BIG WEEKEND FOR THE BLUES (excerpt)
. . . At the Fillmore Auditorium, Big Mama Willie Mae Thornton, who is of the great line of women blues singers going all the way back to Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, is featured along with the contemporary rock band, the Grateful Dead, a good deal of whose music is blues based.
Big Mama is unique in her time and an extraordinary singer, as has been pointed out here before.
The Grateful Dead are a group of young Caucasian musicians who have evolved a magnificent playing style that features some of the most exciting instrumental rock music anywhere. Included in their group is Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan (whose father, Phil McKernan, used to have that morning blues program on KRE in Berkeley), who plays organ and harmonica and sings.
Many young white performers in folk and rock music seem to be little but imitations of Negro singers. John Hammond Jr., who was at the Jabberwock last weekend, sounded as if he was trying to be an 80 year old Delta Negro. Pig Pen, on the other hand, does not do this and he is tremendously effective. He sings like himself; the music and the style is the blues, but he is not imitation.
[The rest of the article is about the blues package at the Civic Auditorium, including Wilson Pickett, Junior Walker, & co.]
(by Ralph Gleason, from the "On the Town" column, SF Chronicle, December 9 1966)
Thanks to Lost Live Dead
Along with the December 9-11, 1966 run at the Fillmore, Big Mama was billed with the Dead on a couple other dates.
She was advertised as one of the artists at the 9/11/66 Both/And benefit at the Fillmore:
http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/02/september-11-1966-jazzrock-show.html (although, in both reviews I've seen of the event, she is not mentioned...)
She was also paired with the Dead on 1/6/67:
And, memorably, came after them on 9/2/68 at the Sky River Rock Festival, where Pigpen joined in a blues jam session: