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Elvis Australia : Official Elvis Presley Fan Club : www.elvis.com.au

Leiber And Stoller : The Masters Behind the Masters

By Elvis Australia
Source: www.elvis.com.au
June 21, 2004 - 7:15:00 PM

From Writing For The King FTD Book & 2 CD By Ken Sharp

Jerry Leiber: I called and asked to speak to (Colonel) Tom. He got on the phone and said (Leiber imitates Parker) 'How you doin' boy?' I said, 'I'm OK. I had a real close call there. I had walking pneumonia and I just got out of the hospital.' He said he wanted me to pack right away and catch a plane. I told him I wasn't in any shape to catch a plane because I'd just gotten out of the hospital. He said, 'If they let you out, that means you're all right'. I told him I needed a day or two to get myself together, but he said the schedule was very tight and he needed me to come out right away.

Then he said, 'Did you see the contract yet?' I said, contract?' He said, 'I'm sure it's there by now. It's a contract covering the forthcoming movie and soundtrack album. You better take a look, sign it and send it back. So I hung up, took the contract out of one of the manila envelopes, and saw nothing but a blank page. Nothing was written on it except two lines at the bottom where Mike and I were supposed to sign our names.

I thought they had made a ridiculous blunder. I called Parker's secretary and said, 'There's been a mistake', she said, 'Let me get Tom.' Colonel Parker got on the phone and I told him, 'There's a piece of paper here with two places for signatures, but the contract is missing'. He said, 'There's no mistake - just sign it'. Then he said, 'Don't worry. We'll fill it in later'.

I got off the phone with Parker and immediately called Mike. I told him, 'Breaking up with the Presley outfit is like throwing away a license to print money. After all this work, I really hate to do it, but I am really offended' (When I was on the phone with Parker, I almost told him that I wasn't one of his 'okie dokies'). I told Mike I didn't want to work with this jerk anymore.

I asked Mike, 'How do you feel about this?' Now Mike is a very measured and modest with very good manners. He paused for a moment, and then he said, Jer ....tell him to f**k himself!'

So I called Colonel Parker back and said, 'Tom, I thought about what you told me'. He said, 'Good! What time are you gonna get here?' I said, 'Tom, I spoke to Mike about the contract, and he told me to tell you to go f**k yourself'.

I hung up, and I never spoke to him again.

Above excerpt, From Writing For The King FTD Book & 2 CD By Ken Sharp.

Leiber And Stoller - The Masters Behind the Masters

Jerry Leiber, Elvis and Mike Stoller
Jerry Leiber, Elvis and Mike Stoller
The Masters Behind the Masters Just doing their thing, songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber helped give birth to rock and roll when they wrote Hound Dog in 1952. Their list of hits sounds like the very history of rock and roll almost from the moment of its birth, with classic songs recorded by everybody from Elvis Presley to the Drifters to John Lennon.

Click the link below to listen to songs writen by Leiber & Stoller.

Riot In Cell Block # 9, Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley), Stand By Me (Ben E. King), Love Potion # 9, Hound Dog ('Big Mama') Willie Mae Thornton, Don't (Elvis Presley), (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care (Elvis Presley), Loving You (Elvis Presley) Only In America (Jay & The Americans), Love Me (Elvis Presley), She’s Not You (Elvis Presley), Spanish Harlem (Ben E. King), That Is Rock N’ Roll (With J.D. Sumner?), Yakety Yak.

Elvis Presley MP3 Audio Leiber & Stoller Medley Pop Up Window (6:47)

Elvis Presley MP3 Audio Audio : Sample Hayride 1956

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Above - Listen to a sample of four songs from Elvis last Hayride show, December 1956.

Elvis MP3 Audio MP3 Elvis Audio Central | Elvis Presley Video Elvis Presley Video Central.

