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LPs from the Attic: Big Mama Thornton — Big Mama Thornton with Muddy Waters Blues Band 1966

May 3, 2010

Big Mama Thornton — Big Mama Thornton with Muddy Waters Blues Dand (Coast Recorders, 1966 )

Big Mama Thornton

You wouldn't want to mess with Big Mama. On the mic or otherwise.

Few women, past or present, could rock a mic like blues-belting, “Hound Dog” hollering Big Mama Thornton. And–I promise–that’s not some kind of hackneyed comment on Thornton’s physical size.  I’m talking about her vocal presence here, her performance gravitas, her artistic stature. It’s true, she was a big woman; she wasn’t just adopting a cute moniker. What’s far more interesting and intimidating than her physical size was her voice.

Brash, confident, commanding (on record and in person), Big Mama could hold her own with any of her contemporaries of either gender. But she styled herself after and aimed her sights primarily on competing with the male singers and players of her era. She seemed almost hell-bent on making it known that she could drink, cuss, smoke, and throw down on par with any man.

This raw, competitive spirit informs the sound and feel of much of her blues. It’s as much a comment on gender politics and inequality as it is a vibrant, expressive statement that touches on interesting matters of sexual identity.

With an atmosphere evoking drinking, cheating, carousing, and smoke-filled dives, it’s an earthy, energetic record. Big Mama is as soulful as she is sharp-tongued, and it makes for a varied experience that includes as many foot-stomping moments as it does tear-jerking ones.

Check out these tracks, featuring Muddy Waters and his ace band (Otis Spann, Luther Johnson, James Cotton, and Francis Clay). Either you’ll be moved or Big Mama will move you. I said McHeeman had big balls, but Big Mama’s are bigger!

  • I’m Feeling Alright
  • Black Rat – How menacing does she sound here?
  • Everything Gonna Be Alright
  • I Feel the Way I Feel
  • Since I Fell For You

Check out YouTube for more soulful, straightforward, gut-bucket awesomeness from Big Mama. Given how her life ended, any real blues fan owes it to her.

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