [4:13]
07. Gimme A Penny (take 6) [4:38]
08. Looking The World Over [2:13]
09. I Feel The Way I Feel [5:05]
10. Guide Me Home [4:23]
11. Black Rat (take 2) [2:52]
12. Wrapped Tight [3:19]
13. Gimme A Penny (take 5) [4:00]
14. Big Mama’s Shuffle [3:38]
15. Since I Fell For You [4:33]
16. I’m Feeling Alright (fast version) [2:28]
17. Big Mama’s Blues (My Love) [4:08]