LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jerry Leiber, who with longtime partner Mike Stoller wrote “Hound Dog,” ”Jailhouse Rock,” ”Yakety Yak” and other hit songs that came to define early rock ‘n’ roll, died Monday. He was 78.
He was surrounded by family when he died unexpectedly of cardiopulmonary failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his longtime publicist, Bobbi Marcus.
With Mr. Leiber as lyricist and Mr. Stoller as composer, the team channeled their blues and jazz backgrounds into pop songs performed by such artists as Elvis Presley, Dion and the Belmonts, the Coasters, the Drifters and Ben E. King in a way that would help create a joyous new musical style.
From their breakout hit, blues great Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 rendition of “Hound Dog,” until their songwriting took a more serious turn in 1969 with Peggy Lee’s recording of “Is That All There Is?” the pair remained one of the most successful teams in pop-music history.
“He was my friend, my buddy, my writing partner for 61 years,” Mr. Stoller said. “We met when we were 17 years old. He had a way with words. There was nobody better. I am going to miss him.”
The two chronicled their lifelong partnership, which Mr. Leiber called “the longest-running argument in show business,” in their 2009 memoir, “Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography.” The pair’s writing prowess and influence over the recording industry as pioneering independent producers earned them induction into the nonperformer category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
“The music world lost today one of its greatest poet laureates,” said Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. “Jerry not only wrote the words that everyone was singing, he led the way in how we verbalized our feelings about the societal changes we were living with in post-World War II life. Appropriately, his vehicles of choice were the emerging populist musical genres of rhythm and blues and then rock and roll.”
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said Mr. Leiber and Mr. Stoller helped shape the music of the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Together, they were an extraordinary team that generated a rich and diverse musical catalog that leaves an indelible imprint on our cultural history,” he said.
Mr. Leiber, who like Mr. Stoller was white, said his musical inspiration came from the close identification he had with black American culture during his boyhood and teen years in Baltimore and Los Angeles.
Thus, he was the perfect lyricist for bluesy, jazz-inflected compositions such as “Kansas City,” ”Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots,” ”Charlie Brown,” ”Drip Drop,” ”Stand by Me” and “On Broadway.”
The lyrics could be poignant, as in “On Broadway,” or full of humor, as in the antics of high school goofball Charlie Brown, who “calls the English teacher Daddy-O” and laments, “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”
The result was a serious departure from the classically inflected music that had been produced by a previous generation of pop songwriters that included George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
“Irving Berlin was the greatest songwriter of all time,” Mr. Leiber told the Los Angeles Times’ West magazine in 2006. “I was in awe of him. But his music wasn’t my music. My music was the blues.”
Over their career, they had 15 No. 1 hits in a variety of genres by 10 different artists. Among the performers who sang their songs were Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Otis Redding.