Leiber, Jerry (actually, Jerome), and Mike (actually, Michael Endore) Stoller
Leiber, Jerry (actually, Jerome), and Mike (actually, Michael Endore) Stoller
Leiber, Jerry (actually, Jerome), and Mike (actually, Michael Endore) Stoller, American songwriters and record producers. Lyricist Leiber (b. Baltimore, Md., April 25, 1933) and composer Stoller (b. N.Y., March 13, 1933) wrote and produced a series of recordings in the 1950s and early 1960s that expanded the appeal of R&B into the pop market and strongly influenced the development of rock ’n’ roll. Their story songs, such as “Searchin’,” “Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown” recorded by The Coasters, rivaled the wit of Chuck Berry’s best compositions. Elvis Presley established such songs of theirs as “Hound Dog,” “Love Me,” and “Jailhouse Rock” as standards. And they created hits for nonrock figures such as Peggy Lee, notably “Is That All There Is?”
Leiber was the son of Polish immigrants. His father, a Hebrew teacher, died when he was five, and his mother opened a grocery store to support the family. He began to take piano lessons at nine, becoming most intrigued with boogie- woogie. In 1945 he and his mother moved to L. A. By his teens he was working in a record store and writing blues-influenced lyrics. He met Stoller in high school.
Stoller was the son of an engineer; his mother was a former model and dancer. He began taking piano lessons as a child from an aunt, but his interest in boogie-woogie led him to study with James P. Johnson at the age of 11. He also developed a great interest in jazz. The family moved to L. A. in 1949, and he began to study music formally and to play in bands.
Leiber and Stoller both graduated from high school in 1950 and enrolled at L. A. City Coll., where Stoller studied composition with Arthur Lange until 1952. (He also studied with Stefan Wolpe from 1958 to 1960.) Writing songs and placing them with R&B acts, Leiber and Stoller had their first hit with “Hard Times,” recorded by Charles Brown, which entered the R&B charts in March 1952 and made the Top Ten. That year Little Willie Littlefield cut their song “K. C. Lo vin’” for Federal and it was a local hit. Their first major national hit, which they also produced, was “Hound Dog” by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, which topped the R&B charts in April 1953. With that they formed their own label, Spark Records. In 1955 they scored hits with two songs they wrote and produced, “Black Denim Trousers” by The Cheers, on Capitol Records, which peaked in the pop Top Ten in October, and “Smokey Joe’s Café” by The Robins, originally released on Spark and then picked up for national distribution by Atlantic Records, which was in the pop charts and the R&B Top Ten in December.
Leiber and Stoller signed an independent production deal with Atlantic and moved to N.Y., taking with them two members of the Robins, Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn, who, with the addition of three others, became The Coasters. Over the next five years the writer-producers turned out a remarkable series of hits with The Coasters and other Atlantic Records acts. Notably, with the Coasters, there were: “Down in Mexico” (R&B Top Ten, 1956); both sides of the million-selling single “Searchin’”/“Young Blood” (pop Top Ten, R&B #1, 1957); the million-selling “Yakety Yak” (#1 pop and R&B, 1958); the million-selling “Charlie Brown” (pop and R&B Top Ten, 1959); “Along Came Jones” (pop Top Ten, 1959); and the million-selling “Poison Ivy” (R&B #1, pop Top Ten, 1959).
Other Atlantic Records artists who benefited from their work included Joe Turner (“The Chicken and the Hawk [Up, Up and Away],” R&B Top Ten, 1956) and Ruth Brown (“Lucky Lips,” R&B Top Ten, 1957). But the only other act they worked with as extensively as The Coasters was The Drifters, for whom they fashioned more romantic and sophisticated material, notably: “Ruby Baby” (R&B Top Ten, 1956); “Fools Fall in Love” (R&B Top Ten, 1957); the million-selling “There Goes My Baby” (music and lyrics also by Benjamin Nelson, Lover Patterson, and George Treadwell; pop Top Ten, R&B #1, 1959); and “On Broadway” (music and lyrics also by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; pop and R&B Top Ten, 1963). They also produced many Drifters hits they did not write, such as the million-selling #1 “Save the Last Dance for Me” (music and lyrics by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman). When Drifters lead singer Ben E. King left the group to go solo in 1960, they wrote and produced two major hits for him, the pop Top Ten “Spanish Harlem” (music and lyrics by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector) and the pop Top Ten, #1 R&B song “Stand by Me” (music and lyrics also by Ben E. King).
