THK KING'S HELPING HOUNDS
"He [Elvis] was always gentle and polite. The Colonel was a pain in the ass."
By Michael Riedel
ELVIS Presley would have been 75 this month, and all over the world, from Memphis to
Sydney, Denver to London, the King's fans have been celebrating his legacy. You can
be sure that at every one of those celebrations, somebody's singing "Hound Dog."

As it happens, the man who wrote it was in New York this week, working on a new
Broadway show. Mike Stoller is one half of the legendary rock 'n' roll songwriting team
Leiber and Stoller, whose hits include "Yakety Yak," "Stand By Me," "On Broadway," "Is
That All There Is?" and many, many others.

Stoller wrote the music, Jerry Leiber the lyrics.

I ran into Stoller at a bar in the Theater District and asked him to tell me about "Hound
Dog" and Elvis.

"We wrote the song for [blues singer] Big Mama Thornton," he recalls. "We met her at a
recording studio in Los Angeles, and were just knocked out by her. She was
tough-looking. She had razor scars on her face, she wore overalls and work boots and
she weighed about 300 pounds.

"She was the inspiration for the song. We jumped into the car and went back to my
house and wrote it in 10 minutes. Then we went back and played it for her. She was not
eager to see these two white teenagers tell her how to sing the blues, but she recorded
it the next day."

A few years later, Presley, whose career was just starting to take off, heard Freddie
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and the Bellboys sing "Hound Dog" in Vegas. They'd turned it into a guy's song, and Presley decided to record it.

Stoller was in Europe at the time and knew nothing about Presley's recording. He sailed home on the Andrea Doria, which collided with another ship off the
coast of Nantucket and sank. He was plucked out of a sinking lifeboat and arrived in New York on a cargo ship.

"Jerry was waiting for me on the dock. He rushed down to see me and asked if I was OK. Then he said, 'We got a smash hit! Some white kid named Elvis
Presley is singing 'Hound Dog.'"

Because of the success of "Hound Dog," Leiber and Stoller were hired to write songs for the fi lm "Jailhouse Rock."

"We were in New York, and they gave us the script," he says. "But we didn't look at it. We were having a great time going to jazz clubs and cabaret and
Broadway."

One day Jean Aberbach, who owned Elvis Presley Music, the King's publishing company, showed up in their hotel room.

"Boys," he said in his Austrian accent, "vhere are my zongs?"

Recalls Stoller: "We didn't have anything. So he put a big overstuffed chair in front of the door and said, 'I am not leaving this room until I have my zongs.'
We wrote 'Jailhouse Rock,' 'Treat Me Nice,' 'You're Square' and 'I Want To Be Free' under duress."

Presley had never met Leiber and Stoller, but when he heard the demos, he invited them to the recording studio. He was surrounded by a group of men
who would later come to be known as the Memphis Mafi a. They were all on the payroll of Presley's manager, Col. Thomas A. Parker.

"Wherever Elvis went, they went. The Colonel wanted it that way. He didn't want songwriters getting too close to Elvis in case we wrote a song before we
signed a contract. Elvis once asked me, 'Mike, write me a real pretty ballad,' and I wrote 'Don't.' But it caused a furor because it didn't go through the proper
channels."

Elvis and Stoller started to strike up a friendship, but the Colonel ended it.

"Elvis invited me up to his suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to play some pool. I was aiming for a nine ball, and when I looked up, nobody was there but me.
Then Elvis came in and said, 'Um, Mike, I feel real bad. The Colonel heard you're here and, um, he don't like it. So I guess you gotta go.'"

The end of Leiber and Stoller's association with Presley came when they had an idea of their own for a movie. They wanted Elvis to star in "A Walk on the
Wild Side," based on Nelson Algren's popular 1956 novel about a drifter.

"We were so excited. Nelson Algren is a hell of a writer. We went to Jean Aberbach with the idea and he said, 'I must always speak to the Colonel. Vill you
boys wait outside?' After about 10 minutes, while we were imagining how they were going to reward us for this incredible project, Jean summoned us in.
'Boys, the Colonel sez if you ever dare try to interfere with ze career of Elvis Presley, you vill never work again in Caleefornia, New York, London or
anyvhere.'

"After that, we completely lost interest. The movie could have been something great. We were cut off. We had no communication with him. And Elvis went
on to do some unimportant fi lms."

Stoller saw Presley for the last time in Vegas shortly before his death in 1977. He introduced the King to his wife. "As was his way, he said, 'I'm very pleased
to meet you, ma'am.' In the early days, he always called us sir - because we were two years older than he was.

"He was always gentle and polite. The Colonel was a pain in the ass."

www.elvis-express.com / Originally published by The New York Post.