‘Hound Dog’ songwriter Mike Stoller initially didn’t like Elvis’ version of his song | Way of life


Mike Stoller didn’t like Elvis Presley’s version of “Hound Dog” over the one sung by Big Mama Thornton when he first heard it on the radio.

The original song was about a woman scolding her good-for-nothing, man that “you’re nothing but a hound. You come snooping at my door. Well, you can wag your tail, but I’m not going to feed you anymore.

The line was changed in Elvis’ version to “you’ve never caught a rabbit and you’re not a friend of mine” and became a song about a man singing to a good-for-nothing dog.

“It wasn’t in the original lyrics,” Stoller said. “Elvis didn’t sing that line.”

Stoller said he later learned that Elvis heard the song performed by a Las Vegas lounge band called Freddie Bell and the Bellboys and borrowed their version and made a Rock ‘n’ Roll song out of it.

“Elvis must have known about the Big Mama record, but he was inspired to do it when he heard Freddie Bell. They put that line in,” Stoller said. “Unfortunately with Elvis, it sounded like he was singing it at a dog.”

Stoller changed his mind after “Hound Dog” sold 10 million records and hit No. 1 on the US Pop, Country and R&B charts and came to define ’50s rock ‘n’ roll.

“I didn’t like the Elvis record of ‘Hound Dog’ that much,” Stoller said. “But after it sold seven or eight million copies, I started to see some merit in it.”

Stoller, who, with lyricist Jerry Leiber, co-wrote more than 70 chart-topping hits and formed one of the greatest songwriting duos of all time. Leiber and Stoller wrote 24 songs for Elvis between 1956 and 1973, including three No. 1 songs – “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and “Don’t”.

The 89-year-old Hall of Fame songwriter was at Graceland this week and opened up about his incredible collaboration with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll on Thursday during a “Songwriters Showcase” event at The Guesthouse at Graceland.

Stoller said he first met Lieber in 1950, when they were both 17 and living in Los Angeles. He was from Long Island and Lieber was from Baltimore. The two men discovered that they shared a common love for rhythm and blues music. Their musical collaboration produced hits like “Yakety Yak”, “Stand By Me”, “Love Potion Number Nine” and “There Goes My Baby”.

“We discovered that we both had a strong feeling for the blues,” Stoller said. “We started writing for people in the early 1950s like, among others, Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and of course Big Mama Thornton. Then we started working with bands like The Robins, The Coasters. We have also worked with The Drifters and many solo artists like Ben E. King.

Stoller said R&B leader Johnny Otis introduced them to Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952 and asked them to write a song for her. The two wrote “Hound Dog” in about 15 minutes.

Thornton initially sang it as a ballad during rehearsal. Stoller said Lieber didn’t like the way she sang it and told her she had to growl at it.

“Jerry said ‘no mum, it’s not like that,'” Stoller said. “She was terrific. She was a very tall woman. She had scars on her face. She was a very nice person, but she was a bit scary. She said ‘what do you mean it’s not going like this?’ So Jerry and I played it. I was playing the piano and Jerry was singing. She said ‘don’t tell me how not to sing blues.’ However, immediately she growled it and it was fantastic from the first take. I think the second take was even better. It was really special.

The song became her biggest selling hit and spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the R&B charts.

Stoller was vacationing in Europe for three months when Elvis’ version of “Hound Dog” was released in 1956. He decided to return to America by ship and sailed the ill-fated Andrea Doria, which was rammed and sunk by a Swedish freighter.

“I wanted to come back like I thought maybe my grandparents came to America on a boat and see the Statue of Liberty,” Stoller said. “So we got on this beautiful Italian ship called Andrea Doria, and unfortunately we didn’t quite make it to New York.”

Stoller descended a Jacob’s ladder on a lifeboat and was rescued by a freighter. He sent a telegram to Atlantic Records in New York to let them know he was safe as he was supposed to meet Leiber there. Leiber had watched the sinking on TV and met him on the dock with the news that “Hound Dog” was a hit.

“When I came down the gangplank from the freighter, he ran up to me and was like, ‘Mike! We’re a smash hit!’ Hound Dog,” Stoller recalled. “I said, ‘Big Mama Thornton?’ He said “no, a white kid named Elvis Presley”. So, in less than 24 hours, I went from thinking I was going to die to finding out I had the number one hit in the United States.

Stoller said Elvis music publishers Jean and Julian Aberbach, who had an agreement with Colonel Tom Parker to release all the songs he recorded, asked them if they had any other songs for Elvis .

“Jerry remembered a song we had recorded on our own for a little independent label in California called ‘Love Me’,” Stoller said. Elvis loved it and recorded it and it was beautiful I must say. “

Stoller said they were then asked to write several songs for a movie whose working title was “Ghost of a Chance.” The duo came to New York and were staying in a two-bedroom suite with a living room at the Gorham Hotel. They rented an upright piano and moved it into the living room so they could write the songs.

But after about a week of hanging out at jazz clubs and going to the theater, Stoller said they haven’t written a single song.

“We were given the script but forgot to watch it because we were having such a good time,” Stoller said.

Stoller said Jean Aberbach came to their hotel, knocked on the door, and asked for the songs.

“Jerry said ‘oh Jean, don’t worry. Well have them,” Stoller said. “He said, ‘I know. I’m not leaving without them. And he pushed a big chair in front of our door and he started taking a nap.

Aberbach locked them in and didn’t let them go until they had finished the songs for the film.

Stoller said they flipped through the script, he then sat down at the piano, and Lieber came up with lyrics, including one for a large production number set in a prison. They wrote “Jailhouse Rock,” “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care,” “I Want to Be Free,” and “Treat Me Right” in about four hours.

“We wrote four songs that day and they all went into ‘Jailhouse Rock,'” Stoller said.

Stoller said they first met Elvis in the recording studio for “Jailhouse Rock” and he was very friendly, relaxed and easy to work with.

“We hit it off immediately,” Stoller said. “We talked about all these R&B records that we liked and he liked. But I had to tell Elvis, I said ‘now Elvis, it’s Jerry and I’m Mike’. So don’t call us sir He was very polite We were superior to him We were two years older.

Stoller said they continued to work with Elvis, including contributing the title track to “King Creole,” but then found themselves cut off from Elvis. Colonel Parker was furious that Elvis had asked them to write him a ballad and that the songwriters had such easy access to his client without going through him first. Stoller said Parker feared that if Elvis fell in love with a song, he would insist on recoding it without owning the publishing rights.

Their collaboration came to an abrupt end after they tried to pitch a movie idea to Elvis. Stoller said Lieber was approached by film producer Charles Feldman to write the score for an adaptation of the novel “A Walk on the Wild Side” to be directed by Elia Kazan.

“It was a really interesting novel,” Stoller said. “This producer wanted Elvis Presley to play the lead. He had hoped that we would write the score and that it would be a perfect film for Elvis. We loved it. We loved the idea.

Stoller said they went to see the Aberbach brothers at their office and were asked to wait outside while they discussed it with Colonel Parker. After a long wait they were called to the office where Stoller said Jean Aberbach told them Parker said if they tried to interfere in Elvis’ movie career again they would never work in Hollywood again. or elsewhere.

Stoller said they essentially stopped writing songs for Elvis, although “Trouble” and “Little Egypt” were used in the 1968 Comeback Special.

“It was kind of the end,” Stoller said. “It was a shame because we really liked working with him and I think he liked working with us. We felt we could have written some really good stuff for him and some really interesting stuff for him. But, apparently , the colonel didn’t want us to give him ideas to make really good films. It’s one of those things.


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