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were like the rap artists of the early '50s, pushing buttons, inviting scorn and testing the limits, as rock roared into being from its roots as blues and rhythm and blues. They were writing music for black artists, when one of their songs, Hound Dog, was heard by a young Elvis Presley. His adaptation turned it into a No. 1 hit and helped aim Leiber and Stoller toward the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They wrote 20 songs for Elvis until the brash young songwriters had a falling out with Colonel Tom Parker, the Svengali they now remember as a 'bully' and a 'foul, greedy' man who helped destroy Elvis. But the estrangement didn't change their respect for Elvis.

'We feel that Elvis Presley was the high water mark of the 20th Century. He's legend. No, he's myth. He's in that celestial place for mythological figures. At the time, we just thought he was a white kid trying to make it as a singer', says Leiber, the man who supplied the words as lyricist of one of the worlds' best-known songwriting duos.

Leiber and Stoller originally met in 1950, sharing a love of the blues and boogie woogie. They were writing for black artists, their earliest songs recorded by Jimmy Witherspoon, Little Esther, Amos Milburn, Charles Brown, Little Willie Littlefield and, among others, Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton.

It was for Big Mama Thornton that they wrote Hound Dog in 1952. Her version came out in 1953 and was adapted by several groups. Stoller had gone to Europe with royalties from some of those early songs and was on his way home aboard the Andrea Doria when it sank in 1956.

Rescued by a lifeboat, Stoller arrived in New York with Leiber yelling from the dock: 'We've got a smash hit'. 'I said, 'You mean Big Mama Thornton's record?' He said, 'No, some white kid named Elvis Presley'. Elvis had heard Hound Dog in a Vegas Lounge by a group called Freddie Bell and the Bellboys', says Stoller.

Elvis' recording of Hound Dog was released in July of 1956 and bounded up the charts, selling millions of copies. Released the same year as Heartbreak Hotel, it put Elvis on TV and turned him into a phenomenon.

Elvis Presley Video Big Mama Thornton Performs Hound Dog Pop Up Window (2:34)

Above - 'Big Mama' Thornton perfoms Hound Dog.

Elvis Presley MP3 Audio Hound Dog - By Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys Pop Up Window (2:29)

Above - Hound Dog by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys.

Elvis Presley MP3 Audio Hound Dog - By Elvis Presley Pop Up Window (2:17)

Above - Hound Dog by Elvis Presley.

After Elvis' great success with his version of Hound Dog, Paramount Studios and music publishers Hill and Range selected additional Leiber and Stoller songs for Elvis' 1957 film Loving You. It was on April 30, 1957 while working on the movie Jailhouse Rock that Elvis first met Leiber and Stoller. They were skeptical of meeting the newcomer, thinking he was a country bumpkin. However, they were very impressed when upon meeting and talking to Elvis that he was very knowledgeable of R&B music and could discuss its nuances in great detail. They went on to work closely with Elvis on the Jailhouse Rock soundtrack with Stoller appearing in the film playing the piano for Elvis' character. After an incident of pitching songs and movie ideas directly to Elvis and not going through the usual chain of command with Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, they had a falling out with Parker and essentially ended their collaboration with Elvis. Fast-forward to 1960, they did write a couple of songs that were in the running for inclusion in Elvis' first post-army movie, G.I. Blues, but, ultimately they were not used. Although the direct collaboration ended, Elvis did choose several additional Leiber and Stoller tunes to record over the years.

'We were completely unconscious of what it might imply. We were just doing numbers', says Leiber. Stoller says those numbers were unfamiliar to white audiences because he and Leiber had written 'almost exclusively for black performers, so we wrote in a black idiom. People started thinking it was entirely new, but the base we started from was the blues and boogie woogie'.

Stoller says they didn't specifically tailor songs to that early Elvis persona but began by supplying songs they had already written, like Love Me, a ballad they had already recorded. 'Then we were asked to write for a movie, Loving You, with Elvis and Lizabeth Scott'. The next project, Jailhouse Rock, included four songs Leiber and Stoller wrote while held captive in a New York hotel.

