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  • bigmamathorntoncover cropBig Mama Thornton: The Life and Music
    Author: Michael Spörke
    Publisher: McFarland & Co., Inc.
    Review Date: September 28, 2014

    I don’t know why it is that sometimes an unmistakable American story doesn’t get written until someone from another country decides to write about it. For the second time, German author, Michael Spörke, has authored a book about an American musical icon. Just as he did with Living With the Myth of Janis Joplin: The History of Big Brother & the Holding Co. 1965 – 2005, Spörke has authored what is undoubtedly the definitive biography one Willie Mae Thornton, who is the name behind “Hound Dog” and “Ball and Chain.”

    The book is entitled, Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music, and is an exhaustively researched and documented about this legendary blues pioneer. Written by Spörke in German and translated into English by Big Brother’s Sam Andrew (as he also did with “Myth”), the book is an engrossing page-turner from beginning to end.

    The author takes the reader through the poverty stricken environment of Thornton’s birth, her move into the rough and tumble music business made even rougher in the segregated south. It’s not a “warm and fuzzy” read as we get a glimpse into Thornton’s world – a world that daily faced ridiculous prejudice and bias. We learn the stories of behind monumental songs like “Hound Dog” and “Ball and Chain” as well as the demons – both real and alleged – that Thornton battled.

    The footnoting in this book is meticulously detailed. The translation work by Andrew is spot-on. The information we get from this tome is as accurate as is humanly possible given the limited availability of primary documentation and living human beings who knew Big Mama Thornton.

    Music scholars as well as historians of rock and blues will most definitely want this book as part of their resource library. Why it took someone from Germany to write such a definitive book about such a major character in the history of American music, I’ll never understand but I’m certainly glad that Michael Spörke did exactly that.

  • livingwithmythjanisjoplincoverLiving With The Myth of Janis Joplin
    Author: Michael Spoerke
    Publisher: Lulu Enterprises, UK Ltd.
    Released: July, 2009
    Reviewed: October, 2009

    Many people grow up in the shadow of an older sibling or an over achieving parent and feel like they always have to measure up, or that they’re being compared to, the siblings or parents. It’s well known that these environments create its fair share of emotional baggage and debris.

    Michael Spoerke’s brilliant book, “Living with the Myth of Janis Joplin”, gives the low down on an inverted version of this type of environment. The book chronicles the history of Big Brother and the Holding Company that was the first band that Janis Joplin worked with and who was the catalyst for her meteoric rise to fame.

    Notice that I didn’t say that BBHC was her back-up band. Nothing could be further from the truth. Janis Joplin hit the hippie scene of San Francisco with dreams of being a singer. The problem was that she didn’t have a band. Through some well documented introductions, she was invited to join the already successful Big Brother and the Holding Company.

    With incredible research and exhaustive interviews, Spoerke has put together the definitive history of this legendary band and its members. He gives appropriate historical backgrounds of each of the members of the band and the thoughts and perspectives that each of them had of each other, of Janis joining the group, and their life after Janis dumped them.

    Unlike other books that mention the band as being in the shadow of Janis, there are no lurid details that cater to certain people’s prurient and voyeuristic interests. Just great, insightful information about the major players in this bands history is offered up. It’s a great, clean “read”.

    What’s also detailed very thoroughly is the schism that was caused when the band was being categorized as Joplin’s “band members”. While the perception is understandable, the book details why this caused the expected angst among the band and the residual effects on some of the members for years after Janis’s untimely death.

    The book also provides what the band members have been up to from the time of Joplin’s departure from BBHC to the time of the completion of the manuscript (2004). You’ll finish the tome with the knowledge that each the gentlemen are multifaceted, complex and highly talented individuals who make a lasting impression wherever they go.

    The book was originally published in German. What turns out to be an incredible touch and brilliant stroke of genius, Spoerke work with founding BBHC member, and expert linguist, Sam Andrew, to translate the book from German into English for publication in the U.S. Andrew’s expertise with languages and the turn of an English phrase adds additional depth and insight into this must have book for BBCH and Janis Joplin fans.

    You can order this book at,, or, being the incredibly nice and thoughtful guy that I am, you can click on the link at the upper right side of this page and order now. In fact, order two because, undoubtedly, you know someone who will also enjoy this incredible book.