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Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim and Big Mama Thornton discuss their careers in the blues and describe some of their songs

BROADCAST: 1970 | DURATION: 00:30:59

Synopsis

Studs interviews blues singers Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, and Willie Mae Big Mama Thornton about the blues. They discuss the blues festival in Chicago for which they are all in town for and name other musicians who will be performing. Sunnyland Slim talks about being on the road and the hard times. Thornton describes the blues as music made from life experiences. She talks about some of her big hits such as "Hound Dog" and "Ball and Chain." Dixon describes the blues as "a story told with a feeling." He describes one of his hits with Koko Taylor, "Insane Asylum." They talk about how blues singers are big hits in foreign countries but unknown in their own United States. All musical numbers are removed from this edited version of the original recording.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel So as we listen to Willie Dixon talking and playing, "Walkin' the Blues", his piece, he's one of the performers at this remarkable Blues Festival, the reach-out with him are two of his co-performers, co-stars: Big Mama Thornton, Willie Mae Thornton, probably the most powerful woman singer of the blues alive today, and Sunnyland Slim, who has been a remarkable blues man and friend, a blues artist many years in Chicago. So we're sitting around talking, we just heard Willie, "Walkin' the Bl" -- well, I suppose the first question is, everybody asks: "What's the blues?" Now, I ask this of Willie Dixon, or of Willie Mae Thornton, or Sunnyland Slim.

Willie Dixon Well, the blues is a feeling. The blues is a feeling that's expressed in a song and that's the blues.

Willie Mae Thornton That's right, man. That's right. And I -- if you don't believe it, ask me.

Studs Terkel I'm asking you. We're, we're asking you, Big Mama

Willie Mae Thornton Well, when you've been blue all your life you got to know what it's all about. And that ain't no stage joke. Sometimes I didn't even have nothing to eat, even a soda cracker tasted like cheese and cake.

Studs Terkel Where was this?

Willie Mae Thornton Well, you know, I was born in Alabama and I started traveling when I was around 14-15 years old, singing with a show called the Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue out of Atlanta, Georgia, and -- we traveled. So I decided I wanted to sing the blues. Of course, I was a chorus girl, I was dancing. I didn't like dancing, so I told her, I said I want to sing. So I've been singing ever since the early '40s.

Studs Terkel You know, that phrase that Big Mama Thornton used, Sunnyland Slim, that that soda cracker tastes like, that soda cracker tastes like cheese and crackers,

Willie Mae Thornton Cheese and cake.

Studs Terkel Cheese and cake.

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah.

Sunnyland Slim Well, you have a

Willie Mae Thornton -- Chicken and--anything! It really was really nice!

Sunnyland Slim Well, you know, you have a lot of things to go through when you're traveling sometimes. You have ups and downs, and good days and bad days. Like, when I started out, why, wasn't no demand for -- only honky tonks, mostly, and minstrel shows like that. Florida Blossom, Silas Green, Sugarfoot, and all of them fellas.

Studs Terkel What, where

Sunnyland Slim That's in Mississippi.

Studs Terkel In Mississippi.

Sunnyland Slim And they don't wanna come out in the fall of the year when they pickin' cotton, you know. And the first little job I had was 1923 for Hot Shot, that Lambert's Mississippi, they paid me a dollar and a half a night, that was a lot of money. You plow a mule here and work all week you get six bits a day, you use extra good hay.

Studs Terkel How long ago was this? Isn't this something? Six bits is--

Sunnyland Slim 1923 or '24, I begin to be known about in Memphis in 1925. I played down in Mississippi. And I never knowed, one of the first fellas I got to know anything about, well I knowed of Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, and then I come to Memphis and I went to St. Louis. I met Lonnie's brother, Steady Roll. And me and him went together out. Then I come back and I had the pleasure of working with Georgia Tom's girl and we didn't know hardly which way it was going. This was out in Georgia. That's -- Ma Rainey. She didn't have, she fell short of a piano player in Arkansas. She had Georgia Tom, he went back,

Studs Terkel That's Professor Thomas A. Dorsey?

Sunnyland Slim Yeah.

Studs Terkel Who's now the leading -- isn't that interesting? He's the leading gospel writer, which leads to a point. Now, Willie I'm thinking about Big Mama Thornton, the connection of hymns, church music. Here's a man who was saved. He played, he played the blues for Ma Rainey

Willie Dixon -- Sure

Studs Terkel The man writes hymns and gospel music, I'm thinking about Big Mama Thornton, Willie Mae Thornton, we'll come to Willie Dixon in a moment. You, your people were church people.

Willie Mae Thornton That's right. My father was a minister. He's a Baptist preacher, and my mother she was very religious. And me, I don't know what I am, I'm

Willie Dixon Well, you was just born with the blues.

Willie Mae Thornton I guess you right, I was just in between all of it, and I really got the blues, you know, in '39 when I lost my mother, and then I said, "Well, I, I don't know what to do." I said, "Well, I think I want to sing the blues." So I said, well, that time I, I, I was listening to Big Maceo this "Worried Life Blues" and I said I think I want to sing that, and I did.

Willie Dixon That was a beautiful number.

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah. Show came through in, in the first of the '40s and called it Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue as I mentioned earlier. They didn't have a singer, and so I asked him I said, "Give me an audition, let me sing," I said, "I've been singing all the little talent shows around here." He said, "Oh, little 'ole girl, you can't sing." I said, "Will you give me a try?" He said, "Yeah, well, when the show start, say we gonna give a little"

Willie Dixon Audition.

Willie Mae Thornton "Audition for singers, 'cause I'm looking for a singer." And so he give auditions. So I was there, he wrote my name down, and several people they sung, and then he said, "Well, I, I want to see what you can do." So I got up there, I had an old pair of jeans, [laughing] one leg rolled up, I got up and I started singing one of Louis Jordan's song called "G.I. Jive," and I sung that song, and I sang this blues by Big Maceo and

Studs Terkel "Worried Life Blues."

Willie Mae Thornton "Worried Life Blues," and he hired me. Out of 25 people, I was the 26th but then he hired me.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of, as, as Mama Thornton is recalling, which one of her songs -- this as a record, as an old album of hers, she has a new album, an old album, Big Mama Thornton in Europe, when you were in Europe, which one of hers should we have, Willie? What do you think? Should we do "Hound Dog," do you think? That was a popular one. That's not exactly

Willie Dixon "Hound Dog" was really about [blues?].

Studs Terkel That's the

Willie Dixon She had quite a few popular numbers there.

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah, cause that's it before "Hound Dog" was out, I had a hit record called "Let Your Tears Fall Baby."

Studs Terkel The thing is, of course Elvis Presley is known for "Hound Dog" and yet people hear both will say "Well, you know, there is when Willie Mae Thornton sings." So we hear, let's -- from this record. As you sang this in Europe at the time.

