Fans of Big Mama Thornton will be elated that there is finally a book about her. It is not that surprising that it took a European (Sporke is German) to write it. Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music is certainly a useful reference book, detailing where and when Thornton played and recorded and with whom. There are some interesting interviews with people who played with her, especially in the first two chapters which deal with her early career. But given the title, the book is woefully lacking in information about Thornton’s life off stage and out of the studio.
Granted that many of Thornton’s contemporaries are dead or very old now, but Thompson managed to find and interview a number of musicians, including Tommy Brown and Bill Sheffield, who played with Thornton through the years and presumably knew her well. But there are almost no personal anecdotes that shed light on the woman other than that she could sometimes pick on her band onstage and was tough about getting her money, and she didn’t like to perform with other females. But all that is about her professional life.
There are tiny hints scattered through the book about the larger picture. For instance, Thornton’s sexuality has long been a matter of speculation. Sporke states that the rumors are unsubstantiated, but he offers no further information. He mentions a serious car accident but gives no details. Later in her life, he mentions a serious illness and that she was in a wheelchair for an extended period of time, but gives no further details. Thornton lived with her sister for some years and her sister acted as her manager, but we know absolutely nothing more about that relationship. Surely there are still some living relatives or some archival material to shed more light on these matters.
Who were Thornton’s friends? Who were her enemies? One of the most interesting parts of the book deals with Thornton’s relationship with Johnny Ace and her presence at his death (Ace shot himself in the head while allegedly playing Russian Roulette.) But even that is handled in a fairly unemotional fashion.
Sporke does an excellent job of presenting the facts of Thonton’s musical career and provides enough crumbs about her life and personality to make us want to no more, but the book lacks fire and passion, something Big Mama Thornton never did.
This book will make a useful stepping stone for someone else to come along and tell the rest of the story, but ultimately it left this fan slightly disappointed. I feel that I learned very little about Thornton that I did not already know or that I really cared to know.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0786477598]