Sixty years ago people witnessed the climb of one song to the number one spot on the charts. Some thought it was an awful song, others embraced it. Little did few at the time realize the impact that song and that artist would have in the music world, let alone the world. The song was originally written in 1952 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for Willie Mae “Big Momma” Thornton, a blues singer. She recorded it in August 1952. It was a success and a number of others recorded one version or another of it in the following years.
Elvis Presley, who was “new” to the music industry, also heard it, liked it, and began using his version of it in his live performances. Audience enthusiasm for “Hound Dog” encouraged Presley to record “Hound Dog”, “Don’t be Cruel”, and another song on July 2, 1956. A single was released on July 13, 1956 with “Don’t Be Cruel” as the A side and “Hound Dog” as the B side. Music critics and many in the music industry were not happy with “Hound Dog” but the audience loved it and sales skyrocketed the single-both sides- to number one on the charts in the month of August 1956.
Thanks to the Youth Committee of the Jamestown Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1960, a 45 rpm record of Presley’s “Hound Dog” and “Don’t be Cruel” was included in the time capsule assembled in 1960. Fifty years later the time capsule was opened and the contents are now in the collection of the Fenton History Center.
A second record in the time capsule was by the Kingston Trio. It was their hit record of “Tom Dooley”. The story of Tom Dula, who was executed for the murder of Laura Foster in 1866 in the hills of North Carolina, had long been told in a folk song. This was the basis for the version recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1958 which rose to number one on Billboard and on Billboard’s R & B listing.
The third record in the time capsule was “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo” by Preston Epps which was released in 1960. Epps played the bongos and recorded a number of songs through the years. His first record, “Bongo Rock”, hit #14 on the charts which was the highest any of his recordings reached. Over the years “Hound Dog” has taken its place in music history as one of the more influential songs in the Rock ‘n Roll era. The recording of “Tom Dooley” by The Kingston Trio is also credited as a beginning of the popularity of the folk song in the 1960’s and beyond.
Although Preston Epps has continued playing the bongos in the music field, his recording did not reach the historic proportions realized by the other two recordings in our time capsule. We are extremely happy to have these two iconic recordings in our collection! If there is any one that was on that Youth Committee reading this, we would really like to know what their thoughts were when they picked these three records for the time capsule.