Hound Dog co-writer Mike Stoller has debunked claims that Elvis Presley’s version of the classic rock ‘n’ roll song was stolen by Big Mama Thornton.
In an interview with Brain Hiatt for Rolling Stone music now podcast, Stoller, 89, shared the complicated history of “Hound Dog” and suggested that Presley’s version was actually inspired by another group’s interpretation of the song.
Hound Dog was originally written by Stoller and his writing partner Jerry Leiber (who died in 2011). It was recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952 and released by Presley four years later.
However, although Presley knew of Thornton’s version, his rendition of “Hound Dog” was based on a version recorded by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, Stoller said.
Their version, released in 1955, had a simplified chord structure and featured alternate lyrics, making the song about a dog rather than a man.
When asked if he thought Presley stole the song from Thornton, Stoller said “no,” explaining that Presley “does it pretty much like her [Freddie Bell and the Bellboys] had written the song and it appeared to be about a dog”.
Some critics over the years have suggested that the problem stems not from the theft of the track, but from the public’s willingness to embrace a song if it is performed by a white man rather than a black woman.
Baz Luhrmanns elvisThe one currently in theaters features blues singer Thornton (played by Shonka Dukureh), but Stoller and Leiber were dropped from the film.
“I wasn’t expecting anything, so I wasn’t disappointed in that regard,” said Stoller.
He added that he was glad Thornton was “pictured” in the film and that her original version (as opposed to the modified version) of “Hound Dog” was performed: “It’s a song a woman sings to a man not a man to a dog!” he laughed.
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The writing couple, who went on to write a number of classic songs including “Stand by Me” for Ben E. King and “Jailhouse Rock”, “King Creole” for Presley, originally wrote “Hound Dog” as teenagers within “15 Minutes”, to see Thornton sing.
Of the first time he saw her perform, Stoller said, “I don’t remember exactly what the song was, but she blew us away.”
Thornton’s Hound Dog was also a big hit in 1953, but the writing couple received no compensation, and neither did Thornton.
The song’s authors weren’t even properly credited, and Stoller said, “I was very upset about what happened.”
The pair eventually received royalties from “Hound Dog” after Presley’s version became a smash hit, but Thornton was left without financial reward.
On the podcast, Hiatt said Thornton’s lack of recognition was the tragic result of “systematic racism” and “a business that was literally full of divides.”
Stoller agreed, “That’s not just true of Big Mama, it’s true of a lot of black performers and songwriters.”
Stoller said he preferred Thornton’s “Hound Dog” and commented that Presley’s version “didn’t have the groove that Big Mama’s record had, which was fantastic”.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/elvis-presley-hound-dog-big-mama-thornton-b2113658.html Elvis’ “Hound Dog” wasn’t stolen from Big Mama Thornton, says the song’s co-writer Mike Stoller