Keeping In Mind the Huge Manager Girl

Remembering the Big Boss Lady

Considering That 2004 Plastic Crimewave (also known as Steve Krakow) has actually made use of the Secret Background of Chicago Songs to radiate a light on worthwhile musicians with Chicago connections that’ve been failed to remember, underrated, or never ever discovered to begin with.


“I’m the mommy as well as the granny of cries,” Johnnie Mae Dunson proclaimed in a 2005 meeting with the Chicago Tribune, as well as I won’t say. “When I initially began playing in Chicago, in the ’40s, individuals claimed awful aspects of a lady that plays cries,” she remembered. “They claimed, ‘She should not be a lady if she plays the drums.’ They’d call me names. If they appeal me as well as I wouldn’t react, they claimed I should be a lesbian.”

There’s no one else in songs background fairly like Dunson, a practical drummer as well as vocalist that additionally composed hundreds upon numerous tracks. Females aren’t simply unusual as blues drummers; they typically obtain brief shrift in the category throughout the board. Chicago blues scholar Prick Shurman called Dunson “among minority ‘gutbucket’ blues females,” as well as pianist Jon Weber, that’s had fun with her, explained her as “a strolling background publication, a real crucial individual that, sadly, has actually been rather overlooked.” 

Dunson was a vibrant, sincere skill, raw as well as respected as well as absolutely uncompromising. She is worthy of to be a lot more extensively thought of, which’s what the Secret Background of Chicago Songs is everything about. 

Dunson was birthed Johnnie Mae Hudson near Bessemer, Alabama, in 1921. At age 2 she acquired rheumatic high temperature, which damaged her heart. “I was a wonder kid,” she informed Neal Pollack for a 1998 Viewers tale. “I been surviving on fatality row all my life.” 

“When I was one decade old, I listened to the medical professionals inform my mother, ‘She won’t live to be 14 years of ages.’ So my mother obtained a team of individuals ahead to our residence as well as they wished me,” Dunson discussed to the Tribune. “And also I think during that time God talented me with the songs I have since He recognized I wouldn’t have the ability to do any kind of various other type of job.” 

Dunson left institution at age 10 because of her heart disease. She’d been singing scripture as long as she can keep in mind, yet she additionally took in cries of Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, as well as Ma Rainey, which her mommy suched as to use the Victrola. As she expanded more powerful in her teenagers, her vocal singing design advanced right into something rougher as well as grimier. 

Dunson’s mommy suched as fresh sparkling water, as well as when Dunson as well as her sibling mosted likely to bring it, Dunson would certainly thump on the washtub they were lugging. She’d offer her sibling half her lunch to allow her do it. “Because means,” Dunson informed Pollack, “I am a self-taught drummer.”

In 1943, urged by checking out churchwomen from the Windy City that’d heard her sing, Dunson relocated to Chicago. Back in Alabama, she’d educated herself just how to deal with hair, as well as to earn money she pushed her west-side kitchen area right into solution as a beauty salon. Within a year she was additionally hanging out at the famous market on Maxwell Road, carrying out nevertheless she could. She keeps in mind taking control of the drum package of professional bluesman Eddie “Porkchop” Hines. “He had this little put down there, as well as he looked so worn out,” she informed Pollack. “He claimed, ‘Lady, you gonna ruin my drums.’ After that I played, as well as he informed me to never ever quit.” 

Dunson began a hard-gigging triad called after World travelers Lounge on the west side, which typically played clubs along Madison Road. For virtually three decades, she played gradually on the south as well as west sides, in any kind of combination she could. She played in the band of guitar player as well as harmonica gamer Jimmy Reed, as well as they came to be buddies—she composed tracks for him as well as also handled him for a spell. Her harsh, effective voice as well as strong drumming made a large impact almost everywhere she went.

“She can hold her very own with anyone—no one provided Johnnie Mae a tough time,” harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite informed the Tribune. He went across courses regularly with Dunson when he resided in Chicago in the 60s. “Individuals simply checked out her, as well as they would certainly assume, ‘This is someone I’m not mosting likely to tinker.’”

Dunson was no much less awesome as a songwriter. She was understood for lugging around a huge note pad of her structures, as well as in her late 70s she declared she can still compose 25 tracks in a day if laid off to do it. She claimed she’d created “Wickedness” for Muddy Seas (no relationship to the a lot more well-known Howlin’ Wolf tune), as well as though BMI checklists Seas as its writer, cries company notoriously experiences greater than its share of acknowledgment concerns. The lots of tracks she composed for Reed throughout the years consist of “I Wanna Be Enjoyed,” “I’m Going Upside Your Head,” as well as “Life Won’t Last Me Long.” 

Dunson’s very own recordings from this age are much thinner on the ground, sadly. She produced a solitary on Mosaic Records in 1965, “You’re Heading out That Door,” which is currently alongside difficult to discover. In 1972 she as well as Reed launched a pair 45s as a duo for the short-term Magic tag. Within a year or two, however, Dunson had actually just about disappeared from the scene, as well as by the time Reed passed away in 1976 she’d taken out from efficiency totally.

