The Legacy of Leiber and Stoller


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The Legacy of Leiber and Stoller

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller formed one of the best and most prolific songwriting teams of the 50's and 60's in addition to their work as record producers. Their formula was to take their love of R&B music and transform it into songs that appealed to a wide audience through their unforgettable melodies, well-conceived lyrics, and meticulous methods of producing records.

Rock 'n' roll is said to have been formed from a fusion between black rhythm-and-blues and white entrepreneurship. If so, then the foremost of the fair-skinned founding fathers must be Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Before the dawn of rock, in 1950, they were both teenagers transplanted to L.A. from the East Coast. Jerry Leiber was born in Baltimore in 1933 and Mike Stoller was born less than three weeks later in Belle Harbor, New York. Following World War II the families of both moved to the West Coast. They met each other in Los Angeles in 1950 and soon found out that they had a lot in common. Both were serious fans of R&B music although both lived in predominantly white neighborhoods.Stoller dug jazz but played with dance bands while attending Los Angeles City College. Through a drummer friend he met Leiber then a student at Fairfax High with an after-school job at a record store. They spent that summer writing songs that reflected their shared love of black pop music, and before the year was out Jimmy Witherspoon had recorded and performed Leiber and Stoller's "Real Ugly Woman" in concert. Their early efforts were recorded by artists such as Amos Milburn, Floyd "Skeet" Dixon, and Jimmy Witherspoon. Their first taste of national recognition came with a song that they wrote titled Hard Times which was recorded by Charles Brown. They were not yet out of their teens.

They formed an alliance with Johnny Otis, a Los Angeles based R&B artist/songwriter/promoter who, among other things, would have a top ten pop song of his own with Willie And The Hand Jive later in the 50's. Otis promoted a number of R&B acts including Big Mama Thornton, and through this connection Leiber & Stoller wrote something for her that would become a legendary song, Hound Dog. Thornton's recording of the song topped the R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953.

Their "Hound Dog (Big Mama Thornton)" prepared the way for rock in ways that only appear in retrospect. Elvis Presley's seminal number one hit with the song was still another three years away, and it first gained notice on the Peacock label in a loud r&b treatment by the large and legendary Willie Mae Thornton, one of many discoveries of bandleader Johnny Otis. Thornton's side sold well enough to elicit an "answer record" titled "Bear Cat" from Rufus Thomas, which helped jump start Sun Records, future home of rock pioneers Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins.

Their composition of Hound Dog was recorded by Elvis Presley and released along with Don't Be Cruel on its flip side. It was a megahit and helped to establish Presley as a star, remaining at number one on the pop charts for an incredible eleven weeks in 1956. No record has held the number one spot for that length of time since then. Money began to pour in and Johhny Otis filed suit, claiming that he was entitled to some of the profits as co-writer of Hound Dog; the court ruling went against Otis.

By their own account, Leiber and Stoller glided through the early '50s from r&b ("Smokey Joe's Cafe", the Robins, 1955) to rock ("Black Denim Trousers" the Cheers, 1955) without realizing that this change of venues (the funky greasy spoon of the former for the motorcycle of the latter) was about to produce a new culture and an undreamed of source of income. In fact, one of the songwriters' most successful rock vehicles was a spin-off from the Robins, the much better-remembered Coasters, who recorded their "Searchin'" b/w "Young Blood" for Atco, a subsidiary of Atlantic, in 1957, a year after Elvis's pelvis-shaking "Hound Dog". The same group scored in 1958 with the pair's "Yakety Yak", tickled by King Curtis's sax work, and in 1959 with "Love Potion No. 9 (Searchers, 1960)", "Charlie Brown", "Along Came Jones", "Poison Ivy", and "I'm a Hog For You". But a major source of Leiber and Stoller's success and power was their ability to bridge both racial barriers and musical genres. Their funny and funky contributions to the Coasters stand in contrast to their ethereal "Dance With Me" (the Drifters, 1959) and the gospely "Stand By Me" (Ben E. King, 1961). The breadth is even evident in their association with their most famous single partner, Elvis Presley, who managed to ride some of Big Mama's rollick in "Hound Dog", to choreograph Leiber and Stoller's high-spirited title tune for his "Jailhose Rock" film, to tame himself down to a genteel jump in "Treat Me Nice", and to croon passionately on "Don't".

