25 September 2011

Vintage Archie

Archie by Bob Montana

Archie: The Raunchy Years!
Pointy Breasts, Snarky Humor
and The Genius of Bob Montana
An AndruCharlz Production
Produced by AndruCharlz

Additonal Production and Remix by Donny Jacobs
Like many of you, when I was growing up during the 1960s and '70s, Archie Andrews and company were constant companions. The comic books, the TV shows, the records, the occasional newspaper comic strip . . . I read, heard, and saw it all. Archie Andrews, the girl-crazy, happy-go-lucky, All-American kid with crosshatches in his hair . . . Jughead Jones, the wry, eccentric hamburger gourmand who had better things to do than chase girls . . . Reggie Mantle, the egotistical schemer whose main goal in life seemed to be to make things rough for Archie. He especially wanted to steal Arch's current girlfriend: Veronica Lodge, snobbish, spoiled, rich, gorgeous and proud of it! Then there was Betty Cooper, the blonde, pony-tailed semi-tomboy who resented being in Veronica's shadow, along with Big Moose, Dilton Doily, Pop Tate and all the other denizens of Riverdale. For better or worse, I knew them far better than I knew my real-life neighbors and friends.

Of course, in the Archie comics that I read, the humor was clean, wholesome and family-friendly, with precious few prickles or nettles to spoil the good vibes. I knew that "Archie" started ‘way back in 1941, but I just naturally assumed that Riverdale had always been that clean and that calm . . . after all, hardly anything changes in comic-dom!

Archie and Betty

But that was before I read Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics, 1946-1948. This huge, hardback collection, published by the Library of American Comics and IDW Publishers of New York, reprints the initial two-year run of Archie newspaper comic strips. Wow! It's like I climbed into the back seat of Archie’s jalopy "Old Bess" and, instead of the slow ride I expected, found myself careening down the highway at nearly 100 miles an hour!

All of a sudden, Archie became a wild-eyed speed demon, maniacally laughing and whooping as he held both feet down on the gas pedal! Slow the @##%~ down, Arch!!! Didn’t we pass Betty and Veronica back there? Man! When did they start looking like that? Talk about a couple of hot numbers . . . where's the seat belt? Say what? There's no seat belt??? Whoooooa . . . .

OK. The ride's over now! Let me calm down, take a few deep breaths, and reflect.

Seriously, these are not your father's Archie comic strips! Well, maybe they would be your father’s (or grandfather’s), but they’re not the ones you're used to. To be sure, most of these early storylines are the same ones that would keep popping up in years to come: Archie inviting both Betty and Veronica to the prom and trying to get Jughead to help him wiggle out of it; Archie trying his hand at golf, or football, or hockey, or whatever sport artist Bob Montana decided to make him stumble through; the gang getting chills and taking spills in a "haunted house"; Archie mistakenly asking witchy ol' Miss Grundy to the school dance; the boys at summer camp, trying to crash the all-girls camp next door . . . these plots and others would be laundered, wrung out, dried off and re-used over and over.

So what's different about these 1946-48 strips? Plenty! First, there's the sheer, unrestrained energy of these comics. Forget about 3-D: With no such gimmicks, the characters seem to jump through the panels and off the pages, tiring you out just by looking at them! At times, they remind me of "The Boy Friends," an obscure but energetic film short series from the Hal Roach laugh factory. The pure slapstick in these strips rivals anything Al Capp drew in his "Li'l Abner" prime, or any of Maggie's dish-throwing tantrums in "Bringing Up Father." (As quieter, more sophisticated strips like "Peanuts" gained prominence in later years, unhinged antics in the funny pages largely disappeared, and that's quite a loss! But I digress.)

Along with the slapstick, the humor in general is sharper, more pointed, even snarkier, than the later Archie comics. It’s the kind of humor you'd see decades later in teen comedies like Meatballs (which could've lifted its story straight from the 1947 summer camp sequence in this collection). While still basically a decent boy, Archie Andrews is wilder and much more of a smart ass; his occasional asides to readers remind me of Alfred E. Newman's "aphorisms" on the Mad Magazine contents page. Jughead Jones is also more aggressive, cynical and openly misogynist than he would be later on; he serves as a voice of reason, countering Archie's wild impulsiveness. Reggie, too, comes across much nastier than we'd see him act in the 1960s and '70s; his treatment of Archie in such storylines as the 1946 club initiation borders on sadistic!