They had been living in Los Angeles, and Stoller says they rented a New York hotel suite with a piano in the living area. 'We were given a script for the movie and kind of tossed it in the corner. We were having a ball in New York, going to jazz clubs, cabaret, going to the theater and hanging out. Finally, Jean Aberbach who ran Elvis Presley Music knocked on the door and said, 'Well boys, where are my songs?' I think Jerry said, 'Oh, Jean, you're going to get them'. Jean then pushed a big overstuffed chair in front of the door and said, 'I'm not leaving until I get my songs'.

They wrote four songs in five hours, including Jailhouse Rock, the movie's title song and Treat Me Nice, both major hits.

After that, Elvis 'wanted us in the studio with him whenever we recorded', says Stoller. It was part of Elvis' 'perfectionist' tendencies in the early stages of his career, says Jerry Schilling, a member of Elvis' Memphis Mafia. Leiber says Elvis 'was like an Olympic champion. He could do 40 to 50 takes. I never saw him happier than when he was on a microphone, performing'.

Both songwriters say that studio time was their primary contact with Elvis, who was kept at arm's length from them by Colonel Parker. Stoller says Elvis once asked, 'Mike, could you write me a real pretty ballad?' Over the weekend, they wrote the song Don't for him and handed it to him only to be berated by Parker.

'He was upset that I handed a song directly to Elvis. They didn't want anybody to have direct access to Elvis. It was like Elvis was kept kind of in a glass box and away from contact except for the Memphis Mafia. They were like paid companions'.

Like almost everyone else, they also had little contact with Parker himself. 'The longest I ever spent with him was a dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel around 1956, after Hound Dog', says Stoller.

The breaking point for them came when Leiber was recovering from a bout with pneumonia about two years later, and Parker ordered them to California to write songs for a new movie project. Leiber explained that he had just been released from the hospital and was unable to travel. 'Parker said, 'You'd better get your ass out here'. He then sent a packet with a contract for them to sign. Leiber says he pulled the contract from the packet and found only a dark line across the middle of a blank page for his signature.

'I called and said, 'I think you made a mistake. There's no contract in here'. He said, 'Don't worry about that, boy. Just sign your name, and I'll fill it in later'.

Leiber says he then discussed it with Stoller, who told him to tell Parker 'to screw himself'.

They did and never worked for Elvis again, says Leiber. Like many others, he wondered about Parker's hold on Elvis. 'I think he (Elvis) had a very weak father and didn't get a sense of what a father was like. Parker came along, and his attitude was, 'Do this, do that, and I'll take care of everything'. Parker became his surrogate family'.

Leiber and Stoller's break with Parker ended that phase of their career, but not their music. They helped define music for a generation with monster hits from Love Potion #9 to Peggy Lee's pop classic Is That All There Is.

The inspiration for Is That All There Is illustrates the scope of their songwriting flair. A plaintive song about disillusionment, Leiber says it stemmed from his mood after reading a collection of short stories by Thomas Mann, an author heavily influenced by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The 1969 song became a Top 20 hit, shoving aside Grand Funk Railroad and other acid rockers at the top of the charts at the time.

The songwriters had no idea they were part of the birth of a new form of music when rock and roll became the new idiom in America. 'Those are labels. We were busy doing what we were doing. We didn't have a historical sense of who we were or what we were', Stoller says.

Leiber and Stoller have written for many artists over the years and have received many accolades, including induction into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame (1985), the Record Producers' Hall of Fame (1986), and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1987). In February 1988, Elvis Presley's recording of Hound Dog was placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame. And in 1991, Leiber and Stoller received the Founder's Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). The Broadway production 'Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller' pays tribute to their work and has toured extensively.

Listing every artist who has recorded a Leiber and Stoller song would be quite an undertaking. Here's just a sampling: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and The Comets, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Johnny Mathis, John Mellencamp, Lou Rawls, Tom Jones, Bobby Darin, Luther Vandross, B.B. King, Otis Redding, the Righteous Brothers, Jeff Beck and many, many others.

