To fans of the blues, Hound Dog is not a pet — it’s a legend. It is one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” and in February 2013 it was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. In 62 years, “Hound Dog” has been recorded more than 250 times by various artists.
Written in 1952 by legendary songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, “Hound Dog” was meant to convey the grizzly image of Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton.
When Leiber met her, he knew they had to create a song that meshed with her blues style and her looks. “We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a ‘lady bear,’ as they used to call ’em. She must have been 350 pounds, and she had all these scars all over her face. But how to do it without actually saying it? And how to do it telling a story? I couldn’t just have a song full of expletives.”
Lieber and Stoller wrote the lyrics in about 15 minutes in the car, but the music came to them soon after while they were sitting in the parking lot of Stoller’s apartment. Leiber said, “I was beating out a rhythm we called the ‘buck dance’ on the roof of the car.”
Big Mama Thornton recorded the song on August 13, 1952, the day after it was written. It would quickly become her biggest hit.
In July of 1956, Elvis Presley recorded his version of “Hound Dog” as an imitation of a parody (performed by Billy Bell and the Bellboys) of Thornton’s hit. Elvis’ version is the most well-known recording of “Hound Dog,” is no. 19 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is one of the best-selling singles of all time. The recording is also Elvis’ best-selling song with more than 10 million copies globally.
Big Mama Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” has been covered by artists such as: Little Esther, Billy Starr, The Dirty Blues Band, Etta James, and Macy Gray. Elvis’ version has inspired: Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checker, Pat Boone, Sammy Davis Jr., Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix.
The list of covers, answers and parodies is vast, consisting of best-selling artists and little-known musicians. “Hound Dog” continues to inspire artists and listeners with its soulful origins!