All three boys are somewhat less handsome than they appear today, too. Aw, who am I kidding? Let me lay it right on the line for you: Frankly, Juggie is uglier than homemade sin, and one glance at Archiekins’ buck-toothed puss makes you wonder what in the world Betty and Veronica ever saw in him! With few exceptions, Riverdale High’s male student body during the 1940s was a scrawny, knock-kneed, dorky-looking bunch. Yipe! It doesn’t take a genius to guess what Bob Montana’s sexual preference was!

Veronica and Jughead

And what about those girls? Or should I say, those honeys! Yowsah! In the very first strip, which introduces Veronica Lodge as the new girl in school, the Dixie-born débutante is, except for her jet black hair, the spittin' image of the wartime starlet who inspired her character: Veronica Lake. And that's just above the neck. Both she and Betty Cooper look more like Hollywood glamour girls than the teenagers they're supposed to be. Believe you me, no chick I knew in high school (not even the ones that developed early and had growth spurts) looked like these two!

Betty By Bob Montana

Rendered tall, full-figured and voluptuous (dig those pointed little breasts!), Archie’s girls circa 1948 are rich eye candy for admirers of the female form, especially when they wear swimsuits (or not . . . wait ‘til you see the discreet nude scenes Bob Montana sneaked past the censors!  Sometimes, even the boys showed more skin than was common in '40s media).  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself drooling at the sight of Ronnie in her black ballet leotard (ooooooweee!) or her leggy drum majorette uniform. Montana got away with sneaking other absolute babes into his strips as well, and most of them were supposed to be teenagers, too.

Archie Nude Shower Scene

If you can tear your eyes away from Ronnie and Betty for a while, you’ll meet many unfamiliar characters that probably didn't make it into the comic books: Just to name three, zoot suit-wearing mechanical farmer Bobby Zocks, Hooky Hogan, a notorious hooky-player from school, and Streaky, a rival for Reggie in the bad-guy department. You’ll also see the gang interacting with adults a lot more (Zocks being one example), and grown-up foibles are fully on display. Turns out Archie’s dad thinks he can dance the Jitterbug, Mr. Weatherbee has an eye for the ladies, and you won’t believe how saucy Miss Grundy gets in some panels! Could it be teacher is hot for some red-headed schoolboy lovin’? Back in ’46, Bob Montana wasn’t beyond leaving that impression!

Most of all, this book is a tribute to Montana (real name: Robert William Coleman), who’s been overshadowed by Dan DeCarlo and other popular “Archie” artists who succeeded him. Despite the world-wide fame of his creations, he’s never quite gotten the credit he deserves. Publisher John Goldwater may have provided much inspiration, and scripters like Vic Bloom were always on hand to help out, but it was Bob Montana who designed and sculpted the world of Riverdale. It looks rather generic nowadays, but in the late ‘40s, he made that world as vivid as Al Capp's Dogpatch. It's only recently that the goateed cartoonist, who died in 1975, was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame for comic strip artists. The honor was long overdue.

Bob Montana

Though Montana was long past his own teens when he helped bring Archie to life, it's clear from these early strips that he had near total recall of those years. Pushing the boundaries of what was then acceptable in the funny papers, he had the courage to show teenagers as they really were: Devilish, conniving, lazy, petty, sarcastic and even sexually precocious. (To paraphrase screen legend Mae West: When Betty was good, she was very good. Ah, but when she was bad, as shown in a 1946 football-themed story, she was even better!) He’d almost certainly enjoy the raunchy gags found in 21st century teen fare, because they really aren’t that different from what he did 65 years ago.

Pep Comics

For those who don't mind a little text with your pictures, the book contains some fine essays detailing the early history of Archie: The wartime comic books and the 1940s radio series as well as the newspaper strips. They contain some with surprising insights, like the fact that the series' slapstick sequences were informed by Bob Montana’s firsthand knowledge of stage comedy: His mom and dad had been vaudevillians.

