Big Mama Thornton

Hound Dog

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Song Review by Bill Dahl

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.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Ball n' Chain 1968 Arhoolie 3:01
Stronger Than Dirt 1969 Mercury Records / Universal 2:26
Rock and Roll: The Early Days 1985
Various Artists
RCA
No Image 1986
Various Artists
MCA
The Original Hound Dog 1990 Ace 2:52
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: Roots of Rock - 1945-1956 1990
Various Artists
2:51
There's a Riot Goin' On! The Rock 'N' Roll Classics of Lieber and Stoller 1991
Various Artists
Rhino 2:52
No Image 1991 MCA
Blues Masters, Vol. 3: Texas Blues 1992
Various Artists
Rhino 2:50
Duke-Peacock's Greatest Hits 1992
Various Artists
DUKE-PEACOCK 2:50
Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings 1992 MCA 2:51
The Blues: A Smithsonian Collection of Classic Blues Singers 1993
Various Artists
Smithsonian Records 2:50
The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm & Blues 1994
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Bros.
Vanguard Blues Sampler 1996
Various Artists
Vanguard 2:51
Blues Classics [MCA] 1996
Various Artists
MCA 2:50
MVP Vintage Blues, Vol. 2 1997
Various Artists
MVP Records 2:50
Vanguard Collector's Edition 1997
Various Artists
Vanguard 2:50
The King's Record Collection, Vol. 1 1998
Various Artists
Hip-O
Rolling Stone Women in Rock 1998
Various Artists
Razor & Tie 2:51
Men Are Like Street Cars: Women Blues Singers 1928-1969 1999
Various Artists
MCA / Universal Distribution 2:52
The Complete Vanguard Recordings 2000 Vanguard 2:58
Back to Black: 1900-1999 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 2:51
Pure Blues 2001
Various Artists
UTV 2:50
Basic Blues, Vol. 4 2001
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:48
No Image 2001
Various Artists
Time / Life Music
Songs That Made Elvis Famous 2002
Various Artists
Simply The Best (Netherlands) 2:50
Roots of Rock and Roll 1952, Vol. 8 2003
Various Artists
Frémeaux & Associés 2:52
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:51
Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey 2003
Original Soundtrack
Hip-O 2:50
Blues Story [Shout! Factory] 2003
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 0:00
Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues 2003
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Blues Collection [Madacy] 2004
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:50
The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll: 1946-1954 2004
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:49
Elvis Inspiration 2004
Various Artists
Boulevard Vintage 2:54
The R&B Years 1953 2004
Various Artists
Recall (UK) 2:50
Lost Blues Tapes/More American Folk Blues Festival 2004
Various Artists
Highnote Records, Inc. / High Note 3:32
Blues: The Essential Album 2004
Various Artists
Essential Records 2:50
Blowing the Fuse: 29 R&B Classics That Rocked the Jukebox in 1953 2005
Various Artists
Bear Family Records 2:50
That's All Right: The Dawn of the Rock & Roll Era 2005
Various Artists
Remember Records 2:51
R&B Jukebox Hits 1953, Vol. 1 2005
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:49
Blues: Gold 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:49
Express Yourself: Soul In The 20th Century 2006
Various Artists
Universal / Um3 2:49
The Blues Masters 2006
Various Artists
Classics & Jazz 2:49
Rhythm & Blues: The Golden Era 2006
Various Artists
Golden Stars 2:50
A Brief History of the Blues 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Decca / Universal Distribution 2:50
Hound Dog: Leiber and Stoller Collection 2009
Various Artists
Micro Werks 2:49
Routes of Rockabilly 2009
Various Artists
Fantastic Voyage 2:53
The Roots of Frank Zappa 2009
Various Artists
Snapper / Snapper Music 2:47
Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads & Beyond 2011
Various Artists
Arhoolie 4:55
The First Rock and Roll Record 2011
Various Artists
Famous Flames 2:48
Simply Blues [2012] 2012
Various Artists
Simply / Union Square Music 2:50
Topcat Records 20th Anniversary Extravaganza 2012
Various Artists
Topcat Records 3:06
Dues Paid: The Bluestime Story 2013
Various Artists
Ace 3:20
The R&B No. 1s of the '50s 2013
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:51
Sweethearts and Stolen Kisses: From the Movies 2014
Various Artists
Music Digital 2:49
The Essential Recordings 2017 Primo 2:54
Blues Essentials
Various Artists
Universal 2:52
Blues Gold [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 2:50
No Image
Various Artists
Time / Life Music
Harmonica Hits [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 2:50
Many Faces of Chuck Berry
Various Artists
Music Brokers 2:50
NOW Blues Classics
Various Artists
Universal 2:52
No Image
Various Artists
Must Have Records
Rock 'n' Roll Ladies
Various Artists
ZYX 2:51
No Image
Various Artists
Must Have Records
Rock'n Roll Fever [Music & Melody]
Various Artists
Music & Melody 2:51
The History Of Rhythm And Blues 1952-1957
Various Artists
Rhythm & Blues 2:52
The Hit Songs of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, 1952-62
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:46