Who was/is Big Mama Thornton ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton

Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton with Kansas City Bill and Orchestra

Hound Dog

(Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller-J. Otis)

Peacock 1612

"They call me Big Mama!"  bellowed Willie Mae Thornton at her August 13, 1952 L.A. session for Peacock Records. She weighed at least 250 pounds and was one of the few artists on the label that actually intimidated Don Robey, the boss of Houston's Peacock Records and no shrinking violet himself. But that wasn't the eventual smash Big Mama laid down that day with Johnny Otis' band. That honor went to a rough-hewn, humorous blues supplied by young Jewish composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose Hound Dog made Big Mama an R&B star.

Thornton was born in Montgomery, Alabama on December 11, 1926, her father a minister. Young Willie Mae started singing in church, but by 14 she was on the road performing, joining Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue during the early '40s. When they hit Houston in 1948, Willie Mae made it her home. Competent on harmonica and drums, she made her recording debut in 1950, fronting the Harlem All Stars' All Right Baby for tiny E&W. Then Robey discovered her, pairing her with Joe Scott's combo and then Bill Harvey's outfit for her first two Peacock dates in 1951.

Otis pared down his horn-leavened band to only its rhythm section for Hound Dog, giving it a particularly lowdown feel and playing drums himself with Albert Winston on bass. Pete Lewis' snarling guitar winds around Big Mama's growls and cuts loose on a magnificent multi-chorus solo. The track held down the top slot on the R&B charts for seven weeks in the spring of '53 and inspired answer records from Rufus Thomas, Jr. on Sun (a hit in its own right, Bear Cat attracted a lawsuit from Robey) and John Brim on Checker (Rattlesnake).

Despite a string of excellent Peacock follow-ups that stretched into 1957, Big Mama never notched another hit. She moved to L.A. and made obscure 45s for Bay-Tone, Irma, Kent, and Sotoplay. Her fortunes finally brightened when she toured Europe with the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival and then cut her first LPs for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label. When Janis Joplin introduced Big Mama's Ball And Chain to a new demographic, Thornton's profile increased significantly. It wasn't the first time a Thornton number did well for someone else. Elvis' rocket-fueled revival of Hound Dog with Scotty Moore's elastic guitar breaks paced the pop hit parade for 11 weeks in 1956. Ironically, Presley didn't pick up on Big Mama's original as cover material until he heard Freddie Bell & The Bellboys do it in Vegas.

Thornton's last few years weren't pretty. Dogged by alcoholism, ailing and poor, she was found dead on the floor of her L.A. boarding house on July 25, 1984 at age 57.

- Bill Dahl -

Chicago, Illinois


Electric Blues 1939-2005. - The Definitive Collection!

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Big Mama Thornton: You Did Me Wrong - Midnight Blues 7inch, 45rpm
Art-Nr.: REP20027

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$12.69 *

Big Mama Thornton: Hound Dog - The Peacock Recordings
Art-Nr.: CDMCAD10668

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(1952-57 'Peacock') (47:17/18)

$13.28 *

Big Mama Thornton: With The Muddy Waters Blues Band
Art-Nr.: CDARH9043

Currently not available

(1966 'Arhoolie') (63:49/17) Vielleicht die beste Aufnahmesession von Big Mama Thornton. In jenen Tagen spielte Muddy mit seiner Band in San Francisco, und Produzent Chris Strachwitz fragte, ob er vielleicht Lust habe, Big Mama im Studio zu begleiten. Ohne...

$17.41 *

Big Mama Thornton: Hound Dog - Essential Collection
Art-Nr.: CDHMN048

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1951-56 'Duke/Peacock') (57:37/22) Ihre ausgezeichneten frühen Blues- und R&B-Aufnahmen aus Texas / Her excellent early blues and r&b recordings made in Texas.

$11.74 *

Big Mama Thornton: I Smell A Rat b-w They Call Me Big Mama 7inch, 45rpm
Art-Nr.: REP20041

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Classic R&B shouter. Great twin spin!

$12.69 *

Big Mama Thornton: Jail (LP)
Art-Nr.: LPVSD79351

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(1987/Vanguard) 7 tracks - Recorded live at Monroe State Prison in Monroe, Washington and Oregon State Reformatory in Eugene, Oregon!

$29.44 *

Big Mama Thornton: In Europe (Limited Edition,180g Red Vinyl,Mono)
Art-Nr.: LPARH1028

Currently not available

(2015/Arhoolie) 11 tracks.  'In Europe' was recorded on October 20th, 1965 while Big Mama Thornton was part of the Folk Blues Festival revue that was touring Europe at the time. The sessions finds her in great form with an ace backing band offering killer...

$43.60 *

Big Mama Thornton: Complete 1950-61
Art-Nr.: CD2742238

Currently not available

​2013 'Le Chant Du Monde', 94:12/35, 2-CD.

$21.18 *

Big Mama Thornton: The Queen At Monterey (LP, Ltd, Purple Vnyl)
Art-Nr.: LPARH10322

Currently not available

(2016/Arhoolie) 10 tracks. r> Her LP from 1967, feat. Muddy Waters and his Chicago Blues Band incl. Otis Spann & James Cotton. Limited edition 500 copies purple color vinyl!

$35.34 *