Elvis Presley was looking for good material and his agent, Colonel Tom Parker, negotiated with the prolific songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. One song that they had written, Love Me, was interpreted in an entirely different way than the songwriters had intended when Presley recorded it. They were astonished at how well he had done with it. They wrote the score for Presley's feature films Love Me Tender and Jailhouse Rock.

Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman formed another pair of prolific Brill Building songwriters, with such hits as Elvis' "Little Sister", Dion and the Belmonts' "A Teenager In Love" and Fabian's "Turn Me Loose". The two duos collaborated on some projects. Through some combination of Schuman, Pomus, Leiber, and Stoller, there resulted such gems as the Coasters' "Young Blood", some of the songs done by Ben E. King after he left the Drifters, and some of Elvis' hits such as "She's Not You".

Their adopted rhythm-and-blues roots continued to serve the pair well when "Kansas City", a tune they'd recorded in 1952 with Texas blues man Little Willie Littlefield, spawned five different versions in 1959, with Wilbert Harrison's ascending to the top of Billboard's charts and rock legend. By this time, Leiber and Stoller had already relocated to New York to be closer to the virtual teen pop factory centered in and around the Brill Building. They effectively strengthened the foundations of rock by combining the functions of songwriters and producers and daring to experiment with effects, such as the strings placed behind the Drifters on the haunting "There Goes My Baby" (1959). As music journalist Robert Palmer has noted, "They didn't just perform songs for these artists; they arranged the songs, picked the backing musicians, supervised the recording sessions." The pair added, "We didn't write songs, we wrote records." And they yet again unwittingly furthering the evolution of rock by taking under their wings a young producer, Phil Spector, attracted by this sort of acoustic innovation, arguably the predecessor of his "wall of sound".

Leiber and Stoller eventually ended their association with Atlantic and formed their own label in 1964, naming it Red Bird. One of the first hits for Red Bird came when singer/producer Joe Jones drove three girls to the Brill Building from their home in New Orleans. [Joe Jones had been a pianist and valet to B.B. King, and had his own top ten hit with You Talk Too Much on the Roulette label in 1960.] Through a rather circuitous series of events, the girls recorded a song that had been written by another veteran Brill Building songwriting team, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, and it was released just before Phil Spector could record the same song with his group the Ronettes. The result was the number one song Chapel Of Love for the girls, who were named the Dixie Cups. Later that year Red Bird would release Remember [Walkin' In The Sand] by a group of girls from Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, the Shangri-Las. This group went on to have a number of hits, including the number one Leader Of The Pack, all of them on Leiber and Stoller's Red Bird label. In 1966 Jerry and Mike sold their interest in Red Bird to their partner, George Goldner. Leiber and Stoller once again began working with the Coasters. "Girl groups" were passing out of style by the time Leiber and Stoller sold Red Bird in 1966, but the genre was soon to be reborn under the guidance of Spector, their former apprentice, especially in conjunction with Motown groups.

They were doing less and less songwriting but continued to work as freelance record producers in the 70's, promoting such acts as Peggy Lee, Stealers Wheel, Procol Harum, and T-Bone Walker. Many of their songs were still being recorded by other artists.

Leiber and Stoller have relaxed from their hectic pace of making records in the late '50's and early '60's, reappearing briefly by producing " Stuck In the Middle With You (Stealers Wheel,1972)" . The song hit commercial heights again in 1993 when included on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Mike Stroller created the music for Walt Disney's movie"Mulan" in 1992. But for the two multi-talented songwriters, the term "rock royalty" should mean something more than just the money they continue to collect from their numerous hits generated during rock's first decade. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and most of the above-mentioned tunes (and a few lesser known) are currently being showcased at the New York's Virignia Theatre in Smokey Joe's Cafe. . . The Songs of Leiber and Stoller. If you happen to find yourself "On Broadway" (another of their gems) and you can get tickets, it may help remind you of how much fun rock used to be.