Despite the initial shock, I'm glad I took this wild ride into the early history of Archie Andrews and Riverdale. Once you've taken it, I think you’ll be glad, too; and if you haven’t bought an Archie comic book for a while, you might even find yourself becoming a fan again! Wouldja believe an openly Gay kid has joined the gang? And did you know there’s now a magazine that envisions Archie’s future life as husband to Veronica . . . and Betty? I ain't makin' this up! Could it be a little bit of that edgy Bob Montana spirit is creeping back into the strip? See for yourself. Now, where did I put my Archie Comics Double Digest . . . ?

For a less expensive trip into Archie Comics past, grab hold of the new 400 page all-color paperback volume The Best Of Archie Comics, with 70 years’ worth of stories featuring The Archies, Josie and The Pussycats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Li’l Jinx, That Wilkin Boy, Katy Keene and many other vintage characters.

Best Of Archie Comics

All images © copyright Archie Comic Publications.

02 September 2011

Jerry Leiber (Part One)

Some Cats Know . . .

Jerry Leiber

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Legacy of Jerry Leiber
A Remembrance by Donny Jacobs
Jerry Leiber was one-half of a legendary songwriting team whose collaborations are so much a part of the DNA of life, it's impossible to visualize a world without them. Leiber's partnership with Mike Stoller endured for more than sixty years, longer than most marriages; longer than many friendships, in fact! They complemented one another perfectly; Leiber's words clicked into place with Stoller's music like the pieces of a puzzle. Try to imagine no "Hound Dog" or "Jailhouse Rock"! No "Stand By Me" or "Yakety Yak". No "Love Potion Number 9"; no "On Broadway"! You can't do it. Leiber and Stoller not only defined the songs of a generation, they changed its course irrevocably.

Jerry and Mike enjoyed their own special brand of synergy and uniqueness. Leiber himself was a unique physical specimen, in possession of one brown eye and one blue eye. The talent that resided in the brain behind those eyes blessed the world with a catalog of tunes that will endure for many years, written from the heart as well as the mind. Jerry Leiber was on this planet for 78 years, yet it doesn't seem long enough somehow. He will live on forever through his songs, but at this juncture, all I can do is ask with sadness: "Is That All There Is?" Rest in peace, Mr. Leiber . . . and thank you.

Laura Pinto,
founder of the Pop Culture Cantina and proprietor of Oldies Connection

One of the Godfathers of Rock ‘n’ Roll died on 22 August 2011. He was there in the early 1950s, when baby Rock was just emerging from the womb. Culturally, he anticipated a postwar generation of young people who rejected “White” Pop sounds as insipid, thrilling instead to the raw energy of “Black” Rhythm and Blues. “I felt Black,” Jerry Leiber often claimed. “I was, as far as I was concerned, and I wanted to be Black for lots of reasons. (The Black people I knew) were better musicians; they were better athletes; they were not uptight about sex; and they knew how to enjoy life better than most people.” A big part of enjoying life in the Black community had to do with the homegrown music. Leiber was aware of this and trained himself to write song lyrics in an authentically African-American vernacular. He preferred that his songs be interpreted by Black artists, so much so that when the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, covered his R & B chart-topper “Hound Dog”, he complained that it sounded “too White!”

No, Jerome Leiber wasn’t Black. He just had an affinity for Black cultural idioms. He didn’t invent Rock ‘n’ Roll. He just put his own indelible mark on it. He didn’t invent the Brill Building Pop sound. He just lit a fire under it. He didn’t invent independent record production. His highly commercial productions just helped make it the industry norm. Nor did Leiber make stars out of Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, The Drifters or any of the other big stars he worked with. He just made their stars shine a lot brighter.

The star shine man was born 25 April 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland. Raised by a widowed mother, he worked in her grocery store and interaction with her African-American customers exposed him to the Blues. Jerry fell head-over-heels for its rough-hewn sound, and soon found himself longing to write and sing tunes in that style.  Accordingly, he took a few music lessons from his uncle.  However, the uncle disapproved of his stylistic inclinations, so those studies didn't go very far!  When Jerry's mother moved the family to Los Angeles in 1945, he took his love for the Blues with him. Going to work in a Fairfax Avenue record store, he began scribbling Blues songs on his breaks. However, his musical abilities were so meager at the time, he was obliged to seek out collaborators. After one songwriting partner deserted him for lack of interest, he took up with a semi-professional teenage piano player who was immersed in classical composition studies.

