Big Mama Thornton toured the South as a rhythm- and blues singer. In 1951 she moved to Houston and signed to Peacock Records. There she recorded "Hound Dog" with Johnny Otis. In 1954, Thornton witnessed the accidental self-inflicted gunshot death of blues singer Johnny Ace. In the early 1960s she left Houston and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she mostly played local blues clubs.
In the late 1960s, Big Mama recorded several seminal albums for Chris Strachwitz, producer of Arhoolie Records, these included Big Mama Thornton: In Europe (1966), backed by Buddy Guy, Walter Horton, & Freddy Below; Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band (1967), with Muddy Waters, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, & Otis Spawn. Rock and Roll artists recorded many of these powerful recordings themselves. In fact, Ball & Chain became a signature song for Thornton's great admirer Janis Joplin, and in 09/1968 Thornton appeared at the Sky River Rock Festival with a lineup that included the Grateful Dead, James Cotton, and Santana.
A few months after the Sky River Festival Big Mama played the Vulcan Gas Company on 3/21-22/69 with New Atlantis. This beautiful handbill was created to promote that show. After the show, Jim Franklin took Big Mama out to breakfast. He has some precious stories about that.