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PEACOCK 1603; JULY 1952



Far too often artists see their entire career reduced to a single song… maybe two if they’re lucky.

To do that however usually that one song has to be pretty great, which should lead to a rather inevitable question, namely which do you think is more likely…

That the artist had only marginal talent the whole time but somehow out of nowhere produced one flawless performance that magically transcended all of their limitations before they turned back into a figurative pumpkin at midnight?

Or could it be that the rest of their catalog probably has some really good records that have been stuffed in the closet, stashed under the bed, thrown out with the trash and just plain forgotten by the majority of historians who are neglecting their duty in keeping these artists legacies alive?

Let’s try door number two, shall we?


You Belong To Me
How far has Willie Mae Thornton fallen in the estimation of rock history?

Well, when chances are there are those wondering if she might be somehow connected to “Big Mama” Thornton, the moniker she had added to her name around the time this came out. If that ignominy isn’t enough for you, try the fact that she’s been typically shunted aside into the blues genre rather than given her due as a pure rock act.

That pretty much tells you all you need to know on that subject, though that’s when we circle back to remind you that one record, and two original songs, have become the entire extent of her legacy and both of those are due to who else recorded them in the future.

But Thornton’s own output stands on its own two feet without the need of any far-flung artistic connections, and as to the blues designation… or as it’s intended by many, “denigration”, as in not qualified to be revered as a rocker… she puts that unfortunate slight to rest with Mischievous Boogie, a song that embodies everything that rock made its name on – a romping tempo, frantic solos, uninhibited lyrics and a singer riding the rhythm like she was breaking a wild stallion.

Not that any of you should need additional reminders beyond that, or require more of the voluminous historical evidence shoved down your throat at every turn, but Cash Box talked of the record twice, once in their review, another time for a road appearance, and called it rock both times, and Peacock’s own ads for her were prominently using variations of that term to promote her.

But no, she’s black, big and butch so she’s gotta have the blues, right? At least that’s what you’ll learn in the Florida public school systems where history is whitewashed for you at no extra charge.

Luckily you’ll learn a helluva lot more by listening to the record itself.


I Want To Have Some Fun
Attitude is something in rock that is often referred to as a requirement for the genre, but not always spelled out for you as to how to showcase it on record. Here Willie Mae Thornton spells it out in clear terms.

Though she herself did not write the song, she embodies the spirit of it in every way as with her cocky demeanor and determined state of mind she’s on the prowl for a one night stand.

Over riffing horns, boogie piano and thumping drums she tells us that her regular man is nowhere to be found (maybe he’s off with another woman for all we know), but unlike a lot of singers, both male and female, Thornton isn’t at all worried about the whereabouts of her significant other. She’s also not looking for payback if he was fooling around.

Nope, she just wants a guy to spend a wild night with, whatever that may entail.

In that way Mischievous Boogie is the ideal title for such a quest, both in describing her own extracurricular mischief as well as perhaps the alternate term for boogie, which may involve the shedding of certain articles of clothing.

Though she sounds eager, she doesn’t come across as desperate. Instead, this is taken as simply the first item on the agenda for the night, akin to looking for a good Thai restaurant, or maybe trying to secure tickets for a sold out show. In fact she mentions they went out nightclubbing, so this was clearly about the full experience of a night on the town, even though she does more than suggest that the night didn’t end with just a kiss at the doorstep.

Sadly she doesn’t get more detailed than that when recounting the events the next day, but the saxophone does just enough to let us in on their activities in the dark so that we’re not left trying to read between the lines.

Unfortunately the sax player and the rest of the band went home with a bad case of blue balls here because rather than get their rocks off so to speak, they peddle this too lightly. It’s not that they’re guilty of the usual shortcomings in these areas – the dainty piano, the big band horn charts, etc. – the parts that trumpeter, bandleader and Peacock’s long-time arranger Joe Scott gave them are perfectly suited for a rocker, but rather they’re just not assertive enough in how they’re being delivered.

That’s the record’s main drawback and their lack of muscle and grit in the arrangement – including a far too limp piano solo – undercuts Thornton’s vocals, forcing her to toss in just a hint of sly innocence rather than go full-tilt on the sassy confidence that she was holding back on.

Still, she’s more than capable of selling the song that way too, and manages to get across all of the events that went officially unreported in how she sells the stanza after the second break and then charges across the finish line without any restraint.

If not for the arrangement there’s little doubt this would take its place next to her best known record as a prime example of just how potent she was at her best.

But hey, even slightly watered down, the drinks that Thornton’s serving here still pack a wallop.


We Ran Off And Played
We can – and will – criticize Peacock’s notorious owner Don Robey for his typically unethical behavior at times, but the one area we generally won’t target him on is in his hands off approach to the music itself.

Well, frankly he largely kept his hands off the entire business side of the operations, as he had Evelyn Johnson do all of the heavy lifting while he merely acted as the negotiator and enforcer, two jobs that with him were intertwined by definition… and of course he cashed the checks and took the credit too, which probably goes without saying.

To his credit though Robey gave Scott free reign to oversee the studio and while Scott pulls up a little short here, at this point he was somewhat inexperienced which may explain why Johnny Otis would soon come in and take that role, pushing Scott to the background. When Otis departed then Scott resumed his role and, having learned his lessons well, lived up to his promise.

I’m sure when making the case for someone getting a greater degree of historical credit some people will want the records they showcase in an artist’s résumé to be without any flaws whatsoever and as such they might balk a little at this one being touted too much, but since the ways in which this fell a bit short weren’t Thornton’s fault at all, Mischievous Boogie should at least be in the discussion when tallying up her notable career achievements.

If nothing else the song provides us with yet another example of just how different rock was shaping up to be when the female artists were acting just as bad as the men in their stories and showing no sign of remorse for doing so.

Maybe that’s not what you want in your own real life mate, but then again that’s probably why you shouldn’t date a rock singer… just get your kicks listening to them instead.


(Visit the Artist page of Big Mama Thornton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)