Selected Discography
Elvis Presley-- King of Rock 'n' Roll (RCA)
Big Mama Thornton -- Hound Dog- Peacock Recordings (MCA)
Big Mama Thornton-- Original Hound Dog (ACE)
Searchers-- Greatest Hits (Rhino)
Ben E. King-- Anthology (Rhino)
Reservoir Dogs-- Soundtrack (MCA)
King Curtis-- Blow Man Blow (BEAR)
Drifters-- Very Best of (Rhino)
Phil Spector-- Back To Mono (ABK)
Wilbert Harrison-- Kansas City (RELI)
Jimmy Witherspoon-- Blowin' in From Kansas City (VRGN)
There's a Riot Goin On: The Rock & Roll Classics of Leiber & Stoller (Rhino)
The Coasters: 50 Coastin' Classics (Rhino)
The Very Best of The Coasters (Rhino)
Elvis Presley Sings Leiber and Stoller (BMG)
Best of Kansas City (K-tel)
Rockin' and Driftin with the Drifters (Rhino)
Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller (Atlantic Theatre)

Midi links

Recorded by The Coasters, Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Lonnie Smith, Melvin Sparks, James Last, Compton Brothers, Chordettes, Leiber/Stoller Big Band, Teenage Flames, Les Jerolas, Stan Ruffin, Buck Owens, Longines Symphonette, Big Willie and the Hubcaps

Recorded by Elvis Presley, The Leiber/Stoller Big Band, Sandy Posey, The Teenage Flames, Don McLean, Bernadette Peters, John Fahey, Bill Medley

Recorded by The Drifter, Jackie Ward, Elvis Presley, Four of a kind, Sammy Turner, Manhattan Rhythm Kings, John Pizzarelli

Recorded by Willie Mae, Big Mama Thornton, Elvis Presley, Bloodstone, Chanter Sisters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Jesse Morrison, Odette, Sha Na Na, Spinners, Utopia, Jeanette Williams, The Leiber/Stoller Big Band, White Cloud, Billy Starr, Little Esther, Eddie Hazlewood, Betsy Gay, Tommy Duncan, Jack Turner, Clive Jackson, Freddy Ball, Albert King, Sherbet, Homer & Jethro (Houn' Dawg), Mickey Katz (You're a Doity Dog), Billy 'Crash' Craddock, Eddie Brandon, Terry Tigre, Bucky Dee James, Odyssey Singers, John Experience, Longines Symphonette, The Osmonds, Rudie Whalling, Helmut Gunter Orchestra, Jim Breedlove, Conway Twitty, Rock'n'roll Graffiti, Nat Stuckley, Growl, Bryan Adams John Lemon, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck and Jed Leiber, Eric Clapton

I (WHO HAVE NOTHING) - Mogol/Donida, English Lyrics Leiber/Stoller.
Recorded by Ben E King, Tony Allen & the Champs, Shirley Bassey, John Edwards, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Lionel Hampton, Terry Knight & the Pack, David T Walket, Maxine Weldon, Liquid Smoke, Dee Dee Warwick, Chambers Brothers, Petula Clark, Rightous Brothers, Miriam Love, Little Milton, Linda Jones, Mighty Sam, Patti Drew, Country Mile, Pidgeons, Beau Dollar, Street Noise, Pierre La Londe and Donald Lautrec, Vicky Sunday, Society of 7, Kaplin Kaye, Barbara Blake and the Uniques, Hodges Jones Smith, Vanilla Fudge, Rouvaun, Luther Vandros and Martha Wash, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, The Searchers

JACKSON - Leiber/Wheeler
Recorded by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis, Rod Stovine and Jean Shepard

