Big Mama Thornton

In Europe

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Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was part of the American Folk Blues Festival revue which toured Europe in 1965, so when it was time to record this session on October 20 at Wessex Studio in London, she had a crack impromptu blues band at her disposal, including a young Buddy Guy on guitar, Fred Below on drums, Eddie Boyd on piano and organ, and Jimmie Lee Robinson on bass. Walter "Shakey" Horton added his harmonica on a trio of tracks, and Thornton also sat down and recorded three powerful songs accompanied only by Mississippi Fred McDowell's elegant slide guitar playing. Thornton added her own harmonica and drums to a few tracks, as well, and the end result is a very special blues session that shows off Thornton's multifaceted and expansive stage presence. The original LP from the session came out that same year from Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie Records, and for this CD reissue, six more tracks have been added, including alternate takes of "Hound Dog" and "Swing It on Home," which brings the length of this generous disc to just under 80 minutes. Among the many highlights are a spooky, atmospheric reading of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster," the seemingly autobiographical "Unlucky Girl," which Thornton wrote with Jack DuPree, and a pair of takes of her signature song, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's "Hound Dog." Also worth noting is Thornton's gutbucket drumming on "Session Blues" and the raggedly perfect "I Need Your Love." The showstoppers, though, are the three songs she does with McDowell, whose gorgeous slide playing sets up some of Thornton's most nuanced and measured singing on "My Heavy Load," "School Boy," and the ominous and stunning "Chauffeur Blues." The album ends with Strachwitz interviewing Thornton, and the whole set provides a perfect introduction to this spunky and innovative blues artist.

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