Willie Mae Thornton Yes, I recorded that in London. [pause in recording]

Studs Terkel As we listen to Willie Mae, Big Mama Thornton and "Hound Dog," the feeling of, this may not be blues in the traditional sense. This particular number. This is a written number, right?

Willie Dixon Well, frankly it's the blues, because just like I explained to you. In a story that's told with a feeling, an expression, is the blues.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about yourself

Willie Dixon The blues is a feeling.

Studs Terkel Is a feeling. About yourself and also people like Sunnyland Slim and Willie Mae Thornton and Willie Dixon have lived it, too. The point is you lived it.

Willie Mae Thornton Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh, man!

Willie Dixon Well, really, if you haven't lived it, you haven't had it.

Willie Mae Thornton That's right, and look, if you -- look, if you haven't been around, where I've been, which, the youngsters now, they'll never be where -- they'll never make that statement, you know because now they're born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and they think they can sing the blues. The blues is not based on silver spoons. You got to go out and live it and experience it and then you will know.

Studs Terkel You know, I -- Willie, were you going to say something?

Willie Dixon You see, one thing about the blues, what makes it different because people can go out and experience the blues today and it's not like the blues that you experienced yesterday. You see, just like Mama say, that silver spoon business, is it makes the kids have a different idea from the idea that we had years ago, because the idea that we had years ago was all work, hard times, trouble, and a very little good time. But then you know as the blues was being made from the beginning, it started way back from even before slavery where the people had to have something to survive on. You know the laws of nature has always fixed it so that if a person was being fitted to do something, the laws of nature always helped them. Just like if you was gonna to cut wood or something like that, at first for a while you don't know whether -- the laws of nature don't know whether you're going to stick with this job or not. So your hands get sore and all like that, but after a while, after a couple of days it look like you goin stick with it, then comes corns in your hand and your muscle get hard, and everything

Willie Mae Thornton Hey man I tell you all, you know I've got two corns in my hand and I ain't been doing nothing but sitting down.

Willie Dixon Yeah, but you didn't get the corns from sitting down.

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah I did!

Willie Dixon Oh, well, they aren't in your hands. [laughing]

Studs Terkel You know, as, as Mama Thornton and Willie Dixon are, are kidding yet the truth is there, Sunnyland Slim explained earlier, too, that you have to live it, of course. I'm thinking about hard times that Willie Dixon mentioned, that you did, Mama Thornton, Sunnyland, you, you spoke of you got a dollar and a half for the night was great, the man who, who, who was pulling with the mule got -- you're talking 1923 before what America called the big Depression.

Willie Mae Thornton Right.

Sunnyland Slim Well, nobody out there in those days but Lonnie Johnson, and Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and Clara Smith and Blind Boy Fuller. And a few other things. Bob (unintelligible) brother, Big Bill was just beginning to come. Joe Williams was about the first one.

Willie Mae Thornton But what about Mamie?

Sunnyland Slim Mamie was out there then, see. Them backwater days when they talk about that 27 high water, they was all out.

Willie Mae Thornton What about Ida Cox, was she out there? All of 'em was out. Yeah,

Sunnyland Slim Yeah, they was out

Willie Mae Thornton You know, I remember, I'd, I just started, I just started hearing the blues of Bessie Smith, well I was a kid myself, you know. I was a young, type of youngster always running around the house humming the blues and my daddy wanted to get me with the razor strop, but I hit the door.

Sunnyland Slim Well, really, really you take -- Mama will tell you, when Bessie was singing, we didn't have things, wasn't easy for peoples like it was now. Because I was scared to play in Mississippi too much because my father had pastored. The same year that Big Bill died my father and my old lady died, too, in '39 -- '59. But I, I didn't -- he pastored one church for 38 years there in Rich, Mississippi, and I didn't -- didn't want to come right up under my daddy. He was such a good, great worker and church worker. I didn't want to come right up under my parents and, and play the blues so I would stray off. And then I didn't like my stepmother, that, that caused a lot of [goin?], in those days. And until I run up and I come in, run up on Big Bill and them fellas. It put me more

Studs Terkel But this is something, is the fact that -- we'll come back to this. What we're talking about, the opposition, the obstacles. But we hear Sunnyland Slim, "I Sure Got a Thing" -- you like, I think that's one of Sunnyland's, "I Sure Got a Thing

Willie Dixon "I've Got A Thing Going On."

