Before Taylor, Beyonce and even Tina, there was… Big Mama!

The classic rock hit, “Hound Dog,” usually associated with Elvis, was actually written and became a phenomenon years earlier.

In 1952, Big Mama Thornton needed something fresh to sing which led her manager, (pistol-toting) Don Robey, to approach Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who had just penned the smash hit, “Kansas City.”

Stoller: ” When Jerry and I arrived and heard her sing, we looked at each other in amazement. In her combat boots and overalls, she was formidable and a bit frightening. Her voice was a force of nature.”

Leiber agreed: “We saw Big Mama and she knocked us cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see. She was mean and must’ve weighed 350 pounds.”

Leiber and Stoller left the meeting and went back to Stoller’s house inspired. Leiber’s mission was clear: He wanted to write a song about a strong woman standing up with impunity to a shifty man.

“I had to write a song for her that basically said, ‘Go ***k yourself.”

Stoller: “We jumped in my car, my ’37 Plymouth, and drove back to my house. By the time we got there, Jerry was already cooking on a lyric. I started playing the piano and we had the song finished in about ten minutes. We drove back to [Johnny] Otis’s place and Big Mama recorded it the next day.”

“Two takes,” Stoller said. “The first one was great, and the second was greater.”

Released in early 1953, the song, “took off like a jet.”

In April of 1953, three years before Elvis recorded his “cleaned-up” version, the song was #1 on the Billboard R&B charts where it remained for seven weeks, eventually selling a million copies.

Big Mama Thornton was launched into the American rhythm and blues stratosphere.

From A Hound Dog Tale – Big Mama, Elvis and the Song That Changed Everything by Ben Wynne (Louisiana State University Press)


Come snoop around our door! This Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6 pm at the Powerhouse Arts Center.

FREE Admission!

Doors: 5:30 pm – Refreshments – Show: 6 pm – Come early and bring a pal!

The Powerhouse is located at 413 S. 14th St. Oxford, MS 38655

Author: Ben Wynne – “A Hound Dog Tale: Big Mama, Elvis, and the Song That Changed Everything”

Music: New Orleans noir songwriter Shawn Williams and R&B/funk with The New Eclipse Band

Hosts: Jim Dees with Paul Tate and the Yalobushwhacker Big Band with the Thacker Horns and vocalist Mary Frances Massey!

Info/Deets: Nothing But a Hound Dog! – Thacker Mountain Radio Hour