Monday, August 22, 2011

Songwriter Jerry Leiber Passes Away

Jerry Leiber, half of one of the most celebrated and successful songwriting teams of the 1950s and '60s, has died of cardiopulmonary failure following a lengthy illness. He was 78.

Leiber will be most remembered in country circles for co-writing the legendary Johnny and June Carter Cash song, "Jackson." Additional country stars to cover Leiber-written tunes include George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Buck Owens, Ray Stevens, Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, The Rascals, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hank Snow, Jerry Reed, Ray Charles, Clay Aiken, Mandy Barnett and Ronnie Dunn.

With his partner Mike Stoller, Leiber was the author of such hits as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Loving You," "Yakety Yak," "Stand by Me" and many others. Leiber wrote the lyrics, Stoller the music. The two were among the first and most successful songwriters and producers to merge rhythm and blues with pop music in the 1950s.

Leiber came from Baltimore and met Stoller in Los Angeles in 1950. They bonded over a mutual love for rhythm and blues and had a profound impact as pop music began to absorb black music as it mutated into rock 'n' roll. Before they were 20, the two had written songs for such R&B stars as Ray Charles, Big Mama Thornton and Charles Brown. Besides writing a number of Elvis Presley's biggest hits, Leiber and Stoller produced the Coasters, for whom the pair produced the hits "Charlie Brown," "Young Blood," "Little Egypt" and "Poison Ivy." Their other songs included Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," the Drifters' "On Broadway," the Clovers' "Love Potion #9" and Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is."

Leiber and Stoller's catalog was used as the basis for the 1995 Broadway revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Their last major hit as producers came in 1972, when they produced Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You," which was later used to great effect in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."

They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985, the Producers Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years later.

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