Songwriter Jerry Lieber, of Lieber and Stoller fame, has died at age 78 of cardiopulmonary failure. With songwriting partner, Lieber composed countless 50s and 60s rock and roll hits, including Hound Dog, Love Potion #9 and Under the Boardwalk. American Idol has dedicted one of its theme nights to the music of Lieber and Stoller.
Here's an interview I did with Jerry in April 1997 for The Miami Herald when a jukebox musical based around the team's songs played at Broward Center.
SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE OPEN FOR BUSINESS MUSICAL CELEBRATES SONGS OF LIEBER AND STOLLER
BYLINE: HOWARD COHEN Herald Staff Writer
As rapidly as you sing, "you ain't nothing but a hound dog," you can say LeiberandStoller, two names said in one pass. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were responsible for so many songs during rock-'n'-roll's first gold rush their first names aren't necessary anymore.
One of contemporary music's most successful songwriting partnerships ever, Leiber (lyrics) and Stoller (music) have cranked out hits for Elvis Presley ( Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Don't ), the Coasters ( Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Young Blood ), Ben E. King ( I [Who Have Nothing], Stand By Me, Spanish Harlem ) and countless others.
The songs are among the 40 classics revived in Smokey Joe's Cafe -- The Songs of Leiber and Stoller. The musical, part of the Broadway Series, opens Tuesday night at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and runs through April 27, then moves to the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach for a week's run. Its title comes from The Robins' 1955 R&B hit written by the duo.
Smokey Joe's Cafe debuted on Broadway two years ago to glowing reviews, and Leiber thinks the interest in his old songs, along with the warm reception given to Grease and similar productions, indicates audience nostalgia for earlier times.
"These songs conjure up a time that was easier and more attractive in many ways than the uncertainty of the world we're living in today," Leiber said.
But unlike the story-driven Grease, Smokey Joe's Cafe doesn't follow a narrative; rather, its nine-member cast sings and dances on an atmospheric stage set designed around the individual songs. Leiber thinks it allows the audience to enjoy their own memories.
"People are not watching a show and are not following a story because the story coming from the stage is fragmented and uncertain," Leiber said. "What they are doing is experiencing their own stories associated with those songs."
Four decades after they created their quintessential teen rebellion songs, antecedents for today's rap and rock, Leiber insists there must be something more than just nostalgia to account for the success of Smokey Joe's Cafe.
"The audiences are younger and older; kids are in there with their grandparents. I've seen that in every production," Leiber said.
The secret, he thinks, is that "We really never wrote for an audience; we always wrote for ourselves. If we really liked it and it was funny, then we'd make the record and put it out. Nine out of 10 times it would be a hit. We weren't slick or smart or knew more than anyone. We just played the things for ourselves instead of trying to anticipate what a group would go for or what the market would go for."
Leiber and Stoller first teamed up when they met as 17-year-olds in Los Angeles in 1950. Looking back, Leiber said he most enjoyed working with The Coasters, but that no, Elvis Presley's recording of Hound Dog isn't his favorite.
"Big Mama Thornton's  version is the quintessential version," he said. "Big Mama's record is the way the song was written to be performed vocally and instrumentally. Presley's was kind of rockabilly."
These days the two, who live in New York, no longer write rock 'n' roll, having grown bored with the genre in the 1960s. Instead they compose cabaret-styled pieces. But public interest remains strongest in their earlier work.
Leiber admires the songwriting of the Beatles, Randy Newman and the Elton John/Bernie Taupin partnership.
"Pop music is always a reflection of what's going on. It's a flag being sent up from some area of culture telling you what's happening," he said.
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