Thursday, September 07, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Freddie Bell (courtesy of Bob Dylan)

Freddie Bell & The Bellboys -- Hound Dog
Here's a new one on me. On Bob Dylan's radio show, he played a version of Hound Dog by a band I'd never even heard of. I always assumed Elvis picked up Hound Dog directly from Big Mama Thornton. But according to Dylan (and confirmed by a Google search), Elvis actually heard it performed live by Freddie Bell & The Bellboys in Las Vegas. Once you hear this track, you'll believe it. Elvis's arrangement is much closer to this than to the original.

According to Wikipedia, Freddie Bell was an Italian kid (nee Belo) from South Philly who formed a band to start playing R&B in the early 50s. It was pretty rare for white kids to play R&B back then. Bill Haley also got his start in Philly around that time, and Jimmy Cavallo was doing the same in North Carolina and upstate New York. The Bellboys covered Hound Dog in '55. Elvis heard them play it in Vegas the next year, and politely asked their permission to record it himself. Freddie and his band went on to star in a few films, notably Rock Around the Clock, but faded like most early rock groups by the end of the decade.

I trimmed this song from an mp3 of the radio show. I left in Dylan's patter at the beginning and end of the song. I still can't get over Dylan doing a radio show. Kind of like Zeus coming down from Mt. Olympus and opening a corner coffee shop. Still, the guy's got an amazing knowledge of American music. I guess you'd have to expect it.

Bonus track:
If you've never heard Big Mama Thornton's original, you're in for a treat. It's down and dirty, backed by Johnny Otis's band with Pete Lewis on a mean guitar. (You'd never guess it was written by a couple of white kids, Lieber and Stoller at the start of their career.) It spent seven weeks as the #1 R&B hit in 1953.
Big Mama Thornton -- Hound Dog
Comments:
I never heard before the Bell's version. It's amazing.

Big mama's version is very hot.

Yeah, it blew me away, too. I feel like I finally found the "missing link" between Elvis' version and Big Mama Thornton's.

Wow, that is a good find. Rock on.

I thought he was the original. I never heard of the Bell's version yet. But who sings it well?

The missing link!
It's a good idea..

now that I think about it, the first recording of Elvis ´┐Żbeen the acetate "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" originally of the Ink Spots... another black vocal group...

Oh, thank you for the BMT version! I'd never heard it before and it's great!

Glad you like it, Audrey. As much as I've always enjoyed Elvis' version, Big Mama Thornton takes it to a whole other level. It sounds like Johnny Otis had a lot to do with it, too. He actually claimed to have written it, disputing the songwriting credit with Lieber & Stoller.

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