Elvis Presley, Leiber & Stoller and Jailhouse Rock

Stoller: I guess it must have been in April of '57 that we met Colonel Parker for the first time. It happened over dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Jean Aberbach was the conduit.

'The Colonel wants to see you in person before you meet Elvis' said Jean.

'Is this an audition?' I asked.

'The Colonel is very careful about who he lets into Elvis' circle'.

'I'm very careful about who I have dinner with' said Jerry.

Jean didn't laugh' Just be on your best behavior' he told us both.

Leiber: Of course, the Colonel wasn't really a colonel. He was Thomas A. Parker, whose former job as a carnival barker defined his personality. He had a definite shtick ('Pick a number from one to ten'). He told dozens of canned jokes. I can't remember any of them except that they weren't funny. But it didn't matter that we didn't laugh, because the Colonel wasn't really conscious of us. Of course, he knew we were the songwriters of 'Hound Dog' and the new songs for Jailhouse Rock. He knew more hit songs for Elvis meant more money for him. Beyond that, though, he was more interested in putting on his own show than getting to know us.

He had his long cigar and his confected Southern accent. He was fat and smart and a nonstop talker whose ego was always on parade. He told us in great detail all he had done for Elvis - and all he intended to do.

'Elvis' he said, 'is going to be bigger than the president, bigger than the pope'.

Naturally we agreed.

Stoller: The Colonel had the kind of energy that sucked all the air out of the room, even the dining room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I had little interest in the man. Elvis was the guy we were eager to meet.

The session was due to start later that week.

Leiber: My heterosexual credits have long been established, so I can comfortably say that the first thing that hit me when I walked into the recording studio and found myself standing next to Elvis Presley was his physical beauty. Far more than his pictures, his actual presence was riveting.

He had a shy smile and quiet manner that were disarming.

All this happened at Radio Recorders Annex, the same studio where Big Mama had recorded 'Hound Dog' back in August of 1952. Elvis wanted us there to produce the songs for the soundtrack we'd written for him.

Stoller: It's important to remember that on the day we met Elvis, he was twenty-two and we were twenty-four. We were contemporaries. Remember, too, that Jerry and I shared the uppity view that he and I were among the few white guys who knew about the blues.

In the first five minutes of conversation with Elvis, we learned we were dead wrong.

Elvis knew the blues. He was a Ray Charles fanatic and even knew that Ray had sung our song 'The Snow Is Falling'. In fact, he knew virtually all of our songs. There wasn't any R&B he didn't know. He could quote from Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, B.B. King, and Big Bill Broonzy.

Leiber: When it came to the blues, Elvis knew his stuff. He may not have been conversant about politics or world history, but his blues knowledge was almost encyclopedic. Mike and I were blown away. In fact, the conversation got so enthusiastic that Mike and Elvis sat down at the piano and started playing four-handed blues. He definitely felt our passion for the real roots material and shared that passion with all his heart.

Just like that, we fell in love with the guy.

'Let's get started' Elvis said. 'Let's cut some records'.

We jumped right into 'Jailhouse Rock'. The initial idea was just to show up at the studio to meet Elvis. But, as naturally as the winter turns to spring, we found ourselves in charge of the session. We were producing the guy. Mike worked out the arrangement with Elvis' band - Bill Black on upright bass, Scotty Moore on guitar, D.J. Fontana on drums, and Photos Dudley Brooks on piano. As far as the vocals went, I was amazed to see that Elvis was happy to hear me sing the song with what I considered the right attitude.

He was following my vocal cues.

Stoller: Elvis was completely open and never acted like a diva. When it was time to do the actual recording, Jerry was in the control booth and I stayed on the floor. I played piano on one cut, and Jerry, with his unique style of body language, conducted Elvis' vocals.

The other thing that amazed us was that no one was rushing us to get through. During a recording session, Jerry and I were used to watching the clock. The musicians' union allowed four songs in three hours or you got into the dreaded overtime. On Elvis' sessions, though, those restrictions were lifted. The Jordanaires (Elvis' backup vocal quartet), the guys in the band and Elvis' paid companions (the so-called Memphis Mafia) would order lunch - peanut butter sandwiches and orange pop - while the clock kept ticking.


