Pop music lyricist Jerry Leiber, whose partnership with Mike Stoller created such timeless hits as “Jailhouse Rock” and “There Goes My Baby,” helping to shape the identity and commercial potential of early rock and roll, died Tuesday of cardio pulmonary failure. He was 78.
His longtime publicist, Bobbi Marcus, said Leiber was surrounded by family when he died unexpectedly at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Rolling Stone magazine was first to report his passing.
“He was my friend, my buddy, my writing partner for 61 years,” Stoller, who met Leiber in 1950 when he moved to Los Angeles with his mom, said in a statement. “We met when we were 17 years old. He had a way with words. There was nobody better. I am going to miss him.”
A dual member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Baltimore native helped create the “crossover” phenomenon with mainstream hits for black artists like The Coasters (“Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown”) and Ben E. King (“Stand By Me”).
Ben E. King, “Stand By Me”
The Searchers, “Love Potion…”
Other definitive songs include “Love Potion No. 9,” “Kansas City” and a pair of songs that became eternally tied to Elvis Presley. In 1956, Presley snatched up their track “Hound Dog,” written four years earlier for Big Mama Thornton. A year later, Presley growled to “Jailhouse Rock,” a genre-defining song released alongside the film of the same name.
The 1960s were kind to Leiber/Stoller with a continued parade of hits including The Drifters’ “On Broadway” and Dion’s “Ruby Baby.” They also started their own label, Red Bird Records, which released tracks like The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” and the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love.”
In 1969, they wrote and produced Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” and in 1972 produced the Stealers Wheel gem, “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
Their songs are pop music standards and are regularly covered by other artists and featured on television shows including “American Idol,” which dedicated an entire episode in season 10 to their catalog.
Leiber/Stoller’s legacy was further cemented in 1995 when “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller” opened on Broadway. The show comprised of 40 songs from the duo and was nominated for seven Tony Awards before closing five years later.
Born less than a month before Leiber in 1933, Mike Stoller still resides in Los Angeles.
Leiber is survived by three children and two grandchildren.