Willie Mae Thornton Oh, she got

Willie Dixon

Studs Terkel So as we listen to Willie Dixon talking and playing, "Walkin' the Blues", his piece, he's one of the performers at this remarkable Blues Festival, the reach-out with him are two of his co-performers, co-stars: Big Mama Thornton, Willie Mae Thornton, probably the most powerful woman singer of the blues alive today, and Sunnyland Slim, who has been a remarkable blues man and friend, a blues artist many years in Chicago. So we're sitting around talking, we just heard Willie, "Walkin' the Bl" -- well, I suppose the first question is, everybody asks: "What's the blues?" Now, I ask this of Willie Dixon, or of Willie Mae Thornton, or Sunnyland Slim. Well, the blues is a feeling. The blues is a feeling that's expressed in a song and that's the blues. That's right, man. That's right. And I -- if you don't believe it, ask me. I'm asking you. We're, we're asking you, Big Mama Well, when you've been blue all your life you got to know what it's all about. And that ain't no stage joke. Sometimes I didn't even have nothing to eat, even a soda cracker tasted like cheese and cake. Where was this? Well, you know, I was born in Alabama and I started traveling when I was around 14-15 years old, singing with a show called the Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue out of Atlanta, Georgia, and -- we traveled. So I decided I wanted to sing the blues. Of course, I was a chorus girl, I was dancing. I didn't like dancing, so I told her, I said I want to sing. So I've been singing ever since the early '40s. You know, that phrase that Big Mama Thornton used, Sunnyland Slim, that that soda cracker tastes like, that soda cracker tastes like cheese and crackers, is Cheese and cake. Cheese and cake. Yeah. Well, you have a -- Chicken and--anything! It really was really nice! Well, you know, you have a lot of things to go through when you're traveling sometimes. You have ups and downs, and good days and bad days. Like, when I started out, why, wasn't no demand for -- only honky tonks, mostly, and minstrel shows like that. Florida Blossom, Silas Green, Sugarfoot, and all of them fellas. What, where was That's in Mississippi. In Mississippi. And they don't wanna come out in the fall of the year when they pickin' cotton, you know. And the first little job I had was 1923 for Hot Shot, that Lambert's Mississippi, they paid me a dollar and a half a night, that was a lot of money. You plow a mule here and work all week you get six bits a day, you use extra good hay. How long ago was this? Isn't this something? Six bits is-- 1923 or '24, I begin to be known about in Memphis in 1925. I played down in Mississippi. And I never knowed, one of the first fellas I got to know anything about, well I knowed of Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, and then I come to Memphis and I went to St. Louis. I met Lonnie's brother, Steady Roll. And me and him went together out. Then I come back and I had the pleasure of working with Georgia Tom's girl and we didn't know hardly which way it was going. This was out in Georgia. That's -- Ma Rainey. She didn't have, she fell short of a piano player in Arkansas. She had Georgia Tom, he went back, too That's Professor Thomas A. Dorsey? Yeah. Who's now the leading -- isn't that interesting? He's the leading gospel writer, which leads to a point. Now, Willie I'm thinking about Big Mama Thornton, the connection of hymns, church music. Here's a man who was saved. He played, he played the blues for Ma Rainey -- Sure The man writes hymns and gospel music, I'm thinking about Big Mama Thornton, Willie Mae Thornton, we'll come to Willie Dixon in a moment. You, your people were church people. That's right. My father was a minister. He's a Baptist preacher, and my mother she was very religious. And me, I don't know what I am, I'm -- Well, you was just born with the blues. I guess you right, I was just in between all of it, and I really got the blues, you know, in '39 when I lost my mother, and then I said, "Well, I, I don't know what to do." I said, "Well, I think I want to sing the blues." So I said, well, that time I, I, I was listening to Big Maceo this "Worried Life Blues" and I said I think I want to sing that, and I did. That was a beautiful number. Yeah. Show came through in, in the first of the '40s and called it Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue as I mentioned earlier. They didn't have a singer, and so I asked him I said, "Give me an audition, let me sing," I said, "I've been singing all the little talent shows around here." He said, "Oh, little 'ole girl, you can't sing." I said, "Will you give me a try?" He said, "Yeah, well, when the show start, say we gonna give a little" -- Audition. "Audition for singers, 'cause I'm looking for a singer." And so he give auditions. So I was there, he wrote my name down, and several people they sung, and then he said, "Well, I, I want to see what you can do." So I got up there, I had an old pair of jeans, [laughing] one leg rolled up, I got up and I started singing one of Louis Jordan's song called "G.I. Jive," and I sung that song, and I sang this blues by Big Maceo and -- "Worried Life Blues." "Worried Life Blues," and he hired me. Out of 25 people, I was the 26th but then he hired me. I'm thinking of, as, as Mama Thornton is recalling, which one of her songs -- this as a record, as an old album of hers, she has a new album, an old album, Big Mama Thornton in Europe, when you were in Europe, which one of hers should we have, Willie? What do you think? Should we do "Hound Dog," do you think? That was a popular one. That's not exactly a "Hound Dog" was really about [blues?]. That's the one She had quite a few popular numbers there. Yeah, cause that's it before "Hound Dog" was out, I had a hit record called "Let Your Tears Fall Baby." The thing is, of course Elvis Presley is known for "Hound Dog" and yet people hear both will say "Well, you know, there is when Willie Mae Thornton sings." So we hear, let's -- from this record. As you sang this in Europe at the time. Yes, I recorded that in London. [pause in recording] As we listen to Willie Mae, Big Mama Thornton and "Hound Dog," the feeling of, this may not be blues in the traditional sense. This particular number. This is a written number, right? Well, frankly it's the blues, because just like I explained to you. In a story that's told with a feeling, an expression, is the blues. I'm thinking about yourself -- The blues is a feeling. Is a feeling. About yourself and also people like Sunnyland Slim and Willie Mae Thornton and Willie Dixon have lived it, too. The point is you lived it. Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh, man! Well, really, if you haven't lived it, you haven't had it. That's right, and look, if you -- look, if you haven't been around, where I've been, which, the youngsters now, they'll never be where -- they'll never make that statement, you know because now they're born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and they think they can sing the blues. The blues is not based on silver spoons. You got to go out and live it and experience it and then you will know. You know, I -- Willie, were you going to say something? You see, one thing about the blues, what makes it different because people can go out and experience the blues today and it's not like the blues that you experienced yesterday. You see, just like Mama say, that silver spoon business, is it makes the kids have a different idea from the idea that we had years ago, because the idea that we had years ago was all work, hard times, trouble, and a very little good time. But then you know as the blues was being made from the beginning, it started way back from even before slavery where the people had to have something to survive on. You know the laws of nature has always fixed it so that if a person was being fitted to do something, the laws of nature always helped them. Just like if you was gonna to cut wood or something like that, at first for a while you don't know whether -- the laws of nature don't know whether you're going to stick with this job or not. So your hands get sore and all like that, but after a while, after a couple of days it look like you goin stick with it, then comes corns in your hand and your muscle get hard, and everything fits Hey man I tell you all, you know I've got two corns in my hand and I ain't been doing nothing but sitting down. Yeah, but you didn't get the corns from sitting down. Yeah I did! Oh, well, they aren't in your hands. [laughing] You know, as, as Mama Thornton and Willie Dixon are, are kidding yet the truth is there, Sunnyland Slim explained earlier, too, that you have to live it, of course. I'm thinking about hard times that Willie Dixon mentioned, that you did, Mama Thornton, Sunnyland, you, you spoke of you got a dollar and a half for the night was great, the man who, who, who was pulling with the mule got -- you're talking 1923 before what America called the big Depression. Right. Well, nobody out there in those days but Lonnie Johnson, and Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and Clara Smith and Blind Boy Fuller. And a few other things. Bob (unintelligible) brother, Big Bill was just beginning to come. Joe Williams was about the first one. But what about Mamie? Mamie was out there then, see. Them backwater days when they talk about that 27 high water, they was all out. What about Ida Cox, was she out there? All of 'em was out. Yeah, they was out You know, I remember, I'd, I just started, I just started hearing the blues of Bessie Smith, well I was a kid myself, you know. I was a young, type of youngster always running around the house humming the blues and my daddy wanted to get me with the razor strop, but I hit the door. Well, really, really you take -- Mama will tell you, when Bessie was singing, we didn't have things, wasn't easy for peoples like it was now. Because I was scared to play in Mississippi too much because my father had pastored. The same year that Big Bill died my father and my old lady died, too, in '39 -- '59. But I, I didn't -- he pastored one church for 38 years there in Rich, Mississippi, and I didn't -- didn't want to come right up under my daddy. He was such a good, great worker and church worker. I didn't want to come right up under my parents and, and play the blues so I would stray off. And then I didn't like my stepmother, that, that caused a lot of [goin?], in those days. And until I run up and I come in, run up on Big Bill and them fellas. It put me more [unintelligible]. But this is something, is the fact that -- we'll come back to this. What we're talking about, the opposition, the obstacles. But we hear Sunnyland Slim, "I Sure Got a Thing" -- you like, I think that's one of Sunnyland's, "I Sure Got a Thing Going." "I've Got A Thing Going On." Oh, she got a That Oh, Koko Memphis

Willie Mae Thornton Oh, she!