Michael Stoller resisted the collaboration, but he was unable to dissuade the eager Jewish boy with mismatched eye colors. Jerry Leiber had a wicked twinkle in both orbs and wicked tenacity to match. Recalling their first meeting to journalist Robert Palmer, Stoller revealed: “To me, songs meant a lot of junk you heard on the radio like hold me in your arms/and let me thrill to all your charms.  I was very negative! ‘I don’t want to write songs,’ I told him . . . but he was very persistent.” Jerry showed Mike his notebook filled with Blues lyrics. Suddenly, the mood changed in the room. “I didn’t know you were talking about the Blues,” the 16-year-old piano prodigy exclaimed with undisguised delight. “I like the Blues.” He took Leiber’s notebook to his piano, sat down and started doodling. They began writing together that day in 1950, and their partnership lasted six decades.

Lieber had met Modern Records staffer Lester Sill while working at the music shop. Through Sill, the fledgling duo got a chance to audition their songs for some of Modern’s R & B acts. Before the end of 1950, Jimmy Witherspoon had waxed “Real Ugly Woman”, and by early 1951 The Robins had cut “That’s What The Good Book Says”. By the time they placed their first chart hit with R & B crooner Charles Brown (“Hard Times”) two years later, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had earned the reputation of a hot new songwriting team. They were known as “the White boys who could write Black”. Leiber could even sing Black, doing so on demo recordings like “Shake ‘Em Up And Let ‘Em Roll”, and odd guest vocal turns like the rollicking 1959 Coasters B-side, “Baby, That Is Rock And Roll.” His gut-bucket snarl of a singing style might’ve taken him far in Blues clubs. However, it was as a lyricist on spicy numbers like Bull Moose Jackson’s “Nosey Joe” . . .

There’s a man in town all the women know
He goes by the name of Nosey Joe
Don’t care if they’re married
He takes his pick
As long as they’re women,
He’s ready to stick
His big nose in their business
His big nose in their business
That’s Nosey Joe
The nosiest guy I know*

. . . that Jerry Leiber would find his fame. Early efforts by Jackson, Little Esther (“Mainliner”), Milt Trenier (“Squeeze Me”), Wynonie Harris (“Destination Love”) and Little Mickey Champion (“Lovin’ Jim”) were very spicy indeed! Double entendre-laden songs like “Poison Ivy” notwithstanding, the innuendo toned down somewhat when Leiber and Stoller began writing for The Coasters in 1956. Understandably so, because by that time their songs were appealing to a largely White and teenage audience. Rock ‘n’ Roll was the latest trend in popular music, and Leiber/Stoller songs fit right into the new groove.

Elvis Sings Leiber and Stoller

Jerry Leiber’s legendary collaborations with Mike Stoller include “Kansas City”, “Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots”(originally recorded by The Cheers and unexpectedly covered by legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf), “Drip Drop, “Ruby Baby”, “I’m A Woman”, “Lucky Lips”, “DW Washburn”, “Framed!”, “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, “Fools Fall In Love” and the following million-sellers either written for or covered by Elvis Presley: “Hound Dog”, “Love Me”, “Loving You”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Treat Me Nice”, “Baby, I Don’t Care”, “Don’t!”, “King Creole”, “Trouble”, “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”, “She’s Not You” and “Bossa Nova Baby”. What a haul!

Never exclusively partnered with Stoller, Jerry Leiber also scored best-sellers in collaboration with other composers: Phil Spector (Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem”), Billy Edd Wheeler (June Carter and Johnny Cash’s “Jackson”), and Artie Butler and Shadow Morton (The Shangri-Las’ “Past, Present And Future”). With Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, he co-wrote the Drifters smash “On Broadway” and Jay and The Americans’ “Only In America.” The BMI database assigns him credit for penning The Monkees favorite "She Hangs Out" with Stoller, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. With Stoller and the aforementioned Mr. Wheeler, he updated the folk air “The Reverend Mr. Black”, providing both Johnny Cash and The Kingston Trio with chart singles, decades apart. To an original melody by Italian songwriter Carlo Donida Labati, he and Stoller wrote English lyrics to the mother of all angst-ridden ballads, “I Who Have Nothing”; and with Ben E. King and other co-writers(some of them rather dubious!), they kicked off The Drifters’ run of Top Forty radio favorites with “There Goes My Baby” and “Dance With Me.”

