Young Caucasian songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote their seminal collaboration "Hound Dog" for Johnny Otis protégée Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton as a tough down-home blues replete with ribald, double-entendre-laden lyrics that the 300-pound belter bit into with gusto. The Montgomery, AL-born Thornton was born to sing "Hound Dog"; her gruff, no-nonsense bark was urged forward by Pete Lewis' snapping lead guitar at the August 13, 1952, Los Angeles session for Don Robey's Houston-based Peacock Records. Red-hot bandleader Otis (among his other discoveries were singers Little Esther and Mel Walker) was producing the date and playing vibes, but he was forced to switch instruments when drummer Leard "K.C." Bell couldn't locate the proper backwoods groove. With Otis behind the traps and the horns laying out, everything came together -- even the band's barking to seal the number in genuine canine fashion. "Hound Dog" bounded onto the charts in the spring of 1953 and held down the top slot on Billboard's R&B lists for seven straight weeks (it would prove Thornton's only national hit). But with all the acclaim came a torrent of legal woes. Peacock had cited Otis as one of the songwriters, leading to a battle that eventually excised his name from the credits. Down in Memphis, popular WDIA DJ Rufus Thomas Jr. waxed an answer disc, "Bear Cat," for Sun Records that chased "Hound Dog"'s tail up the R&B charts and provoked a lawsuit from Robey that Sun boss Sam Phillips lost. In Chicago, blues guitarist John Brim cut another sequel, "Rattlesnake," for Checker with the great Little Walter on harp that was pulled from release to avoid similar litigation. Even hipper country cats were listening: Billy Starr's cover for Imperial was a juke joint-honed blend of country and pre-rockabilly raunch. Amazingly, when Elvis Presley cut his revered rendition of "Hound Dog" in 1956, he apparently wasn't even aware of Thornton's sassy original. Elvis had picked up on the tune during his first disappointing jaunt to Las Vegas, where he'd heard Freddie Bell & the Bellboys tear it up in one of the local lounges. Bell was responsible for the sanitized lyrics Elvis screamed; the Philadelphia native had cut his own 1955 version for the tiny Teen logo to negligible response. In any event, once Presley blasted into it, few folks remembered any of the prior platters. His rocked-up reading for RCA Victor, sporting two startling Scotty Moore guitar solos that sounded at times as though the neck of his axe consisted of springy rubber, skyrocketed to the top of the pop charts in the late summer of 1956, forever defining the song for all time. Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, even blues guitar wizard Albert King all keyed their versions in on Presley's take-no-prisoners conception. Funny thing was, the lyrics made very little sense when sung by a man.