Willie Mae Thornton was one of the crucial donors in the transfusion of black Southern blues into two separate veins of white rock & roll in America. Born in southern Alabama in 1926, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame the same year she died, in 1984. Although she could not read music, she was a respected colleague of Robert “Junior” Parker, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, B. B. King, Gatemouth Brown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Cotton—everybody who was anybluesbody. But Big Mama’s name comes up today mostly in discussions of two songs that tethered her to white rock & roll history.
A short story from the Summer 2017 issue.
It was said about the blind woman who ran the concession stand in the lobby of the county courthouse that she could tell by touch the difference between a one- and a five-dollar bill. Judges, lawyers, felons, and their long-suffering kin spoke of her so-called sixth sense. She was aware of the rumor, which she attributed to ignorance.
A story by Nick Fuller Googins from our Summer 2015 issue.
Their first months of ecstatic infatuation, Girl and Boy were the type of people to scorn that most standard of cocktail-party questions: what-do-you-do? Rather than answer directly, they’d discuss their curiosities and visions.
Every decent boy needs a chaotic idol, an angel of entropy. Every Tom Sawyer needs his Huck Finn. Mine was Charlie Cousins, a beaten-up-looking kid with freckles and a self-inflicted buzz cut. He was not in our bicycle gang and wouldn’t have been welcome in our tree fort back in the bamboo. He would have laughed at us anyway, with our training wheels and curfews.
The dogs got tied up to the chain fence blockin us kids from fallin out our backyards into the Tennessee River or the interstate. The dogs had one trough, but not all of ’em could reach it the same ’cause the choke chains was one size only and the dogs spread ’long the whole fence, so the ones in the middle or nearest the trough got mean quick.
A story from Winter 2013, the Tennessee Music Issue.
She is a music student, slender, youthful, with the concentrated face of an alto in the chorus or a back-row violinist, frowning at her strings. Tonight, wearing black (de rigueur for her profession), she sits in a chair to the left of and slightly behind the pianist. She is invisible.
Because the house on Durwood Road did not have air-conditioning and because three seasons in Little Rock seem to be mostly summer, Bob Palmer was practicing with his bedroom window open. He sucked on the reed of his Army Band Selmer saxophone and wondered if he might someday sound like Stan Getz on the albums his dad played. No, he’d never sound like Getz, but he didn’t have to. He just had to sound like what he sounded like, and he was still figuring out what that was. He had time. He was only in junior high. His little sister, Dorothy, said he sometimes sounded “like an elephant with its trunk caught in the door. Scree! Scree!” He didn’t mind the comment. It didn’t necessarily sound good, but what did “good” mean? It was sound. And sound was interesting.
A girl was singing in one of the houses we passed. The sound rose up on the wind and out of the brownstone and out of the window down to us on the air. This girl behind that fluttering window curtain was an odd bird whose song I craved. I walked slow and deliberate to try and catch every note. I wanted to tell Glory to hush. This moment felt important to me, like I had just discovered some world for the first time, but Glory kept talking and kept walking. Knowing that I’d miss the end of that song, that I’d never know how it ended, made me want to cry.
Watching a movie or television show with my husband can be vexing. He’s a scenic painter, on the hard labor side of the movie-making equation in Hollywood South, as Louisiana is often called these days, now that tax credits have made our state the number-one filmmaking destination in the country.
It’s a kind of parlor game, a question someone asks at the after-party, perhaps, lounging on couches, shoes off, everyone half-drunk and one-quarter enamored and not ready for the long night to die. What’s your hidden talent? This is no invitation to brag—I got straight A’s in college, I can bench-press 220. Oh no no no, you win this game by trotting out your most bizarre and useless skill.