Jerry Leiber developed into a master songwriter, in every sense of the word. He mentored many of the young writers he collaborated with. To British compilation producer Mick Patrick, Billy Edd Wheeler described the process of crafting tunes with him: “He wouldn’t let me write lines down too soon. We’d come up with a line and I’d say: ‘That’s it! That’s perfect.’ But he’d say: ‘Wait a minute’ . . . and he would go back to previous lines, in his head, rewrite one of them and then come back to the line I said was perfect and improve it. Finally, I would be allowed to scribble the lines down on my yellow (legal) pad. Even then, we kept changing them and polishing them.”

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, one of the best teams in the business with a 50-year track record of hits, were equally impressed with Leiber’s composing skills. “(Writing with him) was very exciting,” Mann told author Ken Emerson. “The way he just kept throwing lines out, and then he’d take them back! ‘Try this line!’ Then he’d say: ‘Let’s go to the third verse or the second verse.’” Weil chimed in: “It was like going to songwriter’s school!” Posting at the Leiber-Stoller website, Mike Stoller’s son Peter confirms: “Jerry (helped) elevate other good songwriters . . . (he) set a high bar at which to aim, if never to reach. Jerry’s balance of natural talent and hard-won craftsmanship, of lightning wit and serious purpose, of compact form and complex content, made him not just the quintessential Rock ‘n’ Roll lyricist, but the quintessential lyricist, period! In the history of popular songwriting, he has few equals (and) no superiors.”

Artie Butler, who worked with Leiber both as co-writer and music arranger, strongly concurs. “Jerry Leiber was one of the greatest American Pop music lyric writers of all time,” he declares. “Together with his partner, Mike Stoller, he created a treasure chest of musical magic . . . how lucky was I that I got to see much of their magic show unfold daily on a firsthand basis, when they gave me my start (in the business) at the age of sixteen?”

Although the Leiber-Stoller team seemed to crank out hit after hit, for every Gold record there were dozens of stellar near-misses like The Isley Brothers’ “Your Old Lady” and “Teach Me How To Shimmy”; Jay and The Americans’ “Drums” and “It’s My Turn To Cry”; The Soul Brothers’ “Keep It Up”; Gene Pitney’s “Take It Like A Man”; The Shangri-Las’ “Bull Dog”, Dino and Sembello’s “Neighborhood” and a sizzling withheld-from-release recording of “You’re The Boss” by Elvis and Ann-Margret, deleted from the soundtrack of Viva Las Vegas. Jerry Leiber never ran out of ideas; there are enough exceptional rarities floating around to keep reissue labels busy past the end of the century.

Leiber and Stoller owned five record labels during the years they were active in the music industry: Spark Records, founded in 1954 as a vehicle for their R & B songs, was the first. After two years, an offer they couldn't refuse led to them closing Spark down; Atlantic Records contracted the team to write and produce for its artists into the early 1960s. When that deal fizzled, Jerry and Mike tried the independent route again. In 1962, they launched Tiger Records and its subsidiary label, Daisy. Although both were unsuccessful, by 1964 Tiger and Daisy had evolved into the powerhouse Red-Bird imprint. That’s where young songwriters like Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Steve Venet, Shadow Morton and Chip Taylor, all groomed under Leiber and Stoller’s tutelage, scored a two year run of major chart records. Because Jerry and Mike’s song publishing firm (Trio Music) was housed in Broadway’s Brill Building, Rock historians call this creatively fertile period the height of the Brill Building Pop era.

Leiber and Stoller

“Some Cats Know . . . ” concludes with Part Two.

01 September 2011

Jerry Leiber (Part Two)

Some Cats Know . . .

