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Jerry Leiber Passed Away

August 22, 2011 | People

Jerry Leiber, one of the most important songwriters in the history of rock & roll – whose 50-year partnership with Mike Stoller produced "Stand By Me," "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Young Blood," "On Broadway," "Yakety-Yak" and countless other classics – has died of unknown causes, according to a source close to the songwriter. He was 78.

"When Jerry and I started to write, we were writing to amuse ourselves," Stoller told Rolling Stone in 1990. "It was done out of a love of doing it. We we got very lucky in the sense that at some point what we wrote also amused a lot of other people."

Leiber met Stoller in Los Angeles in 1950 when he was still a senior in high school. They had a mutual love of R&B, blues and pop, and began writing music together almost instantly, with Stoller mostly handling the music and Leiber mostly handling the lyrics. "Jerry was an idea machine," Stoller says in their 2009 memoir Hound Dog. "For every situation, Jerry had 20 ideas. As would-be songwriters, our interest was in black music and black music only. We wanted to write songs for black voices. When Jerry sang, he sounded black, so that gave us an advantage . . . His verbal vocabulary was all over the place – black, Jewish, theatrical, comical. He would paint pictures with words."

In the early days, they pulled 12-hour days writing on an upright piano in Stoller's house. "We're a unit," Leiber told Rolling Stone in 1990. "The instincts are very closely aligned. I could write, 'Take out the papers and the trash,' and he'll come up with 'Or you don't get no spending cash.'"

Within three years of meeting each other, Leiber and Stoller were the hottest songwriters in the business –writing hits for the Drifters, Coasters and the Robins and many other R&B groups of the era. In 1956, their career went to a higher level when Elvis Presley took "Hound Dog" – which they wrote for Big Mama Thornton four years earlier – and turned it into a gigantic hit.

Leiber was extremely irritated by the changes that Presley made to the original lyrics. "To this day I have no idea what that rabbit business is about," he said in 2009. "The song is not about a dog; it's about a man, a freeloading gigolo. Elvis' version makes no sense to me, and, even more irritatingly, it is not the song that Mike and I wrote. Of course, the fact that it sold more than seven million copies took the sting out of what seemed to be a capricious changes of lyrics."

Despite their success with Presley, most of the acts that Leiber and Stoller worked with were black. "I felt black," Leiber told Rolling Stone in 1990. "I was as far as I was concerned. And I wanted to be black for lots of reasons. They were better musicians, they were better athletes, they were not uptight about sex, and they knew how to enjoy life better than most people."

Not all of their songs were as innocent as they seemed. "Pure and simple, 'Poison Ivy' [a 1959 hit they wrote for The Coasters] is a metaphor for a sexually transmitted disease – or the clap – hardly a topic for a song that hit the Top Ten in the Spring of 1959," Leiber said in 2009. "But the more we wrote, the less we understood why the public bought what it bought."

The hits continued into the early 1960s with such classics as "Stand By Me" and "Spanish Harlem," but when the Beatles broke in America in early 1964, the music industry changed very quickly. The duo never stopped writing songs, and in 1972 they produced "Stuck In The Middle With You," which was recorded by Stealers Wheel. In 1995, their catalog of hits was turned into the Broadway musical Smokey Joe's Cafe, and this past May, American Idol devoted an entire evening to their music.

Some of the duo's most famous hit records for Elvis:

(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care
Bossa Nova Baby
Dirty, Dirty Feeling
Fools Fall In Love
Girls! Girls! Girls!
Hot Dog
Hound Dog
I Want To Be Free
If You Don't Come Back
Jailhouse Rock
Just Tell Her Him Said Hello
King Creole
Little Egypt
Love Me
Loving You
Santa Claus Is Back In Town
She's Not You (co-written by Doc Pomus)
Steadfast Loyal & True
Three Corn Patches
Treat Me Nice