Studs Terkel Someone like, like Mama

Sunnyland Slim Yeah, she was, she was on there, she was with me when, when I went in to record -- Belinda, yeah

Willie Mae Thornton I might have played the drums on that, I don't know.

Studs Terkel We'll hear about Mama Thornton, the drums -- we'll hear it now. [pause in recording] "She Got a Thing Going --". We heard -- that might have been you at the drums Mama the

Willie Mae Thornton I don't know which one it was, but I was on the drums there on one of his

Studs Terkel I guess that's the story. Willie, how she came -- Mama Thornton came to the drums. How'd you come to the drums?

Willie Mae Thornton Well, now, this is just what you call a accidental something. They had a place called the La Tapatia there in San Francisco, and I walks in there one night, and they had a drum set up and no drummer. And, and a guy, he was over there reminiscing around the piano, so I sit down on the drums, and just kept a rhythm beat going. And he says, he looked at the band leader, he said, "Hey! She played pretty good beat there," says "We don't have a drummer." Say, "Well, it'd make the gig," say, "Well, we'd just pay her what we were going to pay the drummer, and maybe she'd stay." So the cat was leading the band, he said, "Well, you know, we're not making that kind of money." And he say, "But it is paying

Studs Terkel Fifteen cents a night?

Sunnyland Slim Fifteen cents, that's

Studs Terkel Oh, fifteen dollars.

Willie Mae Thornton See, that's, that's the scale, see, that's union scale right at that particular time. But since then they went up.

Sunnyland Slim Everything went up.

Studs Terkel We know that

Willie Mae Thornton So, so I played that night and, and, and when they, when I got off, he gave me my money. And he said, "Where do you live?" I said, "I live right around [Danny?] Hotel. He says, "You mean you live right around the corner?" I said, "Yeah, I just walked up." And then he started talking to somebody else, so I walked away. Now, he hadn't still -- he don't know I'm the original "Hound Dog." He don't know I'm Big Mama Thornton. All he just wanted somebody up there peeling the skins. And when I left, some cat said, "Hey. Do you know who you had playing drums all night for you?" And the cat said, "Who?" He said, "That lady there is the original 'You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog,' said, that's Willie Mae 'Big Mama Thornton'." And the cat just, he told me he said the expression he got on his face, he said, "Oh, I got her address, I gotta go down and tell her, and and I'm gonna go round there and give her some more money, because I didn't know she was a, I didn't know she was [laughing] a blues singer." I hadn't been too long, going back to the hospital in fact I had an operation, see and then, and so from then on he came right at me, he fired the drummer and told me, he say "I want you to play every night." And from that day on we got a rehearsal, we rehearsed and we got things down, and the man gave us more money because I was singing and playing drums, so he raised up, he give us more money, and because we was piling 'em in after they put the sign out there that I was the one that made "Hound Dog" and so we started making pretty good salary. And for the man, the man was making pretty good money. So we have to do, see he was making good money, then there here comes some people want to start to fighting in the place and, you know the man, the man down the street, cause he was drawing all the peoples up there, he sent somebody up the street there that, to break up the man's place, police started coming, so the man closed up.

Studs Terkel But I'm thinking about something -- isn't this amazing, I'm going to ask about the piano. Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim, you just sat down the drums, you had no training

Willie Mae Thornton Never.

Studs Terkel And harmonica the same way?

Willie Mae Thornton Never. I never took a lesson of music at all.

Studs Terkel Suppose we hear -- we'll switch things around. We'll hear Willie Dixon "Insane Asylum" a little later. Suppose we hear Big Mama Thornton, this -- the thing she's talking about. In "Session Blues," is that you playing the drums, or should we hear the harmonica?

Willie Mae Thornton Well, I'm playing drums, and singing on "Session Blues," and Shakey Horton is blowing the harmonica. This young man right here.

Studs Terkel What should we do? Yeah. Shakey Horton playing harmonica, so, so we'll do "Session Blues,"

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah,

Studs Terkel "Session Blues."

Willie Dixon Crazy. [pause in recording]

Studs Terkel Willie Mae, Big Mama Thornton and she and Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, my three guests this morning will be performing at that big reach-out festival at Grant Park that Saturday.

Willie Dixon Yes. Speaking of this reach-out program, you, you know Chicago has been noted to be the Mecca city of the blues around the world, and the Chicago musicians has been going all over the world producing the blues for everybody, but we have never featured the blues here in Chicago like it should have been featured when this should have been the first city recognized and in respecting the blues because ever since the early '20s all people had built the blues right here in Chicago. And this is one of the things that we're doing here now, we're bringing these entertainers in here, and all of them had something to do with the building of Chicago being the Mecca city of the blues. That's why they got all these various entertainers that you've never heard, and lots of them go to these foreign countries and things and make big programs and turn out big recordings and make it real big and come back here, and nobody never know anything about them.

Studs Terkel You know that's the story, that's, that's, that's so funny isn't it? That you, Big Mama Thornton, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Big Bill were so much better known. I remember when I was in Europe! Your names were all known, but you weren't known in your own home country.

Willie Mae Thornton That's right. You know that's true. We make a bigger hit over, over in there in Europe and

Willie Dixon And all the foreign countries all over the world.

Sunnyland Slim In fact, me and Willie made three pictures over this time.

Willie Dixon Yeah, we make movies, television, radio and everything.

Willie Mae Thornton You take for instance this picture here. That was taken, that was on a TV show in Amsterdam, Holland.

Studs Terkel Amsterdam, this is Big Mama Thornton, this is in Europe, Arhoolie label. Suppose I'm thinking how Mama Thornton came to play the harmonica on her own and drums, I'm thinking of Willie Dixon and sometimes, the piano. You and -- and you also, you're composing Willie. This on your own, too?

Willie Dixon Well, I play the bass. I was playing the bass, I had several different units before we this, I had the Big Three Trio, Four Jumps of Jive, and we was recording for a lot of different companies, and I started producing for various companies and things like that all over, and writing quite a few songs.

Studs Terkel There's something you said earlier, and perhaps you and Sunnyland who have lived in Chicago for a number of years can talk about -- Chicago became the center. It's when the movements, is it because a lot of people, Black people moving up to Chicago, to get jobs in the stockyards?