Jerry Leiber

The Rock 'n' Roll Legacy of Jerry Leiber
A Remembrance by Donny Jacobs
Contrary to some reports, Leiber and Stoller’s creative input at Red-Bird (and its sister label, Blue Cat) was usually limited to executive roles. That said, the dynamic working environment they provided to their employees made chartbusters like “Chapel Of Love”, “Leader Of The Pack”, “Iko Iko” “I Wanna Love Him So Bad”, “New York’s A Lonely Town”, “Come Back, Baby” “Hold On, Baby” and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” possible. They did keep a hand in, though, producing a large number of masters including The Ad-Libs’ 1965 chart-topper “The Boy From New York City.” The Red-Bird hit parade ended abruptly after producer George Goldner, their partner in the venture, linked the label to Mafia interests they wanted to no part of. The hitmaking duo sold their shares in the company for one dollar and went off to work with Tennessee Williams (on a theatre project that was aborted) and Peggy Lee (on recording projects that came to glorious fruition). Jerry Leiber's work with Ms. Lee resulted in “Is That All There Is?” one of the most sophisticated Pop records of the ‘60s.

That record’s evocative production values were as responsible for its success as the song. Naturally, Leiber and Stoller supervised the recording session. Jerry Leiber was also a master producer; those who’ve learned at his elbow include major hit makers like Burt Bacharach, Bert Berns, Artie Ripp, Jerry Ragovoy, Van McCoy, and the aforementioned Jeff Barry, Shadow Morton and Artie Butler. In partnership with Mike Stoller, Jerry began producing records in 1953; they were two of the first freelance A & R men, never affiliated with any one record company. R & B star Linda Hopkins was their maiden artist, and from her waxing of “Three Time Loser” on the tiny Crystalette label, the duo went on to score a truckload of chart hits for Big Top, United Artists, Scepter/Wand, Kapp, Capitol, Columbia/Epic, RCA Victor, Red-Bird/Blue Cat, and especially Atlantic/Atco Records artists, many of them with Leiber-Stoller compositions.

In addition to the Ad-Libs, their magic touch in the studio benefited The Robins (“Riot In Cell Block Number Nine”), Sammy Turner (“Lavender Blue”), Ben E. King (“Stand By Me”), LaVern Baker (“Saved”), Jay and The Americans (“She Cried”), Mike Clifford (“Close To Cathy”), The Exciters (“Tell Him”), Chuck Jackson (“I Keep Forgettin’), Alvin Robinson (“Something You Got”), Big Mama Thornton (the original version of “Hound Dog”), Stealer’s Wheel (“Stuck In The Middle With You”), The Clovers (“Love Potion Number Nine”) and The Drifters (a legendary hit streak including “There Goes My Baby”, “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Up On The Roof” and “On Broadway”). To say that these records were influential would be a gross understatement; A & R men in locales as far away as Münich, Germany mined their grooves for ideas and pimped Mike and Jerry’s production style. The Latin rhythms found on most of the Drifters and Ben E. King sides touched off a Habanera Rock craze that dominated Pop/Rock arrangements for nearly a decade.

Coasters Greatest Hits

Leiber and Stoller’s best-known productions are arguably those waxed with The Coasters, a vocal group spun off from The Robins. “The Coasters were (Leiber and Stoller’s) creation and, in many respects, their alter egos,” observed writer James Ritz. “They produced, arranged, rehearsed, coerced and through sheer symbiotic charisma modeled (the group) into the premier musical comedy act of their generation.” Their classic Atco sides bear out Ritz’s claim: “Searchin’”, “Young Blood”, “Yakety Yak”, “Charlie Brown”, “Along Came Jones”, “Poison Ivy” and “Little Egypt” provided an irreverent soundtrack to the lives of many a teenager in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. A steady stream of Coasters cover versions both preceded and followed the revival of their catalogue in 1995 via the Tony Award-nominated musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café.

Jerry and Mike logged sessions with artists as diverse as T-Bone Walker, Roy Hamilton, Jack Jones, The Shirelles, piano wizards Ferrante and Teicher, actress Leslie Uggams, actor/singer/songwriter Anthony Newley and Jazz legend Chris Connor. Without credit, Leiber and Stoller supervised soundtrack sessions for the Elvis Presley movies Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. Their final charting Pop production, Elkie Brooks’ self-titled 1976 album, contained the maudlin “Pearl’s A Singer” and other favorites featured in their Broadway show.

