Hound Dog — Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton

SONG OF THE DAY

Hound Dog” by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thorn­ton ( [sin­gle], Pea­cock Records, 1953). Writ­ten by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

WHERE I HEARD IT

The dis­turb­ing 2007 film Hound­dog (which, of course, I was watch­ing because I heard it was dis­turb­ing) fol­lows a girl (played by Dakota Fan­ning) who loves Elvis but learns that the blues did it all first, and even­tu­ally learns to feel those blues and that song just like Big Mama Thorn­ton meant them to be felt, long before Elvis had hips. BTW, Jill Scott (who I LOVE) plays Willie Mae in the movie, and does “Hound Dog”-Big-Mama-style proud.

INTERESTING FACTS (a la wikipedia)

- “Hound Dog” is a twelve-bar blues writ­ten by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and orig­i­nally recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thorn­ton in 1952.

- Other early ver­sions illus­trate the dif­fer­ences among blues, coun­try, and rock and roll in the mid 1950s.

- The 1956 remake by Elvis Pres­ley is the best-known ver­sion; it is his ver­sion that is #19 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Great­est Songs of All Time.

- “Hound Dog” was also recorded by 5 coun­try singers in 1953 alone, and over 26 times through 1964.

- The blues singer Big Mama Thornton’s biggest hit was Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Hound Dog,” which she recorded at Radio Recorders in Los Ange­les on August 13, 1952.

- Thornton’s “Hound Dog” was the first record Leiber and Stoller pro­duced them­selves. They took over the ses­sion because their work had some­times been mis­rep­re­sented, and on this one they knew how they wanted the drums to sound; Johnny Otis was sup­posed to pro­duce it, but they wanted him on drums. Otis received a writ­ing credit on all 6 of the 1953 pressings.

- This 1953 Pea­cock Records release (#1612) was #1 on the Bill­board rhythm and blues charts for seven weeks.

- Thorn­ton gave this account of how the orig­i­nal was cre­ated to Ralph J. Glea­son. “They were just a cou­ple of kids, and they had this song writ­ten on the back of a paper bag.” She added a few inter­jec­tions of her own, played around with the rhythm (some of the cho­ruses have thir­teen rather than twelve bars), and had the band bark and howl like hound dogs at the end of the song. In fact, she inter­acts con­stantly in a call and response fash­ion dur­ing a one minute long gui­tar “solo” by Pete Lewis. Her vocals include lines such as: “Aw, lis­ten to that ole hound dog howl…OOOOoooow,” “Now wag your tail,” and “Aw, get it, get it, get it.” Thornton’s deliv­ery has flex­i­ble phras­ing mak­ing use of micro-inflections and syn­co­pa­tions. Over a steady back­beat, she starts out singing each line as one long upbeat. When the words change from “You ain’t nothin’ but a HOUND Dog,” she begins to shift the down­beat around: You TOLD me you was high-class / but I can SEE through that, You ain’t NOTHIN’ but a hound dog. Each has a focal accent which is never repeated.

- Johnny Otis, Pete Lewis, and bassist Albert Win­ston are listed as “Kansas City Bill & Orches­tra” on the Pea­cock record labels.

- Lyri­cist Jerome “Jerry” Leiber (born April 25, 1933) and com­poser Mike Stoller (born March 13, 1933) are among the most influ­en­tial Amer­i­can song­writ­ers and record pro­duc­ers in post-World War II pop­u­lar music.

- They won Grammy awards for “Is That All There Is?” in 1969, and for the cast album of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a 1995 Broad­way musi­cal revue based on their work. Smokey Joe’s Cafe was also nom­i­nated for seven Tony awards, and became the longest-running musi­cal revue in Broad­way history. Other awards include:

  • 1985 – Induc­tion into the Song­writ­ers Hall of Fame
  • 1987 – Induc­tion into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
  • 1988 – Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame
  • 1991 – ASCAP Founders’ Award
  • 1994 – A star placed on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame in front of 7083 Hol­ly­wood Blvd., and their hand­prints embed­ded into the Hol­ly­wood Rockwalk
  • 1996 – National Acad­emy of Song­writ­ers Life­time Achieve­ment Award
  • 2000 – Johnny Mer­cer Award/National Acad­emy of Pop­u­lar Music
  • 2005 – “Kansas City” named offi­cial song of Kansas City, Missouri

- Defin­ing songs:

  • There Goes My Baby” (with Ben E. King (as Ben­jamin Nel­son), Lover Pat­ter­son, and George Treadwell)
  • Hound Dog”
  • Kansas City”
  • Smokey Joe’s Cafe”
  • Yakety Yak”
  • Poi­son Ivy”
  • Char­lie Brown”
  • Ruby Baby”
  • Stand By Me” (with Ben E. King)
  • Jail­house Rock”
  • Love Potion No. 9″
  • Searchin’”
  • Young Blood” (with Doc Pomus)
  • Is That All There Is?”
  • I’m a Woman”
  • Lucky Lips”
  • On Broad­way” (with Barry Mann and Cyn­thia Weil)
  • Span­ish Harlem” (Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector)

- Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thorn­ton (Decem­ber 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984) was an Amer­i­can rhythm and blues singer and songwriter.

- The B-side for her record­ing of “Hound Dog” was “They Call Me Big Mama,” and the sin­gle sold almost two mil­lion copies.

- She wrote and recorded “Ball ‘n’ Chain,” which became a hit for her; Janis Joplin later recorded “Ball and Chain,” and was a huge suc­cess in the late 1960s.

- Thorn­ton was born in Ari­ton, Alabama. Her intro­duc­tion to music started in a Bap­tist church, where her father was a min­is­ter and her mother a church singer.

–At age 14, she left Alabama and joined Sammy Green’s Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue. Her seven-year tenure with them gave her valu­able singing and stage expe­ri­ence, and enabled her to tour the South.

- She was also a self-taught drum­mer and har­mon­ica player, and fre­quently played each instru­ment onstage.

- In 1954, Thorn­ton was one of the eye­wit­nesses to the acci­den­tal self-inflicted hand­gun death of blues singer Johnny Ace.

- Thorn­ton per­formed at the Mon­terey Jazz Fes­ti­val in 1966 and 1968, and at the San Fran­cisco Blues Fes­ti­val in 1979.

- In 1965 she per­formed with the Amer­i­can Folk Blues Fes­ti­val pack­age in Europe.

- Thorn­ton con­tin­ued to record for Van­guard, Mer­cury, and other small labels in the 1970s and to work the blues fes­ti­val cir­cuit until her death in 1984, the same year she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

VIDEO OF THE DAY

And with Buddy Guy:

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