Leiber and Stoller’s deal with Atlantic also allowed them to write for other artists, and earlier songs of theirs were also covered for hits once they became well known. The most notable of their non-Atlantic associations was with Elvis Presley, who came to national prominence just as they were moving to N.Y. Presley’s revival of “Hound Dog” topped the pop and R&B charts in the summer of 1956, selling six million copies. He recorded Leiber and Stoller’s 1954 song “Love Me,” peaking in the Top Ten in January 1957. In the wake of these successes, the songwriters were asked to write songs for Presley’s second motion picture, Loving You, released in July 1957. Their title song became a Top 40 hit. They also wrote the title song for Presley’s third film, Jailhouse Rock, released in October 1957; it topped the pop and R&B charts, selling four million copies. Its B-side, “Treat Me Nice,” also by Leiber and Stoller, made the R&B Top Ten. They were responsible for Presley’s next single, “Don’t,” which hit #1 in February 1958 and sold two million copies, and they wrote the title song for Presley’s next film, King Creole, released in June 1958. By that time Presley was in the army, and they had less involvement with him after he returned in 1960, though they did write the Top Ten hits “She’s Not You” (1962) and the million- selling “Bossa Nova Baby” (1963).
In addition to Presley, many other artists revived Leiber and Stoller songs for hits. Among the most successful of these, Wilbert Harrison topped the pop and R&B charts in May 1959 with a million-selling version of “K. C. Lovin’” retitled “Kansas City,” and Dion made the pop Top Ten in 1963 with two songs originally recorded by the Drifters, “Ruby Baby” and “Drip Drop.”
Leiber and Stoller again launched their own record company, comprising the labels Red Bird and Blue Cat, in 1964, and topped the charts with their first release, The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” (music and lyrics by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry). They were much less involved with the company as songwriters, however, and by 1966 had sold out to a partner. They took the Coasters to Columbia Records without success, worked on a proposed Broadway musical, and turned their attention more to cabaret material such as the declamatory “Is That All There Is?” which peaked in the Top 40 for Peggy Lee in November 1969. In the early 1970s they devoted themselves to music publishing.
Meanwhile, Leiber and Stoller’s catalogue of songs continued to flourish. In 1965 The Searchers had a Top Ten hit with their revival of “Love Potion No. 9,” previously recorded by the Clovers in 1959. Spyder Turner reached the R&B Top Ten with a revival of “Stand by Me” in 1967, one of a series of chart revivals of the song that would culminate in Ben E. King’s Top Ten rerecording in 1986 in connection with a film of the same name. Aretha Franklin topped the R&B charts and hit the Top Ten of the pop charts with “Spanish Harlem” in 1971. And George Benson took “On Broadway” into the pop and R&B Top Ten in 1978.
Leiber and Stoller did some writing and producing during the 1970s, especially in the U.K., gaining greatest success with their productions of the 1973 Top Ten hit “Stuck in the Middle with You” (music and lyrics by Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty) by Stealers Wheel and the 1975 chart album ProcoVs Ninth by Procol Harm. By the 1980s they were involved in creating stage presentations of their songs, the first of which was the London revue Only in America in 1980. The culmination of these efforts came with the Broadway revue Smokey Joe’s Café: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller (N.Y., March 2, 1995), which was still running four years after it opened, by which time it had spawned international productions and touring companies as well.
J. Leiber, Selected Lyrics, 1950-1980 (N.Y., 1980).
R. Palmer, Baby, That Was Rock & Roll: The Legendary L & S. (N.Y., 1978).