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Songwriter Jerry Leiber Has Died

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Songwriter Jerry Leiber Has Died

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Songwriter Jerry Leiber Has Died

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Let's remember now Jerry Leiber, who left behind - when he died yesterday - a legacy of pop music that may never be rivaled.

He wrote the lyrics for thousands of songs with Mike Stoller, who was the music. The legendary duo brought us songs including "Hound Dog," "Charlie Brown," "Love Potion No. 9." In a collaboration so rock-solid, NPR's Zoe Chace finds that to look back on the life of Jerry Leiber is to look back on both their lives.

ZOE CHACE: I'm just going to let Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller explain why the records they wrote formed a blueprint for hit records forever.

Mr. MIKE STOLLER (Songwriter): Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

(Soundbite of song "Stand By Me")

Mr. BEN E. KING (Singer): (Singing) When the night has come and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see.

Mr. STOLLER: This Brazilian rhythm supports a slow ballad without the ballad seeming to be slow or sluggish. It keeps it moving, and is responsible for maybe over a thousand hits.

(Soundbite of song "Stand By Me")

Mr. KING: (Singing): So darling, darling, stand by me, oh, stand by me.

CHACE: Jerry Leiber met Mike Stoller back in 1950. Both were 17, both trying to break into the music business in Los Angeles.�As Leiber and Stoller said on MORNING EDITION in 1991, Leiber had the lyrics. He needed a piano man to work with.�He cold-called Stoller.

Mr. STOLLER: Jerry Leiber called me up and said, hey, let's get together and write songs.�

Mr. JERRY LEIBER (Songwriter): And he said, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STOLLER: That's true. But he said, well, why not meet and talk about it, anyhow?

Mr. LEIBER: And he said no.�

Mr. STOLLER: But he came over anyhow. And...

Mr. LEIBER: We started writing songs.�

Mr. STOLLER: Right.�

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Hound Dog")

BIG MAMA THORNTON (Singer): You ain't nothing but a hound dog, been snooping round the door.

CHACE: Two white Jewish guys: Stoller from Long Island, Leiber from Baltimore. They both loved black music, and at first wanted to write only for black artists. Leiber was famous for saying he felt like a black kid growing up in his working-class Baltimore neighborhood, as he told WHYY's FRESH AIR.

Mr. LEIBER: Teenagers especially are very, very conscious about what is hip and what is lame and what is square and what is out and what is in, you know. And, I mean, I grew up right there in the middle of a black culture. And I knew dead-on what it was.

CHACE: Leiber and Stoller wrote "Hound Dog" in 1952 for the blues singer Big Mama Thorton. But you probably know this version.

(Soundbite of song, "Hound Dog")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY (Singer, Performer): (Singing) Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine.

CHACE: In 1956, it launched the career of Elvis Presley, a white singer famous for loving the blues. Black music began to cross over to white radio, arguably, because of these two. Elvis eventually hired them.

For 20 years, the '50s and '60s, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller owned the radio. Stoller would sit at the piano while Leiber stalked around the room smoking and yelling out lyrics. They could�write hit songs in a quarter of an hour.

The Coasters, the Drifters, the Dixie Cups, even Peggy Lee, Leiber and Stoller wrote their hits. They never ran out of hit records.

Mr. LEIBER: Long, long years of stepping on each other's toes and words and sentences.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STOLLER: I guess that's the bottom line.

Mr. LEIBER: Is that it?

CHACE: Jerry Leiber is survived by his song-writing partner Mike Stoller. He died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 78 years old.

Zoe Chace, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Is That All There Is?")

Ms. PEGGY LEE (Singer): (Singing) Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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