At least, according to the Guardian website last Friday they are (https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/gallery/2017/nov/10/check-it-out-what-to-wear-this-winter-in-pictures)… Coincidentally I was working on some photo restoration for a book of Blues images from the Sixties just the day before, and here’s a portrait of Big Mama Thornton to show her take on how checks were done in the Sixties. I assumed the shirt and hat were matched at first glance, but if you look closely they are different patterns, suggesting she chose one to go with the other. It looks like that’s a bandana under the hat, which is why it sits a little high on the head.
The photograph was taken by a young lad called Brian Smith, whose archive forms the basis for the book (Boom Boom Boom Boom, you can read more at the publisher’s website, and my thanks for them allowing me to reproduce the image here), and he admits he was very nervous to be meeting so many of these musicians for the first time, and by what he saw as Thornton’s fairly formidable presence. Keen Blues fans, Brian and his mates had wangled their way backstage at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester for the American Folk & Blues Festival in 1965. Brian had a small Ilford camera and wanted to take photographs for a glossy fanzine they had just launched called R’n B Scene (as far as I can work out one of the first fanzines in the U.K.). He asked Thornton’s permission to take a photo, and she agreed. He took just the one (film was expensive as a teenager!) but it is a great shot, and should look fab when I’ve got rid of fifty years of specks and a few scratches. Pottering around, I found some footage of her in this exact same outfit ripping through Hound Dog a few weeks earlier (she beat Elvis to this by three years, he was a big fan) on German TV (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qQkTuQk6eo) .