Monday, January 25, 2010

LADIES FIRST: "Hound Dog" - Big Mama Thornton > Elvis > Jimi Hendrix

LADIES FIRST brings you another classic that 'she did first'.

Today it's the monster classic "Hound Dog".


"Hound Dog" was written and produced by the budding talents Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, and first recorded by the irrepressible Big Mama Thornton. Along with her blues-belting style, Mama also retooled some of the lyrics, did flavorful ad libs, and hard accents in the phrasing that gave the song its fierce identity.

BIG MAMA THORNTON -"Hound Dog" (1952)

Thornton's version was recorded in 1952, but released in the spring of 1953. Within a month there were a handful of Country artists who did their take on it, like Jack Turner and His Granger County Gang, Billy Starr, and Cleve Jackson and His Hound Dogs.

One of the most unsung is this one by Betsy Gay:

BETSY GAY -"Hound Dog" (1953)

Here's a Country answer record forecasting Rockabilly.

CHARLES GORE And LOUIS INNES -"(You Ain't Nothin' but a Female) Hound Dog" (1953)

Memphis radio DJ Rufus Thomas did an answer record to it, taking mock affront to his nickname as 'hound dog'. It was too similar and Sun Records' first hit got in a lot of legal trouble. Later, Rufus and his daughter Carla Thomas recorded classics for Stax Records.

RUFUS THOMAS -"Bear Cat" (1953)

A burlesque group called Freddie Bell And The Bellboys did a campy, striptease-style take on it. Freddie smoothed over some of the lyrics, adding such pivotal lines as "cryin' all the time" and "You ain't never caught a rabbit, and you ain't no friend of mine." They performed it regularly in Las Vegas.


The young and barely-known Elvis Presley saw their show and put it in his rep for fun. When he appeared on the huge TV hit, "The Milton Berle Show", Milton urged him to leave his rhythm guitar and stand out front. The song's strippery rhythm and Elvis' startlingly sexual gyrations (and air of threatening menace) caused a storm of shocked controversy and made him a national star overnight.

This may have done as much to inject Rock'n'Roll into world awareness as any other event.

ELVIS PRESLEY -"Hound Dog" (1956)

Rock'n'Roll was written off as dumb Pop for juvie kids by the robot mainstream of the times. They probably thought it was cute to trot out little Brenda Lee like Shirley Temple in the family parlor. But it backfired, because you can still hear all the raw Blues anger and cocky swagger in Brenda's great voice.

BRENDA LEE -"Hound Dog" (1956?)

Cliff Johnson's answer song aims to make Elvis high-tail it.

CLIFF JOHNSON -"Go Away Hound Dog" (1957)

Betty Everett ("You're No Good") brings some Soul swing go it.

BETTY EVERETT -"Hound Dog" (1964)

Jimi Hendrix loved Elvis and also all the Blues greats like Big Mama Thornton, who was on the bill at many of the same Blues and Rock festivals reclaiming her song (with her cool penchant for wearing mens' clothing). Here he is jotting off genius like it was a gesture.

JIMI HENDRIX -"Hound Dog (acoustic)" (1968)

And chasing this tail 'round to its front again, here's Blues powerhouse Koko Taylor...

KOKO TAYLOR -"Hound Dog" (1993)

© Tym Stevens

See Also:
-The Real History of Rock and Soul!: A Music Player Checklist

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