Born on this day in 1927, Willie Mae Thornton would become one of the most revered and unique women in early rock n roll. It’s widely agreed that drag-dressing Big Mama Thornton was likely a queer ahead of her time. Although, it can’t be denied that she followed a long tradition of lezzie blues singers(Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, etc) including the "bulldagger" Gladys Bentley.
The tragedy of her story has captivated followers of rock ‘n’ roll history. She has become the poster child for Black artists who were screwed over by the music industry. Her biggest hit “Hound Dog” earned her a mere $500 in 1952 (roughly $4000 today) as she never earned any royalties beyond her initial payment. To add insult to injury, her version was overshadowed in R&R history for decades due to the far surpassing popularity of Elvis Presley’s 1956 version. The same thing happened with Janis Joplin’s cover of Big Mama’s “Ball n Chain”.
Legend has it that she “died alone and penniless” after years of alcohol abuse, no doubt a result of frustrations and tribulations with the music industry and possibly her struggle with her sexual identity.
Of course today she is celebrated as a queer pioneer who bravely smashed expectations of what was acceptable attire for a lady entertainer.
The Record of the Day is Big Mama's nod to one of her inspirations, Memphis Minnie (a pioneer in her own right). This song was written by Minnie's husband and musical partner Little Son Joe and was originally recorded by Minnie In Chicago in 1941. It has since become a bit of a blues standard.
Big Mama's EXPLOSIVE rock 'n' soul version is from 1965. It took YEARS for me to find an affordable copy. I finally was able to debut it at the last Sugar Town. Dream come true!
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!