Jerry Leiber, who with longtime partner Mike Stoller wrote "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Yakety Yak" and other hit songs that came to define early rock 'n' roll, died Monday. He was 78.
He was surrounded by family when he died of cardiopulmonary failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his longtime publicist, Bobbi Marcus.
With Leiber as lyricist and Stoller as composer, they channeled their blues and jazz backgrounds into pop songs performed by such artists as Elvis Presley, Dion and the Belmonts, the Coasters, the Drifters and Ben E. King in a way that helped create a joyous new musical style.
From their breakout hit, blues great Big Mama Thornton's 1953 rendition of "Hound Dog," to their more serious 1969 tune, "Is That All There Is?" recorded by Peggy Lee, they remained one of the most successful teams in pop music history.
"He was my friend, my buddy, my writing partner for 61 years," Stoller said. "We met when we were 17 years old. He had a way with words. There was nobody better. I am going to miss him."
"The music world lost today one of its greatest poet laureates," said Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Over their career, they had 15 No. 1 hits in a variety of genres by 10 different artists. Among the performers who sang their songs were Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Otis Redding.
Leiber and Stoller were instrumental in helping launch Presley's career with such songs as "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." The two far preferred Thornton's version of "Hound Dog" to Presley's, in part because the latter version changed some of the lyrics.
"Lick for lick, there's no comparison between the Presley version and the Big Mama original," Leiber said in the pair's dual autobiography, "Hound Dog," published in 2009. Stoller said he was annoyed by the Presley version, but he still praised the "edge of danger and mystery" that Presley brought to his covers of R&B records.
In the 1990s, their songs became the centerpiece of a long-running Broadway revue, "Smokey Joe's Cafe," which won a Grammy for best musical show album in 1996.