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KPLU All Blues host John Kessler has expanded "The Blues Time Machine," which has been a popular segment on his weekend blues shows. The weekly series tracks one great blues song through history - from its earliest recording to its latest and sometimes, with some surprising interpretations. "The Blues Time Machine" airs on KPLU on Fridays at 12:10 p.m. during the "Blue Plate Special," and on All Blues Saturdays and Sundays at 8 and 11 p.m.

'Black Rat' comes from the most powerful singer to walk the Earth

Big Mama Thornton
Big Mama Thornton

The urban blues of places like Detroit and Chicago came from country blues. Little Son Joe and his better known partner Memphis Minnie were among the players who brought the blues to the cities, paving the way for Muddy Waters and others who would follow.

Memphis Minnie is known as one of the best guitarists and singers in the blues, and had a prolific career lasting 40 years. She married Little Son Joe (Ernest Lawlars) in the late 1930’s and they recorded “Black Rat Swing” in 1941 with Joe on vocals.

Big Mama Thornton was one of the most powerful singers to walk the Earth, and her influence reached well beyond blues. Her 1953 hit “Hound Dog” was covered three years later by Elvis Presley, and Janis Joplin famously performed Thornton’s “Ball ‘n’ Chain."

Big Mama’s 1970 recording of “Black Rat” shows how country blues became urbanized and electrified. Here’s a 1965 live clip of Big Mama Thornton with Buddy Guy performing “Hound Dog:"

Memphis Minnie and Big Mama Thornton may have paved the way, but Koko Taylor earned the title “Queen of the Blues” in her long and accomplished career, keeping the blues alive well into the 21st century. Here’s a clip of Koko Taylor with Little Walter and Hound Dog Taylor from 1967 and her big hit “Wang Dang Doodle:"

Here are the complete versions of "Black Rat:"

Little Son Joe with Memphis Minnie  “Black Rat Swing” 1941

Big Mama Thornton  “Black Rat” 1970

Koko Taylor  “Black Rat”  2007

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.