Hoyt Hawkins, Elvis with upturned guitar in hand, Gordon Soker, Hugh Jarrett and Dudley Brooks

Stoller: He was constantly singing. Between songs, he would sing a hymn. He would go to the piano and play a few chords and sing a hymn.He had The Jordanaires with him. And they'd come in behind him. That's what he wanted to do all the time. Leiber: 'Nearer My God To Thee'. Stuff like that. White Baptist hymns.

Sometimes we'd do two or three takes on a song; sometimes up to twenty-five. And yet, even in this relaxed atmosphere, by evening time we'd cut three songs.

At the end of the day, Elvis was as high on the music as Jerry and I. That was a Wednesday. Elvis didn't show up at the studio on Thursday, but he was back on Friday to do the fourth song, '(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care'.

Leiber: The fourth song was the most fun because by then Elvis was deep into our producing style. Our style wasn't anything more than being loose and having fun.

Elvis' initial shyness had totally melted away and he was completely in the spirit of the music. He actually picked up an electric bass and kicked off the intro to 'Baby I Don't Care'. It also pleased me no end that even when I thought we had a perfect vocal take, Elvis would want to do another - and then another. Each one would be better. He was digging deep and coming up with great new ammunition.

On our final day at Radio Recorders, when we had all gotten friendly and were listening to the playbacks, Elvis was slapping us on the back and telling us we were the baddest cats in town. A couple of the guys from MGM dropped by and listened as well. Elvis was singing our praises when one of the men - he might have been the casting director - looked at me and said, 'He looks like a piano player'.

'He's not' said Elvis. 'That's Leiber. Leiber writes the lyrics'.

'Well, he still looks like a piano player' the casting director repeated.

'The piano player's over there' said Elvis, pointing to Mike'. He writes the music'.

'How 'bout if we get Leiber to play the part of the piano player in the movie?' asked the casting director'. All he has to do is run his fingers over the keys. Any fool can do that'.

'Thank you' I said, 'for the vote of confidence. But Mike's the piano player'.

'No, you go ahead, Jerry' said Mike in his customarily generous manner'. This is your big break. I don't want to deny you your screen debut'. So it was set: Jailhouse Rock, starring Elvis Presley and introducing Jerry Leiber.

A publicity photograph with Mike Stoller, Elvis holding some sheet music for 'Jailhouse Rock' and Jerry Leiber
A publicity photograph with Mike Stoller, Elvis holding some sheet music for 'Jailhouse Rock' and Jerry Leiber

Stoller: On the morning that filming was to begin, Jerry called me.

'I got a problem. I can't make it' he said.

'Why?' I asked.

'I'm dying'.

'Well, dying is definitely a problem. What's wrong, Jer?'

'A toothache from hell. You gotta replace me'.

'But they want you' I reminded him.

'They'll never know the difference'.

When I got to MGM Studios, they told me to shave off my goatee.

'It's a scene stealer' they said.

I showed up on the soundstage, went to wardrobe, where they put me in a Hawaiian shirt. I ended up in all the scenes where Elvis sang with the band. I never uttered a word. I wasn't allowed to. Because I wasn't in the Screen Actors Guild, I couldn't talk on screen.

Naturally, Elvis was the focus of attention. You couldn't help but notice his naturalness and ease as an actor. Yet, on at least one occasion, I noticed something else: his underlying insecurity.

It happened when Elvis walked through an area where the extras and bit-part players were sitting around. As he passed by, someone told a joke and everyone began to laugh.

Elvis wheeled around and angrily said, 'I bet you think you're really hot'.

He had thought they were laughing at him. They weren't. I know; I was there. Elvis walked away, mumbling.

One day he approached me as we were leaving the set.

'Mike' he said, 'I want you to write me a real pretty ballad'.

'I'll get right on it'.

That was on a Friday.

