Big Mama Thornton “Hound Dog” (1952) A New Discovery
In 1952, when Elvis Presley was still a young man, there was a big & brave lady who recorded Leiber & Stoller’s composition…”Hound Dog.” Yes, she was the first one to lay it down and it went to number one on the R&B charts when she did it. The 45rpm record sold over two million copies! No wonder Elvis later covered the song and made it an even bigger hit.
I just discovered Big Mama Thornton on the MCA/Peacock CD “Hound Dog” “The Peacock recordings” (1992). All of the cuts on here were recorded in the 1950’s but they sound as fresh or better than anything in this vein today. There is a warmth to these old analog recordings you just don’t hear anymore in today’s modern music. I should make it clear that this is the only album of Big Mama’s I’ve heard so I am only recommending it, if you can find it.
Another cut on here I really like among others is “You Don’t Move Me No More.” Cool beat with a single lead guitar riff that repeats itself in a fashion I love. She also performs a duet with the great Johnny Ace called “Yes, Baby” that is very upbeat and moving. Sadly, Johnny died in 1954 in a gun accident that Big Mama witnessed. In another tune, “They Call Me Big Mama”, she comes right out and says she weighs 300 lbs! Pretty cool if you ask me and very unusual from anybody recording then or now. She co-wrote this song and recorded it in 1952. In 1957, she attempted to revisit the “Hound Dog” motif with: “Just Like A Dog Barkin’ Up The Wrong Tree.” I still prefer her original recording of “Hound Dog” which she really wails on in 1952. (Complete with hound dog barking effects by the singer herself).
In the 1960’s, Big Mama made many appearances at important folk and blues festivals like Newport for instance. She loved to dress like a man long before that was in fashion in show business or elsewhere. In 1968, Janis Joplin recorded Big Mama’s “Ball ‘n’ Chain” which was a big hit for her.
Very sadly, Big Mama Thornton died in Los Angeles in 1984. She was broke and penniless. The local blues foundation payed for her burial which is a sad state of things that were and may still be for some other artists.
In my humble opinion, Big Mama was really one of the first Rock & Rollers proving herself in 1952 by recording “Hound Dog” which is truly more of a rock & pop song than a blues song. She was just behind Ike Turner who’s recording of “Rocket 88” is known as the first Rock & Roll song…recorded by Sam Phillips in 1951. So Big Mama was way ahead of her time for both women and musicians in general. I LOVE her 1950’s recordings and would recommend them to everyone!
I myself may be a little late in discovering Big Mama in 2012. But if you haven’t heard her 1950’s stuff…give it a spin!