Whole Lotta Blues: “Hound Dog”
I’ve always wondered what makes different genres of music unique. Is it the instruments used, the tempo or the style? Maybe it’s all of these things combined. The more I listen to rock and roll and blues music, the more similarities I see between the two.
What makes these two genres so similar, in my eyes (or ears I suppose), is the emotional intensity required. Rock music tends to adopt more of a devil-may-care attitude, while the blues tends to be identified by sad and nostalgic topics. Bottom line, both have attitude.
A key element in this “attitude”, in my opinion, is the vocal delivery. My favorite example of this, aside from Son House’s “Death Letter Blues”, which I wrote about in my first column, has to be Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”
The song, recorded in August of 1952, was a hit record for Thornton, and it was atop the R&B charts for seven weeks. Thornton’s growling, raspy, voice is a hallmark of the song and what, in my opinion, makes the track unique and powerful.
She had one other hit with “Ball ‘n’ Chain,” which was covered by Janis Joplin in the 1960’s. Big Mama Thornton is largely overlooked, probably because her songs have been unfortunately outshined by both Presley’s and Joplin’s versions.