Willie Dixon And they could always get a job in the stockyards, as a part-time, then they could always work on the weekend or at night playing some house party or gigs or something, and then the time he get himself the least bit known, somebody else, some of these various people from foreign countries would walk in, grab him and take him off and record him, and then the next thing you know, he's into something and then he don't have to go back to the other thing no more. And by doing this, it's been thousands, I mean literally thousands of people that we can't even call their names. You take like Victoria Spivey and Tampa Red and all those from way back

Studs Terkel -- Big Maceo, who, who

Willie Dixon Big Maceo

Willie Mae Thornton

Willie Dixon

Studs Terkel So as we listen to Willie Dixon talking and playing, "Walkin' the Blues", his piece, he's one of the performers at this remarkable Blues Festival, the reach-out with him are two of his co-performers, co-stars: Big Mama Thornton, Willie Mae Thornton, probably the most powerful woman singer of the blues alive today, and Sunnyland Slim, who has been a remarkable blues man and friend, a blues artist many years in Chicago. So we're sitting around talking, we just heard Willie, "Walkin' the Bl" -- well, I suppose the first question is, everybody asks: "What's the blues?" Now, I ask this of Willie Dixon, or of Willie Mae Thornton, or Sunnyland Slim. Well, the blues is a feeling. The blues is a feeling that's expressed in a song and that's the blues. That's right, man. That's right. And I -- if you don't believe it, ask me. I'm asking you. We're, we're asking you, Big Mama Well, when you've been blue all your life you got to know what it's all about. And that ain't no stage joke. Sometimes I didn't even have nothing to eat, even a soda cracker tasted like cheese and cake. Where was this? Well, you know, I was born in Alabama and I started traveling when I was around 14-15 years old, singing with a show called the Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue out of Atlanta, Georgia, and -- we traveled. So I decided I wanted to sing the blues. Of course, I was a chorus girl, I was dancing. I didn't like dancing, so I told her, I said I want to sing. So I've been singing ever since the early '40s. You know, that phrase that Big Mama Thornton used, Sunnyland Slim, that that soda cracker tastes like, that soda cracker tastes like cheese and crackers, is Cheese and cake. Cheese and cake. Yeah. Well, you have a -- Chicken and--anything! It really was really nice! Well, you know, you have a lot of things to go through when you're traveling sometimes. You have ups and downs, and good days and bad days. Like, when I started out, why, wasn't no demand for -- only honky tonks, mostly, and minstrel shows like that. Florida Blossom, Silas Green, Sugarfoot, and all of them fellas. What, where was That's in Mississippi. In Mississippi. And they don't wanna come out in the fall of the year when they pickin' cotton, you know. And the first little job I had was 1923 for Hot Shot, that Lambert's Mississippi, they paid me a dollar and a half a night, that was a lot of money. You plow a mule here and work all week you get six bits a day, you use extra good hay. How long ago was this? Isn't this something? Six bits is-- 1923 or '24, I begin to be known about in Memphis in 1925. I played down in Mississippi. And I never knowed, one of the first fellas I got to know anything about, well I knowed of Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, and then I come to Memphis and I went to St. Louis. I met Lonnie's brother, Steady Roll. And me and him went together out. Then I come back and I had the pleasure of working with Georgia Tom's girl and we didn't know hardly which way it was going. This was out in Georgia. That's -- Ma Rainey. She didn't have, she fell short of a piano player in Arkansas. She had Georgia Tom, he went back, too That's Professor Thomas A. Dorsey? Yeah. Who's now the leading -- isn't that interesting? He's the leading gospel writer, which leads to a point. Now, Willie I'm thinking about Big Mama Thornton, the connection of hymns, church music. Here's a man who was saved. He played, he played the blues for Ma Rainey -- Sure The man writes hymns and gospel music, I'm thinking about Big Mama Thornton, Willie Mae Thornton, we'll come to Willie Dixon in a moment. You, your people were church people. That's right. My father was a minister. He's a Baptist preacher, and my mother she was very religious. And me, I don't know what I am, I'm -- Well, you was just born with the blues. I guess you right, I was just in between all of it, and I really got the blues, you know, in '39 when I lost my mother, and then I said, "Well, I, I don't know what to do." I said, "Well, I think I want to sing the blues." So I said, well, that time I, I, I was listening to Big Maceo this "Worried Life Blues" and I said I think I want to sing that, and I did. That was a beautiful number. Yeah. Show came through in, in the first of the '40s and called it Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue as I mentioned earlier. They didn't have a singer, and so I asked him I said, "Give me an audition, let me sing," I said, "I've been singing all the little talent shows around here." He said, "Oh, little 'ole girl, you can't sing." I said, "Will you give me a try?" He said, "Yeah, well, when the show start, say we gonna give a little" -- Audition. "Audition for singers, 'cause I'm looking for a singer." And so he give auditions. So I was there, he wrote my name down, and several people they sung, and then he said, "Well, I, I want to see what you can do." So I got up there, I had an old pair of jeans, [laughing] one leg rolled up, I got up and I started singing one of Louis Jordan's song called "G.I. Jive," and I sung that song, and I sang this blues by Big Maceo and -- "Worried Life Blues." "Worried Life Blues," and he hired me. Out of 25 people, I was the 26th but then he hired me. I'm thinking of, as, as Mama Thornton is recalling, which one of her songs -- this as a record, as an old album of hers, she has a new album, an old album, Big Mama Thornton in Europe, when you were in Europe, which one of hers should we have, Willie? What do you think? Should we do "Hound Dog," do you think? That was a popular one. That's not exactly a "Hound Dog" was really about [blues?]. That's the one She had quite a few popular numbers there. Yeah, cause that's it before "Hound Dog" was out, I had a hit record called "Let Your Tears Fall Baby." The thing is, of course Elvis Presley is known for "Hound Dog" and yet people hear both will say "Well, you know, there is when Willie Mae Thornton sings." So we hear, let's -- from this record. As you sang this in Europe at the time. Yes, I recorded that in London. [pause in recording] As we listen to Willie Mae, Big Mama Thornton and "Hound Dog," the feeling of, this may not be blues in the traditional sense. This particular number. This is a written number, right? Well, frankly it's the blues, because just like I explained to you. In a story that's told with a feeling, an expression, is the blues. I'm thinking about yourself -- The blues is a feeling. Is a feeling. About yourself and also people like Sunnyland Slim and Willie Mae Thornton and Willie Dixon have lived it, too. The point is you lived it. Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh, man! Well, really, if you haven't lived it, you haven't had it. That's right, and look, if you -- look, if you haven't been around, where I've been, which, the youngsters now, they'll never be where -- they'll never make that statement, you know because now they're born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and they think they can sing the blues. The blues is not based on silver spoons. You got to go out and live it and experience it and then you will know. You know, I -- Willie, were you going to say something? You see, one thing about the blues, what makes it different because people can go out and experience the blues today and it's not like the blues that you experienced yesterday. You see, just like Mama say, that silver spoon business, is it makes the kids have a different idea from the idea that we had years ago, because the idea that we had years ago was all work, hard times, trouble, and a very little good time. But then you know as the blues was being made from the beginning, it started way back from even before slavery where the people had to have something to survive on. You know the laws of nature has always fixed it so that if a person was being fitted to do something, the laws of nature always helped them. Just like if you was gonna to cut wood or something like that, at first for a while you don't know whether -- the laws of nature don't know whether you're going to stick with this job or not. So your hands get sore and all like that, but after a while, after a couple of days it look like you goin stick with it, then comes corns in your hand and your muscle get hard, and everything fits Hey man I tell you all, you know I've got two corns in my hand and I ain't been doing nothing but sitting down. Yeah, but you didn't get the corns from sitting down. Yeah I did! Oh, well, they aren't in your hands. [laughing] You know, as, as Mama Thornton and Willie Dixon are, are kidding yet the truth is there, Sunnyland Slim explained earlier, too, that you have to live it, of course. I'm thinking about hard times that Willie Dixon mentioned, that you did, Mama Thornton, Sunnyland, you, you spoke of you got a dollar and a half for the night was