Rock pioneer Jerry Leiber dies
Despite millions and millions of pieces of contrary evidence, Jerry Leiber insisted there was no magic behind his becoming half of the most famous songwriting team in early rock ‘n’ roll.
Jerry Leiber helped compose some of the early rock era’s most recognizable songs. He died Monday at the age of 78.
Leiber, who died Monday at 78 in Los Angeles, formed a partnership in 1950 with Mike Stoller, who survives him, that lasted the rest of his life and produced million-selling pop and R&B hits for Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, James Brown and The Coasters. But the origin of that career path was mundane.
Working as a 17-year-old busboy in an L.A. cafeteria, “I heard this music coming out of the radio and it was (Jimmy Witherspoon’s) Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” Leiber told USA TODAY in 2009. “It got me. I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I decided just like that. No romantic story.”
Turns out the sly lyricist and the budding blues/jazz pianist Stoller, also 17, could do it quite well: Their 2009 autobiography Hound Dog tells of them hitting the charts in the USA or the U.K. 76 times from 1951 to 1998.
Elvis put them on the map with Hound Dog in 1956 and they followed with such iconic tunes as Is That All There Is? (written for Peggy Lee), Love Potion No. 9 (The Clovers), Kansas City (Wilbert Harrison) and Yakety Yak (The Coasters).
They were enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In May, American Idol’s final four contestants sang the duo’s songs, with Lady Gaga mentoring.
Reflecting on his career in 2009, Leiber said: “We always felt lucky that we were getting paid to laugh.”