Two Big M's CD Article
By Teeny Tucker
Big Mama â€œWillie Maeâ€ Thornton and Big Maybelle â€œMabel Louise Smith,â€ were two of the most prolific, and groundbreaking, singers in the history of the Blues genre. Both born in the 1920â€™s and both sang in Baptist gospel choirs which were located just a few miles from each other. This only proves that music is universal and without contributions from these two unique ladies, the world would have missed pure vocal talent that started from the motherâ€™s womb. It canâ€™t be taught, you canâ€™t learn it. It is only a gift from God.
Big Mama Thornton was born Willie Mae Thornton on December 11, 1926 to a Baptist minister and a gospel singing mother who no doubt passed on the gut fire talent to their daughter. During her career, she recorded with the Muddy Waters Blues Band and also recorded such great tunes such as: â€œIâ€™m Feeling Alrightâ€, â€œBumble Beeâ€, â€œand â€œBig Mamaâ€™s Bluesâ€ to name a few. She went on to record â€œBall & Chainâ€ with Lightning Hopkins and other Blues classics such as; â€œHound Dogâ€ and â€œWade in the Waterâ€.
As a tribute, Robert Hughes a fine guitar player, blues historian, and world renowned photographer and I decided to undertake a â€œlabor of loveâ€ to honor and pay tribute to these two great and talented women. The CD titled â€œThe Two Big Mâ€™sâ€ song selections were based on countless hours listening to the material. For almost a year, we listened day and night, night and day until â€œthe right choicesâ€ for this project were revealed. Jerry Leiber and Mike Strollerâ€™s â€œHound Dogâ€ written for Big Mama Thornton in 1952 was a must, one of Big Mamaâ€™s first hits and the one that clearly put her on the map as one of the greatest R&B and Blues singers that ever existed. Three years later, Elvis Presley made â€œHound Dogâ€ a hit and was paid huge dividends, while Big Mama Thornton got a flat five hundred dollars for her version of the song. Another song I thought heavily upon recording was her classic â€œBall & Chainâ€ (written by Big Mama Thornton). This song was one that put Big Mama Thornton in the forefront with male blues singers. Big Mama clearly lead the path for future women blues singers and penned the song that inspired me to write the only original tune on the CD, titled â€œThe Two Big Mâ€™s.â€ Later Janis Joplin, a rock and roll singer from Texas made the classic blues song â€œBall & Chainâ€ a hit. How wonderful to see that Big Mama inspired artists that were classified in other genres of music. Kudos to Janis Joplin!
I love Big Mama Thorntonâ€™s rendition of â€œBumble Beeâ€ recorded with the Muddy Waters Band in 1966. It is a fun song depicting a man that is truly missed by his woman for his prominent manhood and how he can make a woman really feel like a woman. It is a great tune and one of my favorites chosen to go on this project. Some of the other tunes you will hear on this CD from Big Mama Thornton are, â€œHeavy Loadâ€, â€œSassy Mamaâ€ and â€œUnlucky Girl.â€ I feel I put my heart and soul into this project in order to pay admiration and honor to two of the greatest artists that walk among us. Although, there is really only one Big Mama Thornton, I would hope if she were still here and had to critique me, she would say well done my good and faithful servant to the Blues.
Big Mama Thornton Died on July 25, 1984 at the age of 57 in Los Angeles, CA, alone, penniless and under-recognized.
The other great blues lady on this project is Big Maybelle born Mabel Louise Smith on May 1, 1924 in Jackson Tennessee. She too, got her start in the gospel choir and later in her teens, she toured with the all female International of Rhythm and then the Christine Chatman Orchestra as pianist where she made her first recording in 1944. She proved she had what it took to make great songs. She rides in and out of a song using her husky unique tone effortlessly making a song a classic associated with Big Maybelle only. Her big break came in 1953 on her first recording with Okeh Records with the hit song, â€œGabbin Bluesâ€ followed by â€œWay Back Homeâ€ and â€œMy Country Man.â€ Although, â€œMy Country Manâ€ is by far one of my most favorites of Big Maybelle, I chose not to do it on this CD because I did it on my last album, â€œFirst Class Woman.â€
After listening to Big Maybelleâ€™s song lists and a big push from Robert Hughes, I decided her 1955 recording of â€œWhole Lotta Shakinâ€ produced by then, a young Quincy Jones and done so without much commercial success. Nevertheless, this song would be one that I would choose. Many times, Iâ€™d listened to Big Maybelleâ€™s version and then go back and listen to the version of Jerry Lee Lewis a rock & roll singer who recorded it at Sun Records in 1957, placing the song as #3 on the Billboard, #1 on the R&B charts and #1 on the Country charts. In the end, we decided to add it to the project with a flavor and style of our own. Of course, input from Robert Hughesâ€™s was to keep the sound close to the 50â€™s as much as possible. He put his guitar solo spin on it, capturing the sound that makes this song stand on its own. Whole Lotta Shakin is branded in the National Recording Reservation Board as culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States. How much more classic can Big Maybelle get? I hope everyone can enjoy the tribute on this one. Other songs selected from Big Maybelleâ€™s collection are â€œRockhouseâ€, â€œRamblin Bluesâ€, and â€œSaint Louis Blues.â€
Big Maybelle died in a diabetic coma in 1972 in Cleveland, Ohio. Big Maybelle also died penniless and under-recognized. For this reason, I feel grateful to give honor where it is long overdue.
Players on this CD include:
â€¢ Teeny Tucker: Lead Vocals
â€¢ Robert Hughes: All Guitar Tracks
â€¢ Vernon Hairston: All Keyboards & Hammond B3
â€¢ Drums: Jeff Peters & Tom Sawyer
â€¢ Bass: Robert Blackburn
â€¢ Harmonica: David Gastel
The fabulous background singers include:
â€¢ Mary Lusco-Ashley;
â€¢ Paula Brown
â€¢ Jackie Tate,
Thanks to Robert and Elaine Hughes for all the support on this entire project.
Two Big Mâ€™s is due to release in the very near future. By all means, check it out. I think it is one of my best yet! This CD was long overdue, but the wait was worth it. ENJOY!
Best regards to blues lovers everywhere and a special thanks to all my fans!
To purchase this CD go to www.teenytucker.com.