The songs company had actually never ever supplied Dunson with much of a living in any case—she normally didn’t manage her copyrights, as well as she didn’t obtain a lot in the means of nobilities when various other musicians videotaped her tracks. In the 60s as well as 70s she generated income getting structures to spruce up, in some cases functioning demolition tasks—she can remove an indoor wall surface by herself with a sledgehammer. Eventually afterwards she ran a Madison Road restaurant, yet I can’t discover any kind of information.

In 1992 bluesman Jimmie Lee Robinson, that’d relinquished his work as a guard, tracked Dunson down. Already Dunson’s house remained in alarming problem, as well as her health and wellness had actually decreased outstanding. She’d remained in a mobility device because ’88, as well as she relied upon other individuals to bring her grocery stores. Initially she was distrustful of him—she was holding an animosity since she’d heard he’d dishonored Jimmy Reed, as well as he needed to convince her she’d been misguided. However ultimately they came to be buddies as well as started playing songs with each other in her yard. 

“Robinson would certainly call Dunson at night, as well as she would certainly chat on the phone to him up until 3 in the early morning, typically going to sleep in mid-conversation,” Pollack composed for the Viewers in 1998. “Last December she began to stroll once again on her very own. ‘She made use of to anger at me as well as call me an adversary,’ Robinson claims. ‘And now she don’t call me an adversary say goodbye to.’”

Johnnie Mae Dunson sings “Huge Manager Girl” with Little Arthur Duncan in 1999.

Robinson belonged to the Maxwell Road Historic Conservation Union, as well as Dunson intended to add to the reason. In August 1998 she sang at an advantage for the union, component of a collection of blues jams it had actually been keeping in an uninhabited whole lot on among the last spots of the old Maxwell Road to endure. 

Dunson’s trip terminated on her, as well as she got here so late (having lastly charmed a taxi driver right into driving her completely free) that nobody anticipated her to reveal. She got here in black pants as well as a black wig, lugging a gold sequined walking stick—yet she hadn’t had the ability to venture out to get brand-new footwear, so she was putting on residence sandals. “As quickly as she began vocal singing, a great deal of older black females began coming near her as well as sticking buck expenses right into her hand,” digital photographer as well as filmmaker James Fraher informed Pollack for his Viewers tale. Fraher, additionally a participant of the Maxwell Road union, had actually been making a docudrama concerning Robinson. “She simply knocked individuals out. It developed into an event on the road.”

Dunson later on pointed out that the advantage jam was the very first time she’d left her residential or commercial property in 10 years. Her other half Andy Smith had actually passed away there in 1991, as well as she prepared to do the very same. Regretfully, within weeks the city condemned her residence as well as boarded it up with her points still within—Pollack noted simply several of them, consisting of an antique icebox, a pump body organ, 2 collections of drums, a Coca-Cola vending maker from the 1950s, as well as initial duplicates of greater than 600 of her tracks. 

Luckily Dunson was sustained by her late other half’s armed forces pension plan, as well as fellow blues singer Katherine Davis took her in briefly. She’d seen Dunson at a 2nd Maxwell Road advantage job as well as began bringing her food as well as paying attention to her sing her tracks, ultimately using her an area in her home.

Then, in 1998, Davis had actually been singing blues expertly for around 16 years, yet she informed Pollack that she’d never ever become aware of Dunson prior to that summertime. “It resembled, OK, Koko Taylor is of this duration, as well as Dinah Washington . . . yet that else in Chicago?” she claimed. “They claimed there was nobody else, yet I understand the females moved right here southern. I’ve been researching. That were the females vocalists? Why couldn’t I discover her? When I heard her, I believed she was the mommy of my time.”

Johnnie Mae Dunson’s very first as well as just unabridged cd under her very own name.

Dunson’s ton of money enhanced rather after her “rediscovery,” as well as in 2000 she lastly launched her very first as well as just cd under her very own name, Huge Manager Girl. Its title track, a reaction to Reed’s 1960 preferred “Huge Manager Male,” was her trademark song. It additionally consists of “Wickedness,” “I’m an Entire Lotta Female” (an antiphon to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Guy”), “I’m Going Upside Your Head,” as well as a lot more current tracks such as “Blue Skies Is My Covering” as well as “Problem Simply Won’t Allow Me Be.” Her boy, blues guitar player Jimi “Prime-time television” Smith, shows up on the cd, therefore does Robinson. 

Dunson’s residence wasn’t conserved, as well as by the time of the 2005 Tribune tale, she was staying in a studio apartment of her very own on the north side. She made numerous looks at the Chicago Blues Event after the launch of Huge Manager Girl, yet on October 4, 2007, she passed away at age 86 at Northwestern Memorial Healthcare facility of issues from digestive tract concerns.

At her very first Maxwell Road look in 1998, Pollack estimated her talking from the phase. “I’m gonna roar loud,” Dunson claimed, providing a brag that makes a suitable epitaph for a challenging, brave blueswoman that endured for years in a scene created males. “You see, I’m a she-wolf, as well as I prowl all evening long. . . . Ain’t gonna hang my head as well as cry.”


The radio variation of the Secret Background of Chicago Songs broadcasts on Outside the Loophole on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Previous programs are archived right here.

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