Big Mama Thornton

The Life and Music


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About the Book

You ain’t nothing but a “Hound Dog” … with these words shouted into the microphone she will always be remembered: Big Mama Thornton. Who is this woman who sang the megahit “Hound Dog” before Elvis Presley and who wrote “Ball & Chain,” the song that catapulted Janis Joplin to sudden fame? The story begins with her first musical attempts in the Hot Harlem Revue as a girl of 14. Then the book follows her journey into the Mecca of Texas Blues, Houston, where Big Mama Thornton met Johnny Otis, with whom she recorded her greatest success—“Hound Dog.” With the slowdown of the blues in the early sixties this book follows Big Mama Thornton’s way to California, discusses her struggle to survive and celebrates her impressive musical comeback in the course of the blues revival and the hippie movement. With the end of the sixties, facing a declining interest in the old school blues, the book shows how Big Mama Thornton found her niche in clubs and festivals in the U.S. and Europe. The book then follows Big Mama Thornton through the seventies and eighties until her untimely death.

About the Author(s)

Michael Spörke is a political scientist and author of music biographies. He lives near Duesseldorf in Germany.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Spörke

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 200
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7759-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1422-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix
Preface  1
1. The Early Years of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton  5
2. Hound Dog—The Peacock Years and Johnny Otis  12
3. Unlucky Girl—From Texas to California  37
4. “I’m Feeling Alright”  45
5. Big Mama Thornton’s First European Tour  52
6. Back Home  59
7. Ball and Chain  69
8. The Early Seventies  89
9. Sassy Mama Still Swings  110
10. Life Goes On  124
11. Swing It On Home  133
Epilogue—Big Mama Thornton’s Legacy  149

A: Timeline  151
B: Selected Discography  163
C: Selection of TV Appearances, Films, DVDs and Videos  171

Chapter Notes  173
Bibliography  179
Index  183

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “packed with insights on the musician and her blues roots…a must”—Midwest Book Review
  • “recommended”—ARSC Journal
  • “a labor of love…excellent”—BluesBlast Magazine
  • “Spörke does an admirable job”—The Blues
  • “an impressive amount of research”—Now Dig This
  • “the primary value of this book is…it’s solid research, and in its attention to an often-overlooked musician who is important in the history of American music”—ProtoView