Recorded by Elvis Pres,ey, Jeff Beck abd Rod Stewart, John Cougar Mellencamp, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sha Na Na, Albert Kmg, ZZ Top, Mind Garage, Motley Crue, Johnny & Edgar Winter, Leiber/Stoller Big Band, Nighthawks, 101 Strings, Gord Tracey and the Constallations, David Cassidy, Los Teen Tops, Bobby Hackey, Sam Singers Billy 'Crash' Craddock, Jim Breedlove, The Osmonds, Tony Osbourne and his Orchestra, Jony Ussery, Teenage Flames, Dickie Goodman, The Sound Effects, Rock'n'roll Graffiti, Manny Perez, Enriquez Guzman, Big Wheelie and the Hubcaps, Bucky Dee James, Merle Kilgore, Sandy Nelson, Odyssey Singers, Michael Bolton, Luis Miguel, Carl Perkins

Recorded by Little Willie Littlefield (as KC LOVIN'), Ray Anthony, The Beatles, Bill Black Combo, David Bromberg, James Brown, Butts Band, Ace Cannon, Roy Clark, Dion, barbara Fairchild, Wilbert Harrison, Albert King, Little Milton, Little Richard, Papa Joe's Music Box, Cheryl Poole, Muddy Water, Jimmy Witherspoon, Memphis Slim, Rockin' Ronald, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Chris Connor, Steve Lawrence, Sammy Davis Jr., Lee Castle and Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Peggy Lee, Bill Haley and the Comets, Jay and the Americans, Lowell Fulsom, Trini Lopez, Lou Rawls, Libby Titus, Joe Williams, Freddy King, T-Bone Walker, Leiber/Stoller Big Band, Fats Domino, Herman's Hermits, Al Calola, Meta Marvin Montgomery, Dick Dale, Sam Buters, Wanda Jackson, Mark Murphy, Bobby Paris, Freddie and the Dreamers, Georgia Gibbs, Cliffy Stone, Johnny Robinson, Lee Castle, Billy Strange, The Everly Brothers, Frances faye, Joey Dee, Rocky Olson, Pat Boone, Alexys, J F Murphy and Salt, Gene Bricken, Shirley Ellis, Booker Ervin, Julie London, The Crickets, Spike Jones, Sandy Nelson, Marvin Jenkens, Jan and Dean, Tom Jones, Jerry Jaye, Blly Lee Riley, Les Flames, Roy Drusky, The Applejacks, Norman Lee, Scatman Crothers, Les Reneldes, Del Rock, Jimmy Ricks, Bob Wills, David Lloyd, Nashville Gold, J.Lawrence Cook, Wayne Versage, Herb Alpert, Marty Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, Clyde McPhatter, Al Hirt, Stan Worth, Ann Margret, The Senate, Marilyn Maye, Nashville Allstars, Leon McAuliffe, Carl mann, Hal Singer, Nashville Country Singers, Sunset Blues Band, Brenda Lee, Johnny Rivers, Nancy Addams, Gordon Jenkins, Ron McFarlin, American Connection, Big Tiny Little, Blind John Davis, Claude Williams and Allison Krause, Feddy Fender, George Jones & Johnny Paycheck, Hothouse Flowers, Hound Dog Taylor, Helen Humes, Jason Weaver, Jay McShann, Paul McCartney.

Elvis Presley, Leiber/Stoller Big Band, Sha Na Na, Beau Nasty, Guy & Raina, Jesse Morrison, Glen Campbell, American Pick Hit Singers, Nat Stuckey, Union Station Singers, Donna Fargo

Recorded by The Clovers, The Coasters, Los Hoollgans, The Searchers, Enoch light, Dave Lewis, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Don Costa, Casey Jones and the Governors, Boss Guitars, Jewel Akens, The Ventures, Gary Lewis, The Surfaris, The Surfriders, The Curios, Elkie Brooks, Sha na na, Beau Nasty,