Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton helped lay the groundwork for rock & roll in 1953 with her raw electric blues single "Hound Dog" (later covered by Elvis Presley). THE WAY IT IS finds Thornton performing at an L.A. rock club 16 years later, after the rock revolution she and her peers inspired had effectively usurped the blues as the music of the people. Yet at a time when everyone from Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy was making concessions to the rock market in an effort to stay contemporary, Thornton stuck to her guns. For this concert, she relies on the same gritty, old-school blues sound that made her famous.
In fact, during a slow-burning workout on a medley of "Baby Please Don't Go" and "Mojo Workin'," the former recorded at a rave-up tempo by seemingly every garage-rock band of the mid-'60s, Thornton off-handedly remarks "this is the old-time version." Nevertheless, it's easy to hear her cocky, sexually assertive swagger on "Little Red Rooster" and "Rock Me Baby" and see where Janis Joplin got much of her inspiration. While a juiced-up take on the gospel standard "Wade in the Water" flirts with a rock beat, the bulk of THE WAY IT IS offers an unadulterated blues sound, the way it always was for Big Mama Thornton.