great, the man who, who, who was pulling with the mule got -- you're talking 1923 before what America called the big Depression. Right. Well, nobody out there in those days but Lonnie Johnson, and Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and Clara Smith and Blind Boy Fuller. And a few other things. Bob (unintelligible) brother, Big Bill was just beginning to come. Joe Williams was about the first one. But what about Mamie? Mamie was out there then, see. Them backwater days when they talk about that 27 high water, they was all out. What about Ida Cox, was she out there? All of 'em was out. Yeah, they was out You know, I remember, I'd, I just started, I just started hearing the blues of Bessie Smith, well I was a kid myself, you know. I was a young, type of youngster always running around the house humming the blues and my daddy wanted to get me with the razor strop, but I hit the door. Well, really, really you take -- Mama will tell you, when Bessie was singing, we didn't have things, wasn't easy for peoples like it was now. Because I was scared to play in Mississippi too much because my father had pastored. The same year that Big Bill died my father and my old lady died, too, in '39 -- '59. But I, I didn't -- he pastored one church for 38 years there in Rich, Mississippi, and I didn't -- didn't want to come right up under my daddy. He was such a good, great worker and church worker. I didn't want to come right up under my parents and, and play the blues so I would stray off. And then I didn't like my stepmother, that, that caused a lot of [goin?], in those days. And until I run up and I come in, run up on Big Bill and them fellas. It put me more [unintelligible]. But this is something, is the fact that -- we'll come back to this. What we're talking about, the opposition, the obstacles. But we hear Sunnyland Slim, "I Sure Got a Thing" -- you like, I think that's one of Sunnyland's, "I Sure Got a Thing Going." "I've Got A Thing Going On." Oh, she got a That Oh, Oh, she! Someone like, like Mama Thornton. Yeah, she was, she was on there, she was with me when, when I went in to record -- Belinda, yeah I might have played the drums on that, I don't know. We'll hear about Mama Thornton, the drums -- we'll hear it now. [pause in recording] "She Got a Thing Going --". We heard -- that might have been you at the drums Mama the [ice?] I don't know which one it was, but I was on the drums there on one of his -- I guess that's the story. Willie, how she came -- Mama Thornton came to the drums. How'd you come to the drums? Well, now, this is just what you call a accidental something. They had a place called the La Tapatia there in San Francisco, and I walks in there one night, and they had a drum set up and no drummer. And, and a guy, he was over there reminiscing around the piano, so I sit down on the drums, and just kept a rhythm beat going. And he says, he looked at the band leader, he said, "Hey! She played pretty good beat there," says "We don't have a drummer." Say, "Well, it'd make the gig," say, "Well, we'd just pay her what we were going to pay the drummer, and maybe she'd stay." So the cat was leading the band, he said, "Well, you know, we're not making that kind of money." And he say, "But it is paying 15 Fifteen cents a night? Fifteen cents, that's 15 Oh, fifteen dollars. See, that's, that's the scale, see, that's union scale right at that particular time. But since then they went up. Everything went up. We know that now. So, so I played that night and, and, and when they, when I got off, he gave me my money. And he said, "Where do you live?" I said, "I live right around [Danny?] Hotel. He says, "You mean you live right around the corner?" I said, "Yeah, I just walked up." And then he started talking to somebody else, so I walked away. Now, he hadn't still -- he don't know I'm the original "Hound Dog." He don't know I'm Big Mama Thornton. All he just wanted somebody up there peeling the skins. And when I left, some cat said, "Hey. Do you know who you had playing drums all night for you?" And the cat said, "Who?" He said, "That lady there is the original 'You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog,' said, that's Willie Mae 'Big Mama Thornton'." And the cat just, he told me he said the expression he got on his face, he said, "Oh, I got her address, I gotta go down and tell her, and and I'm gonna go round there and give her some more money, because I didn't know she was a, I didn't know she was [laughing] a blues singer." I hadn't been too long, going back to the hospital in fact I had an operation, see and then, and so from then on he came right at me, he fired the drummer and told me, he say "I want you to play every night." And from that day on we got a rehearsal, we rehearsed and we got things down, and the man gave us more money because I was singing and playing drums, so he raised up, he give us more money, and because we was piling 'em in after they put the sign out there that I was the one that made "Hound Dog" and so we started making pretty good salary. And for the man, the man was making pretty good money. So we have to do, see he was making good money, then there here comes some people want to start to fighting in the place and, you know the man, the man down the street, cause he was drawing all the peoples up there, he sent somebody up the street there that, to break up the man's place, police started coming, so the man closed up. But I'm thinking about something -- isn't this amazing, I'm going to ask about the piano. Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim, you just sat down the drums, you had no training -- Never. And harmonica the same way? Never. I never took a lesson of music at all. Suppose we hear -- we'll switch things around. We'll hear Willie Dixon "Insane Asylum" a little later. Suppose we hear Big Mama Thornton, this -- the thing she's talking about. In "Session Blues," is that you playing the drums, or should we hear the harmonica? Well, I'm playing drums, and singing on "Session Blues," and Shakey Horton is blowing the harmonica. This young man right here. What should we do? Yeah. Shakey Horton playing harmonica, so, so we'll do "Session Blues," Yeah, "Session Blues." Crazy. [pause in recording] Willie Mae, Big Mama Thornton and she and Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, my three guests this morning will be performing at that big reach-out festival at Grant Park that Saturday. Yes. Speaking of this reach-out program, you, you know Chicago has been noted to be the Mecca city of the blues around the world, and the Chicago musicians has been going all over the world producing the blues for everybody, but we have never featured the blues here in Chicago like it should have been featured when this should have been the first city recognized and in respecting the blues because ever since the early '20s all people had built the blues right here in Chicago. And this is one of the things that we're doing here now, we're bringing these entertainers in here, and all of them had something to do with the building of Chicago being the Mecca city of the blues. That's why they got all these various entertainers that you've never heard, and lots of them go to these foreign countries and things and make big programs and turn out big recordings and make it real big and come back here, and nobody never know anything about them. You know that's the story, that's, that's, that's so funny isn't it? That you, Big Mama Thornton, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Big Bill were so much better known. I remember when I was in Europe! Your names were all known, but you weren't known in your own home country. That's right. You know that's true. We make a bigger hit over, over in there in Europe and -- And all the foreign countries all over the world. In fact, me and Willie made three pictures over this time. Yeah, we make movies, television, radio and everything. You take for instance this picture here. That was taken, that was on a TV show in Amsterdam, Holland. Amsterdam, this is Big Mama Thornton, this is in Europe, Arhoolie label. Suppose I'm thinking how Mama Thornton came to play the harmonica on her own and drums, I'm thinking of Willie Dixon and sometimes, the piano. You and -- and you also, you're composing Willie. This on your own, too? Well, I play the bass. I was playing the bass, I had several different units before we this, I had the Big Three Trio, Four Jumps of Jive, and we was recording for a lot of different companies, and I started producing for various companies and things like that all over, and writing quite a few songs. There's something you said earlier, and perhaps you and Sunnyland who have lived in Chicago for a number of years can talk about -- Chicago became the center. It's when the movements, is it because a lot of people, Black people moving up to Chicago, to get jobs in the stockyards? And they could always get a job in the stockyards, as a part-time, then they could always work on the weekend or at night playing some house party or gigs or something, and then the time he get himself the least bit known, somebody else, some of these various people from foreign countries would walk in, grab him and take him off and record him, and then the next thing you know, he's into something and then he don't have to go back to the other thing no more. And by doing this, it's been thousands, I mean literally thousands of people that we can't even call their names. You take like Victoria Spivey and Tampa Red and all those from way back -- Big Maceo, who, who Big Maceo Yeah. Koko Memphis

