Jerry Leiber, half of the famed songwriting duo Leiber & Stoller, died today of cardiopulmonary failure. He was 78.
The lyricist to Mike Stoller's composing half, the duo was responsible for penning some of the earliest, biggest crossover hits in rock 'n' roll's infancy. Among their more memorable contributions to the rock 'n' roll canon were "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak," "Poison Ivy," "Stand By Me," "Love Potion No. 9" and "Jailhouse Rock." Members of both the Songwriting Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Leiber & Stoller met in Los Angeles in 1950, where their partnership, which never really ended, began.
In his 2008 book, Tell The Truth Until They Bleed, Dallas-dwelling bluesman and Observer contributor Josh Alan Friedman profiled Leiber in his 73-page opening chapter, called "Jerry Leiber: Kiss My Big Black Tokhis!" The piece details Leiber's rise as a songwriter and also as a Jew in an Afro-centric world. Said Friedman of Leiber in a 2006 Observer profile:
"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."
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Over the course of writing this biographical piece, Friedman got to know Leiber fairly well. Leiber & Stoller even offered Friedman a holdover song of theirs from the '50s, "Strike a Match" (originally written for Howlin' Wolf) for his 2002 release, Josh Alan Band.
"It was the one song they had leftover in the closet," Friedman recalled over the phone, just moments ago.
Stoller, also 78, has yet to release a statement about his partner's death.
Later this week, Friedman will be along with a proper obituary for the famed songwriter.