Monday, March 28, 2016

When The Hound Dog Began To Howl-With Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog In Mind

When The Hound Dog Began To Howl-With Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog In Mind  

By Jack Callahan

Bart Webber, reflecting on some songs from their school days back in the late 1950s and early 1960s one night when he was in a reflecting kind of mood, a mood that had settled over him more frequently of late surprising a lot of people including the guy who was listening to him, Jimmy Jenkins, said on the face of it there was no way some of the songs they loved, or were popular, or girls liked which was important made sense. Bart had the Elvis Presley version of Willa Mae “Big Mama” Thornton’s Hound Dog in mind which as he explained to Jimmy was supposed to be directed toward a girl, a girl the singer of the song was in love with who, as will happen between men and women, okay, okay boys and girls, treated him worse than some old mangy cur. Made his almost cry with her crying she was so mean to the lad. But how did it fit with the persona of Elvis, or with any guy who tried to call his gal of interest nothing but a hound dog. The least the guy should have expected to be in a deep freeze for about six months and then buried in some small abyss. Done for.

So, okay, maybe it didn’t  have to do with the song when Elvis sang anything in his golden days, say 1955 to about 1958, after which he fell off the face of the earth, died or something, and was resurrected as this yucky (teenage girl talk for someone who in on the outs, someone who doesn’t matter in the great teenage girl scheme of things) foolishly miscast teenage idol movie star (compare the magic of say the 1956 movie Jailhouse Rock when he gave his all with 1960s Blue Hawaii where he mailed it in and if you don’t see a different then well maybe move on to another of my blog entries). Some people say he went into the Army (which was true) but most serious aficionados, meaning those who have seen Elvis recently on the street, or worse, are waiting for his return outside Graceland in Memphis, know he had some hideous operation and came back as a drug addict and cheapjack hustler in a large jumpsuit.                   

But that hard fact, if it is a hard fact, doesn’t explain why he could sing Hound Dog and nobody did anything but scream to the rafters when he sang the song (girls, girls mainly, but I remember a few guys who, trying to emulate the King screamed too but they went on to become Elvis impersonators, or some kind of impersonators, and never got a play from those girls despite the sideburns, the wiggly hips and the patented snare they tried unsuccessfully to copy), why girls started throwing their underpants (the older girls, young women, and some not so young women the younger girls not understanding anything about what was making them all, well, all hormonal and leave it at that), and buying up every copy at Trader Bill’s Records up in Carver Square with their allowances (most guys I knew then either didn’t get an allowance because they, we, were so poor an allowance would have meant not paying the rent or something or if they did preferred not to spend it on Elvis records and let their sisters grab those platters).        

That was then and now is now and Bart had a better handle on the sources of the rock and roll music that he and his crowd lived for. It was long after Elvis had died, had been resurrected, or people had started waiting for the “second coming” when Sam Lowell, a guy he knew a little in high school, got him interested in the blues and was making a small argument in favor of the key influence that rhythm and blues, meaning “black” music, Negro music to use the phrase of the times (the polite phrase, others were nastier) had on rock and roll and let him listen on his stereo record player (it’s had been a while, okay) to a record by Big Mama Thornton which had her version of Hound Dog on one side of the album. Bart’s immediate response, after he said he liked the subterranean hip beat on her version, was to wonder if “Big Mama had covered Elvis’ great hit.” Sam laughed, told Bart that Big Mama had cut that number in 1951 and made about six dollars off of the royalties. Elvis made millions.

That was the hard fact of 1950s “race records” and their audience, explained the lynchpin of how Sam Phillips at Sun Records who put rock and roll on the map almost single-handedly was able to put “race music” and a good old white boy together to make northern girls (and others) throw their underwear on to any stage Elvis appeared on,  make project boys like Bart and Sam grow silly sideburns, almost injury themselves trying to make Elvis-type moves and spent hours before the mirror working on that snarl. But also explained why Big Mama’s version made more lyrical sense since she was talking about her no good rascal man. Explained why in every way Big Mama’s version would make Elvis blush with shame for his grand larceny felony if he ever was in the same room with her. Yeah.    


No comments:

Post a Comment