Willie Dixon Oh, yeah, Memphis Minnie

Studs Terkel Memphis Minnie Lawless! Did you know her?

Willie Mae Thornton Yes, I did, I did, I did a couple of hot numbers on one of my albums called "Why Don't You Be My Chauffeur?" and there's even "One Black Rat".

Willie Dixon "Give Me One Black Rat."

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah. And I did this thing "Lookin' the World Over."

Studs Terkel She played a powerful guitar, didn't she? Memphis Minnie.

Sunnyland Slim Nice guitar. She ripped that night.

Studs Terkel Suppose we hear -- Willie Dixon has written so many numbers. How many blues have you written?

Willie Dixon Oh, I have registered with BMI a little over 300, but I have a few others scattered around in places, too, you know, with ASCAP and others. And this -- some of them are blues and some of them are other songs.

Studs Terkel How would you describe "Insane Asylum"?

Willie Dixon Well, I would say and you know when you're writing a song you have to have a meaning, and in this, the story like someone would go to the insane asylum they been looking for someone that they couldn't find. And all of a sudden you walk out to the insane asylum and you looked and there they are, you know, and this individual person is someone that you was in love with. And then you go to express what you seen and, and how you felt and then you tell it in songs with a feeling, and this is the way you express "Insane Asylum."

Studs Terkel So we'll hear this as

Willie Dixon And so I'm singing the first part of this song and describing about how I went to this insane asylum and found this someone that I loved. And then, and then second part of each verse Koko Taylor comes in there as if she's the one that was

Studs Terkel She was the one in there, yeah.

Willie Dixon And glad, glad that someone could find her and save

Studs Terkel So it's kind of a tragic number in a way.

Willie Dixon Yes it is, it's tragic but it has a lot of feeling, and it's got a very good beat.

Studs Terkel So we hear then Willie Dixon's "Insane Asylum" with Koko Taylor. She'll be performing there too, won't she, at the?

Willie Dixon Oh, definitely, she will be there, yes.

Studs Terkel So, we hear "Insane Asylum." [pause in recording] A matter of course of writing, writing of the lyrics that come to you, to Sunnyland Slim, to Big Bill or Mama Thornton, these lyrics come out of what you said, life itself, your own experiences.

Willie Dixon That's right.

Sunnyland Slim That's right.

Willie Mae Thornton Right you are. That's just like this "Ball and Chain," you know, I wrote that, you know.

Studs Terkel By the way, "Ball and Chain" is a number that Mama Thornton wrote out of your life and we know that Janis Joplin sings it, she's -- powerful voice, but somehow it's out of your experience, not hers, out of your experience.

Willie Mae Thornton Well, for me, I think it's a beautiful way she did it, but there still is not the original. And the original is on my new LP just been released by Mercury called Stronger Than Dirt. "Ball and Chain" is on there which I have on Arhoolie label. I did part one and part two for Chris Strachwitz, the one that

Studs Terkel Who did the liner notes for Arhoolie.

Willie Mae Thornton Yes. And they got the "Ball and Chain" part one and part two and a song I did called "Wade in the Water."

Studs Terkel "Wade in the Water," that -- now that, "Wade in the Water" is a church song.

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah, I did that. But I did it in, I did it in my own way. I, I arranged it myself. And, you know, at least I had the cat arrange it the way I wanted

Studs Terkel And we're just talking casually here with Willie Mae Thornton, 'Big Mama' Thornton and Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, three powerful figures in the world of the blues that's so indigenously American music, they're, they're three of the performers with Muddy Waters, with John Lee Hooker, with Koko Taylor, with -- oh, any number of people will be performing, they'll be about two dozen at least. It'll be

Willie Dixon That's right, Grant Park bandshell.

Studs Terkel And that's free, starts about -- it'll be Saturday starting at about

Willie Dixon Ten o'clock in the morning.

Studs Terkel Ten o'clock in the morning to, to about eight at night. Something like ten hours.

Willie Dixon That's right.

Studs Terkel And straight, oh free.

Willie Dixon And it's free.

Studs Terkel There's never been a festival like this in Chicago.

Willie Mae Thornton Well I'm kind of glad he said ten because I have to work Friday night, and at the time I get home I can get about two hours' sleepin time to go out to the fields. [laughing] Yeah.

Studs Terkel And even though Mama Thornton is kidding, the fact this is a tremendous amount of work singing, it's -- comes back to what Sunnyland Slim earlier and Willie Dixon with hard times, it comes out of hard times. We've just been discussing very casually obstacles, you had to evade your religious father and also you had to evade your parents because they frowned upon the blues, is that it?

