Sunday, July 27, 2008

Words For Warfare

"Motherf**kers, where is my money?" - Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton

A colorful phrasing she was allegedly known to utter whenever she came to collect her royalty checks at her record company. Apparently she had to do it on more than one occasion. Considering that she only got paid $500 for her version of "Hounddog" and Elvis is still making money on that song after being dead over 30 years, I don't blame her.

9 comments:

Janet Shan July 27, 2008 at 12:30 PM  

Wow, that's deep, but I agree.

Shady_Grady July 27, 2008 at 3:54 PM  

I would imagine that Leiber and Stoller made even more money than Thornton or Presley from "Hound Dog" since they wrote it.

The sad thing is that Thornton recorded "Hound Dog" on Peacock records which was owned by the decidedly villainous Don Robey who was notorious for ripping off fellow Blacks as much as he could.

Robey was supposedly part of the inspiration for "Big Red" in the Five Heartbeats movie.

elle July 27, 2008 at 9:20 PM  

I love that picture. It looks like she wouldn't take any sh*t... sh*t like the thinly-veiled comment above mine?

Shady_Grady July 28, 2008 at 5:03 AM  

"Elle: It looks like she wouldn't take any sh*t... sh*t like the thinly-veiled comment above mine?"

I don't know why you think my comment is "sh*t" or "thinly-veiled".

The fact is that Thornton didn't write that song. Neither did Elvis. It's not Elvis' fault that his version proved more popular than Thornton's any more than it was Marvin Gaye's or Aretha Franklin's fault that their cover versions of songs proved more popular than the respective originals by Gladys Knight or Otis Redding respectively.

Big Mama Thornton was ripped off by a lot of people in her life, black and white. From what I know, Elvis wasn't one of them. During his life Elvis was himself being ripped off by his own (white) manager.

Professor Tracey July 28, 2008 at 8:51 AM  

Sorry Shady,

but I got to disagree here. The reason why Elvis recorded the song is because of Big Mama's ripping rendition - her sound. Elvis copied many a sound and song from several black artists and that is ripping someone off in my book.

And the fact that Big Mama was black meant that NOBODY was going to promote her or work to hard to sell her version of the song. To be $500 for a song that white folks swoon over as a blues classic is criminal.

Yes, Elvis got ripped off by the Colonel, but he didn't miss a dime and it was only fair considering all the black artists whose songs he covered that didn't get paid.

And it was a crack and I was cool with it. It really didn't matter who wrote the song in terms of the quote. Elvis never had to threaten anyone to get paid.

Shady_Grady July 28, 2008 at 11:08 AM  

I see it differently, Professor.

Actually Elvis had not heard of Big Mama Thornton when he recorded that song. His immediate inspiration for the song was the cover version by the group "Freddie Bell and the Bellboys" , who he saw perform in Vegas. This was 3 years after the Thornton version.

Obviously being Black hindered unit sales then and now but that is not something we can blame Elvis for. Thornton's version went to #1 on the R&B charts and stayed there for seven weeks in 1953 so someone was working to sell her version.

Elvis' version went to #1 on the pop, C&W and R&B charts in 1956.
His version is not IMO a ripoff of Thornton's version. The arrangements are VERY different.

Everyone is influenced by someone else and takes that into their own presentation. It's what they add to their influences which determines their skill or originality. Chuck Berry reworked the old country song "Ida Red" into "Maybellene" and somehow Bob Wills didn't get any credit. Was that a rip off?

Elvis always talked about his Black influences. He said that the Blacks were better at it than he was and that he didn't start rock and roll. He was one of the few white rock-and-rollers who could authentically play for black audiences-which he did (illegally) in Memphis.

So although he became a symbol of white theft of Black musical styles I don't think the man as an individual was a ripoff artist. If he were people like Junior Parker, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Mavis Staples, Rufus Thomas, Ernest Withers,Isaac Hayes, BB King and others would not have spoken so highly of him.

To me the real ripoff artists are people like Led Zeppelin or Humble Pie who claimed to have written songs they didn't write...

Black on Campus August 7, 2008 at 11:22 PM  

Gotta love this photo...and the quote.

Thanks!

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