Take my word for it: If you see the words “A Leiber-Stoller Production” emblazoned on a record label, nine times out of ten, the quality of the music will be excellent. Part of the excellence was how Leiber interacted with studio musicians. “(Jerry) always made you feel important, even if you were just the background singer,” recalls producer and former session vocalist Ron Dante, who logged a few Leiber-Stoller sessions. “He was a wonderful human being (and) a true legend of the Brill Building. He made history with his partner, Mike.” However history-making his work in the studio was, though, Jerry Leiber would no doubt call his three sons Jake, Jed and Oliver Leiber (the latter two having followed him into the music industry) his most excellent productions of all.

When a dude’s name can be found both on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you know you’ve lost a major talent when he dies! The RROF induction took place in 1987; the Walk of Fame star was laid in 1994.  Leiber had entered the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1985. Jerry also received the National Academy of Songwriter’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the NARAS Trustees Award, the Johnny Mercer Award from the National Academy of Popular Music(most appropriate, since Mercer was another White man could write and “sing Black”), and the Ivor Novello Award.

In 1995, the aforementioned Smokey Joe’s Café took Broadway by storm, selling out night after night and winning a Best Cast Album Grammy award(the cast album was a Leiber-Stoller Production, of course). It went on to become the longest-running revue ever featured on the Great White Way, and will probably never stop being produced in regional theatres. Wherever it plays, the classic songs bring audiences to their feet.

A joint biography with Mike Stoller, Hound Dog, was published by Simon and Shuster in 2009. Unfortunately, Jerry's longtime desire to mount a show about 19th century British humorist Oscar Wilde went unrealized; Mike Stoller still hopes to find backers. In addition to his priceless legacy of songs, stage works and recording sessions, Jerry Leiber leaves behind Jake, Jed, Oliver, and two beloved granddaughters, Daphne and Chloë.

Having suffered heart problems for several years, Leiber knew the time he had left was probably short. He ended his 2009 autobiography with these words: “If my next medical report is (bad), then this is my plan: I’m going to buy a fifth of Maker’s Mark bourbon, a carton of Camels, and as many Billie Holiday records as I can carry.” Quoting one of the most famous lines from “Is That All There Is,” he promised: “I’m going to break out the booze and have a ball . . . if that’s all there is.”

But that’s not all there is; not by a longshot! When you’re responsible for as many enduring hits as Jerome Leiber created in his lifetime, the music never ends. In 1975, Peggy Lee committed to wax the some of the steamiest lyrics he ever wrote:

Some cats know how to stir up the feelin’
They keep foolin’ round ‘til you’re halfway to the ceilin’
Some cats know how to make the honey flow
But if a cat don’t know
A cat don’t know!*

Jerome Leiber was the kind of a cat who knew! He not only knew how to make the honey flow; he knew how to keep it flowing. You can believe what Laura Pinto says: The spicy and sweet taste he added to American popular music will certainly last forever.

Hound Dog

*Excerpts from “Nosey Joe” and “Some Cats Know”, words and music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ©copyright 1952, 1972 Sony/ATV Songs LLC (BMI)

Numerous Leiber and Stoller songbook compilations have been released over the years, but if you want to get a good overview of their songwriting work, these are the best:

There’s A Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters On Atco (Rhino M2 7740, 2007); The Leiber & Stoller Story: Hard Times (UK Ace Records 1010, 2004); The Leiber & Stoller Story: On The Horizon (UK Ace Records 1116, 2006); The Leiber & Stoller Story: Shake ‘Em Up And Let ‘Em Roll (UK Ace Records 1156, 2007); Elvis Presley Sings Leiber and Stoller (RCA Records 3026-2-R, 1991); There’s A Riot Goin’ On: The Rock & Roll Classics of Leiber & Stoller (Rhino 70593, 1991); Smokey Joe’s Café: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller(Atlantic Theatre 82765-2, 1995).

Special thanks to Artie Butler, Ron Dante, Laura Pinto and Peter Stoller for proofreading and other contributions.