Striking a Match

Josh Alan Friedman drags a rock 'n' roll great out of hiding

If all goes according to plan, next year will herald the release of about a dozen never-before-heard songs from the songwriting team that all but created rock 'n' roll. And even though Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the men behind hundreds of R&B "race records" and early rock hits including "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak" and "Love Potion #9," could easily assemble an eager all-star lineup to perform the album, it will be a 49-year-old Dallasite who will bring the tunes to life.

A man of various talents, Josh Alan Friedman is the author of underground classic Tales of Times Square, a former Screw editor and the subject of Dallas actor-director Kevin Page's as-yet-undistributed documentary Blacks & Jews. And there's more--he's also a songwriter and one of the best guitarists to ever set foot in Texas, as he'll prove in an acoustic guitar enthusiast's dream bill opening for Adrian Legg on Saturday. [He's also a former contributor to the Dallas Observer. --Ed.]

Friedman is currently at work on Leiber's biography (working title: Kiss My Big Black Ass), which tells the story of how African-Americans, Jewish-Americans and Mobster-Americans formed an unlikely artistic alliance to create a pop culture phenomenon...that is, if Friedman can convince Leiber to stop worrying about mob retribution. Leiber has never spoken publicly about the influence mobsters had on record companies, radio stations and jukebox owners and, Friedman says, is still nervous about how current Gambino or Genovese crime family associates might react to his allegations.

Friedman also wants to coax Leiber into discussing the role Jews had in the early days of rock. He compares Leiber and Stoller to an earlier Jewish songwriter, Irving Berlin, the Yiddish-speaking immigrant responsible for quintessentially American standards such as "White Christmas" and "God Bless America."

"Jerry doesn't want to emphasize this, but I know there's this black/Jewish alchemy that created R&B and rock 'n' roll," Friedman says. "The songwriters and record companies were all Jewish, and the performers were all black...Leiber grew up in the slums, speaking Yiddish as his first language in Baltimore in a black neighborhood. When they started, their mission was 'making black folks laugh.' Nobody knew they were white."

Leiber plans to sing in the collaboration, Friedman says. It won't be Friedman's first time to play a lost Leiber-Stoller song; his 2001 Josh Alan Band album included "Strike a Match," a song originally written in 1955 for Howlin' Wolf. It will be Leiber's first time in the studio since he and Stoller produced Stealer's Wheel's self-titled debut--which included top-10 hit "Stuck in the Middle With You"--in 1972. Friedman plans to include the results of the recording session as a CD that comes with the book.

"They turned down [a producing job for] the Rolling Stones," Friedman said. "They'd had enough. But I'm easy to work with."

 
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