Sunnyland Slim That's right. My father was a guitar player before he went to preaching. He

Studs Terkel He gave up the guitar after he

Sunnyland Slim Well, he, he did so. They -- his, my mother died, and right after that he start that roaming and knowing again he'd come back home, my father had -- grandfather had a little old small farm, 130 acres, and he had to help him, and he fooled around with a little church called Galilee [unintelligible]. They didn't want to see me, they wouldn't, kids then, you wouldn't dare to sing the blues around your parents.

Studs Terkel You know, as, Willie Dixon, I was thinking perhaps just before we -- it's all too short a session, because all we do is scratching the surface, you're going to have a book on the blues soon yourself, Nothing But the Blues, and I know Mama Thornton has so much to say and Sunnyland's been -- all we're doing is really touching on it.

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah, while we are talking I would like to mention a cat that really sings the blues and really plays nice piano. That's Jack Dupree, him and I wrote this "Unlucky Girl" here.

Studs Terkel Now, was that Champion Jack Dupree?

All Yes. [all talking at once]

Willie Mae Thornton Yeah, he's over

Willie Dixon He was in Paris the last time I saw him.

Willie Mae Thornton He live in Switzerland, though.

Sunnyland Slim He's in England, I got a, Mike

Willie Dixon Oh yes he's in England now, yes.

Sunnyland Slim Just got a letter from him, told me he said [Jack?] say hello. He's in England.

Studs Terkel Last time I remember, met Willie Dixon was in Paris. You remember, Slim, we were in Paris then, I remember that session very well in the basement down

Willie Dixon That twelve

Studs Terkel Yeah. That's right, well you down there, too, Slim. I remember that. So perhaps we -- we started talking about the blues, and we end with talking about the blues and it comes out of life experience and three of the artists, my three guests today, have experienced it, and the hard times -- survival of things. I'm thinking of that number that Sunnyland Slim has recorded, "Every Time I Get to Drinking."

Sunnyland Slim "Get to Drinking"?

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Sunnyland Slim Yeah, well, the way that happened up, mostly I had to skip those [unintelligible] me and Memphis Slim had some things, we had goin to each others. And Willie was writing songs, and then when you get something on your mind, Studs, you just all lay down. You get that tension on your mind. Me, we was in Switzerland at this time. Willie was write two songs some nights, and I wrote that song, and I started to playing it, and hit old Willie, you know. 'Cause we'd been away for quite a while, and it hit old Wolf, too. You know, that song kind of got up to him.

Studs Terkel Howlin' Wolf.

Sunnyland Slim Yeah, the way it was, I come out with it, Wolf told me "It's a mass of good [God?] What's the matter with you? You must-a be thinking about your woman at home." Well, Willie was -- "You're crazy, man. I like that song." Well, I set up that night, he's writing about "Wang Dang Doodle" and all them stuff for you know? Well I had wrote, [unintelligible] stood up here drinking, messing around, I'd get started, I'd finish that up, and I start writing this thing about Jesse James. You know, that's what I'm saying, you don't quit them things. You know, if something hits you in the bed about the blues, or a good title is the -- still things about you, you, you won't go to sleep, you'll finish it

Willie Dixon Another thing that, what I like about this, you see when a person get a long ways from home and they getting kind of lonesome, you know, and maybe he may decide he want to sit somewhere and have a nip or two, and while he's having his nip, why naturally he's going to think about home, and this is what Sunnyland was doing, because when he started drinking, [laughing] he started thinking about his, his wife, his woman at home, so the first line in the song is what really moved me, because he say every time I get to drinking, that little girl rolls across my mind, and he can't get out, you

Studs Terkel So almost, in other words before we say goodbye and we hear "Every Time I Get to Drinking," any experience, any mood, that becomes the basis of a lyric, doesn't it? Anything, anything. It can be an object. Bill, you say a piece of wood, a desk, a knife, you can do five things with a knife, he says you can, you can shave, he saw a man shave with a knife, cut his corns with a knife, you can cut fish with a knife, you can kill with a knife, anything, and they got five verses!

Willie Mae Thornton Right.

Willie Dixon Now you take like this song that Koko Taylor does, a song called "Don't Mess with the Messer," and choose to mess a mean knife. Don't knife the knifer! You get - so I mean, so you

Studs Terkel Almost anything. So we'll say goodbye on, on a, what you call a bibulous note, they're paying tribute to John Barleycorn, saying

Willie Dixon You

Studs Terkel "Every Time I Got"

Willie Dixon "Every Time I Get

Studs Terkel What were you going to say, Willie, before we

Willie Dixon I want, before we go, I wanted to tell you that Muddy Waters is also going to be on this show and, and

Studs Terkel Howlin' Wolf.

Willie Dixon [Banjo?] John and all them. A lot of other fellas, and then what's so, so great about it, it's gonna give a lot of these fellas a chance that you haven't heard that's been making it big in all these other places, and I mean there are many of them that right here in Chicago, many blues artists that you haven't heard and don't know about and you'll get a chance to hear 'em all.

Sunnyland Slim And see 'em also.

Willie Dixon Exactly.

Studs Terkel What Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim just echoed is the fact that there are so many anonymous creative spirits in our city we don't recognize, and they'll be there in addition to our three celebrated guests here this morning: Willie Dixon, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton and Sunnyland Slim.

Willie Dixon And thank you, Studs.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much.

Willie Mae Thornton And I'd like to give you my pleasure for being here.

Studs Terkel Oh, I'm delighted.

Sunnyland Slim And it's wonderful, and I think about how you treated my best friend Big Bill and all of your peoples, how wonderful we did to all get together and how did we pull together. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Studs Terkel In a way, Sunnyland, perhaps this could be, this big festival could almost be a tribute to all the blues singers who've given and gone, too, like Big Bill Broonzy.

Sunnyland Slim That's right.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much.

Willie Dixon And thank you.

Studs Terkel I thought in the time remaining Sunnyland Slim singing one of his pieces, Willie Dixon, Big Mama Thornton. A most recent album of hers, she'll probably be singing this at the festival, is Mercury and she offers "Ball and Chain" that Janis Joplin has scored with so mightily. It's Mama Thornton's number, though, as "Hound Dog" was, too. She got 500 dollars, by the way, for "Hound Dog." Sold two million copies. This is the old, old story. Big Bill used to talk about it, all the agents who have dollar signs for eyes. Big Mama sings "Summertime." I thought it might be worth ending with this. This has been sung by -- so memorably by Billie Holiday. Another version by Mahalia Jackson. Janis Joplin sings it; tries in her way. And Mama Thornton does it in her way. And thus Big Mama Thornton's version. It was first sung by Ann Brown. Original company. Leontyne Price sang it, and then the unique versions by Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson, and now we can say Mama Thornton.