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Songwriter Jerry Leiber Dead at 78

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Jerry Leiber, half of the legendary songwriting team Leiber and Stoller, passed away on August 22, 2011. Along with writing partner Mike Stoller, Leiber crafted Leiber and Stollersome of the best-known songs in R&B and rock for such artists as the Drifters, the Coasters, Elvis Presley, and even Peggy Lee. Both avid soul and blues fans, the pair met in 1950 in Los Angeles. Leiber possessed a flair for writing humorous, innuendo-filled lyrics; Stoller composed bluesy tunes on his piano. Their major break came in 1952, when they wrote “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton in 1952. Four years later, Presley covered the song, although he changed the lyrics to tone down the sexuality. While Leiber and Stoller famously hated his rendition, they ended up penning several songs for the King, including “Jailhouse Rock” and “Treat Me Nice.”

They relocated to New York in the late 1950s, where they took up residence in the storied Brill Building, joining the ranks of composers such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The hits piled up, and remain in the great American pop and rock catalog: “On Broadway” by the Drifters; “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters; and “Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King. But their songs extended beyond rock, pop, and R&B; they successfully collaborated with Lee on “I’m A Woman” and “Is That All There Is?” as well as several other projects.

The duo continued collaborating on projects for decades, founding two labels, working as independent producers, and creating the Broadway musical Smokey Joe’s Cafe. For more information, visit the “Cutout Bin’s” overview of part of the Leiber and Stoller catalog, their official website, and Leiber’s Songwriter’s Hall of Fame entry.

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