Brian Quinn wrote on August 22, 2011
One of the greatest popular songwriters of the 20th Century. R.I.P. Jerry.
Loesje wrote on August 22, 2011
Steve V wrote on August 23, 2011
RIP Jerry and thanks for all the classics you penned for Elvis & others.
Michael.W. wrote on August 23, 2011
One of the gratest of all time! THANK YOU!
Sirbalkan wrote on August 23, 2011
He was a legend in music writing industry. He will be missed.
circleG wrote on August 23, 2011
sad news but i think the man can feel well pleased with his achievements in his life.
Lpool kid wrote on August 23, 2011
the world,not just the elvis world is just a little sadder today.what a good duo they appear to have been. every time they were interviewed it was an event.the best tribute you can pay is to put on your cd's and enjoy.RIP.
marty wrote on August 23, 2011
His contribution to music was huge & he deserved all the recognition and success that came his way. I have always enjoyed Leiber/Stoller compositions for Elvis and others. RIP
TCB1974 wrote on August 23, 2011
May this talented man rest in peace. Leiber & Stoller were instrumental in the fantastic soundtrack music in Jailhouse rock and King creole, it would have been great if they would have continued having a larger influence in his music making in the 60s movies.
paulreno wrote on August 23, 2011
The end of an era. A great talent. Thoughts are with his family and friends.
Tony C wrote on August 24, 2011
Very sad news, Jerry and Mike certainly left their mark on the music world.
Jamie wrote on August 24, 2011
Thanks for sharing your immense talent with us, Jerry. RIP, friend.
Kenneth wrote on August 25, 2011
while Jerry and Stoller wrote some great songs for Elvis, they sure don't sound like they liked Elvis much. IMO.
benny scott wrote on August 25, 2011
Great songwriters indeed and Jerry....R.I.P but I absolutely second Kenneth's posting! Always El.
dgirl wrote on August 25, 2011
Dont agree at all - did u read their book Hound Dog? Their praise for Elvis and his knowledge of R&B artists and songs are well documented. What they didnt like is the way Elvis' career was handled and the way they saw him as a puppet of the Col! Imagine telling a grown man who to and not to play pool with. Imagine banning the greatest songwriters of the day (and Elvis' most successful) from the studio for fear of losing control of 'his boy'. Imagine being upset because they brought him 'Don't' without going thru the proper channels. Elvis was a great talent who was greatly mismanaged and who should have been in more control of his music. Oh yeah , they didnt really like his version Hound Dog because they wrote it for a blues woman. Big deal.
Kenneth wrote on August 25, 2011
dgirl, I have not read that book but what they say that you quoted is common news to all Elvis fans, it's what Leiber said about the song Hound Dog and Elvis is what all the Elvis haters love to hear, and if Elvis hadn't of recorded that song, nobody would even know who that Blueswoman was.
Ruthie wrote on August 26, 2011
First of all, there seems to be a big misunderstanding over the years as to what actually happened to the original lyrics of Hound Dog. Yes, the song was written for Big Momma Thornton who recorded it in the blues style it was written. Elvis himself never changed the lyrics. It was Freddie & the Bellboys who first sung Hound Dog with the lyrics recorded by Elvis. Elvis heard them sing their version when they were appearing as a lounge act in a Vegas hotel, the time that Elvis appeared there & supposedly bombed. Although Elvis was familiar with the song in its original blues form, he liked the "changed" version because the song wouldn't necessarily continue to relate to a woman jilted by a man. Elvis wanted to record it & he did, using the lyrics that Freddie & the Bellboys sang. I mentioned this to Mr. Leiber when I met him a few years ago & he did say that at first he thought Elvis had changed the words & never knew until quite a few years later that it had already been sung that way. Of course, no one heard the original version after Elvis recorded his version! Yes, he said that at first he was unhappy about it but millions of dollars later his attitude changed! Yet to this day the erroneous reports still circulate that Elvis changed the lyrics & Leiber was angry about it. Both Leiber & Stoller are very funny guys with a great attitude & personalities. Beyond the incredible talent, I will always remember how likable they are.
Harvey Alexander wrote on August 26, 2011
Jerry Leiber - master lyricist. Rest easy, sir.