LaVern Baker, Big Maybelle and Big Mama Thornton are three of the household names that come easily to someone’s mind when it comes for busty and big voiced divas of the 50s R&B circuit. Luckily there were more. One of the first names I crashed on when I was searching for obscure big fat mammas some ages ago, was that of Tiny Topsy.
Obviously an ironic – self sarcastic nickname. Mark Lammar in the liner notes of “Roc – KING Up a Storm” CD (Westside, 1999) wrote about this:
"Tiny in the same spirit you'd call a bald man curly, Tiny Topsy definitely had the lungpower to match her name"! And yass, she sure had the lungpower to match not only her name but many on the scene. Don’t know much about her. She (maybe) started with Al Smith’s eight piece jazz/R&B combo and run with it for a couple o' years in the Chicago club scene. In 1952 the band broke and Tiny found a roof on the KING’s label subsidiary Federal, for about 7 singles, unfortunately without hitting the charts. Every single side it’s brilliant, even the novelty tune of “Western Rock & Roll” which was basically a pastiche of then hits like “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Lollipop”. “Come On, Come On, Come On” and “You Shocked Me” are kick ass rockers in the vein of Etta James “Tough Lover”. “Aw! Shucks Baby” and “Just A Little Bit” are screamers equal of LaVern’s in Atlantic. The latter’s certainly the original version of what was meant to become a classic in other people’s hands. Rosco Gordon had in 1960 a #2 hit version with it and the Killer Jerry Lee, covered it on his “Southern Roots” album with edgy results. After Federal, Tiny Topsy had just one more try in the recording business with the two sider of “Working On My Baby” w/ “How You Changed” on Argo but still no chart action. Mind also that this single issued in the UK as “After Marriage Blues” on Pye.
Topsy died at the very young age of 34. Many years later, a label from Denmark emerge an LP with all her Federal sides, under the title of “Aw! Shucks Baby” (Sing, 1988) probably an official release but the mastering compared to the newly Ace Records release of the same material, lacks in fidelity. There’s also a cool boot CD on the streets for those who want to catch at once all of her sides (Ace’s CD for licensing reasons does not contain the Argo/Pye single) with the title “Tiny Topsy and Friends” with a good 19 cuts bonus by artists such as Big Maybelle, Etta James or Mickie Champion.
A growling yelling mama that shoulda been bigger, but what the hell – legends have built that way many times, and I guess it’s time for Tiny Topsy’s turn.