Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: “Big Mama” Thorton

Ball and Chain

First recorded (as “Ball ‘n Chain”) by Big Mama Thorton (c. 1961, released 1968).
Hit album version by Big Brother & The Holding Company (1968).

From the wiki: “‘Ball and Chain’ (also known as ‘Ball ‘n Chain’) was written and first recorded by Blues artist Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton (‘Hound Dog‘). Although her recording did not appear on the record charts, ‘Ball ‘n’ Chain’ has become one of Thornton’s best-known songs largely due to performances and recordings by Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company. According to music writer Gillian Gaar, Thornton originally had recorded the song for Bay-Tone Records in the early 1960s, but it was not released until 1968 (by Arhoolie Records). Gaar adds that ‘[Bay-Tone held] on to the copyright – which meant that Thornton missed out on the publishing royalties when Janis Joplin recorded the song later in the decade.’

“However, Thornton’s (and Big Brother/Joplin’s) releases do list ‘W.M. Thornton’ as the songwriter. In 1967, after hearing a set by Big Mama Thornton at the Both/And Club, Joplin and Big Brother guitarist James Gurley asked Thorton if they could record ‘Ball and Chain’. ‘OK, take it – and sing it,’ was all Thorton said and then she meticulously wrote down the lyrics of the song for Gurley to use. With permission granted, and a signed release by Thorton’s manager, Jim Moore, Big Brother & The Holding Company began performing ‘Ball and Chain’ as part of their set.

Hound Dog

First recorded by “Big Mama” Thorton (R&B #1 1953).
Also recorded by Jack Turner & His Granger County Gang (1953), Eddie Hazelwood (1953), Betsy Gay (1953), Tommy Duncan & the Miller Brothers (1953), Freddie Bell & The Bell Boys (1955).
Hit version by Elvis Presley (US #1/C&W #1/R&B #1 1956).

From the wiki: “Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote ‘Hound Dog’ as a 12-bar Blues song. It was first recorded in Los Angeles by Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton in August 1952, and became her only hit record. Credited with contributing to the evolution of R&B into Rock and Roll, Thornton’s recording of ‘Hound Dog’ is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

“In August 1952, R&B bandleader Johnny Otis invited 19-year-old songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to his home to meet Blues singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, a ‘foul-mouthed three-hundred pound R&B singer’. Leiber recalled: ‘We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see … I had to write a song for her that basically said, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ Leiber and Stoller wound up writing a Southern Blues lament, ‘the tale of a woman throwing a gigolo out of her house and her life.’