Saturday morning, Jerry and I got together and wrote 'Don't'. On Sunday, we got Young Jessie of the Flairs to sing the demo in an Elvis-like mode. (Jessie had recently substituted for Leon Hughes on the Coasters' recordings of 'Searchin'' and 'Young Blood'.)

I brought 'Don't' to Elvis on the set that Monday. He liked it, recorded it, and by January of the following year - 1958 - it hit #1, only three months after 'Jailhouse Rock' had also gone to the top. You'd think we'd be heroes. But in the court of the King, it didn't work that way.

Hoyt Hawkins, Elvis with upturned guitar in hand, Gordon Soker, Hugh Jarrett and Dudley Brooks
Hoyt Hawkins, Elvis with upturned guitar in hand, Gordon Soker, Hugh Jarrett and Dudley Brooks

Leiber: I get a call from Freddy Bienstock.

'What is your partner doing giving a song to Elvis Presley?' he asks. Freddy sounds enraged.

'Has Elvis decided to stop singing?' I ask.

'No, that's not the point'. Now Freddy's yelling.

'Freddy' I say, 'what's the problem, man? Did Elvis hate the song?'

'No, the problem is that he likes it'.

'That's a problem?' I ask.

'It is when we don't have a contract. Nothing's written down. You just don't hand a song to Elvis without a contract. In fact, you don't hand a song to Elvis at all. You hand a song to me or to Jean Aberbach.

Then we get the business straight first'.

'Well, when Mike and I wrote the song, we presumed the business would be the same as all business with Elvis. The Colonel is going to demand that Elvis and the Aberbachs own the publishing rights, right?'

'Right'.

'And we'll give them the publishing rights, just like before. So again I ask the question: what's the problem?'

'It's a question of procedure. The Colonel hates it when anyone goes behind his back'.

'Mike didn't go behind his back. Mike's a straight shooter. Mike 's the original straight shooter. Elvis asked him to write a ballad for him and we did. Beginning and end of story'.

'You still don't get it'.

'Maybe I don't want to get it, Freddy. But it really doesn't matter because Elvis has the ballad he asked for.

And he'll have another hit. And all's well that ends well'.

'If only it were that easy'.

'It is, man' I say 'Believe me, it is'.

Stoller: Another critical Colonel moment came during the shooting of Jailhouse Rock.

After a long day on the soundstage, Elvis invited me back to the Beverly Wilshire, where he was staying.

He'd had a pool table set up in his suite.

'Wanna shoot a game?' Elvis asked me.

'Sure' I said.

This was after he'd recorded our four songs for the soundtrack and after I'd given him 'Don't'. At this point Elvis was a big Leiber and Stoller fan and was telling everyone we were his 'good luck charms'.

'Whenever I record' he said, 'I want you guys in the studio. You're the guys who make the magic'.

Music to my ears.

Elvis' companions, the Memphis Mafia, were all there. They were drinking Cokes and waiting for their turn at the pool table. On the radio, the DJ was playing 'Ruby Baby' a song we'd written for the Drifters.

Elvis was actually singing along with the record:

I've got a gal and Ruby is her name
Ruby Ruby Ruby Baby
She don't love me, but I love her just the same
Ruby Ruby Ruby Baby
Ruby Ruby how I want ya
Like a ghost I'm gonna haunt ya
Ruby Ruby, when will you be mine

'Hey, Mike' said Elvis, 'how do you guys write all these great songs?'

'Well, Elvis' I said, 'we just kinda sit down and jam'.

'It's amazing to me. I guess I just ain't much of a writer'.

'You don't have to write songs. You're Elvis'.

With that, Elvis gave me one of those gosh-darn expressions. At that point in his career, he was still humble.

As our game went on, I was taking careful aim at the nine ball, trying to sink it and not scratch. I looked up for a second and suddenly there was no one in the room but me. Where the hell had everyone gone?

A couple of minutes went by. When Elvis returned, his head was down and his demeanor totally changed.

'I'm really sorry, Mike', he said, 'but you're gonna have to leave. The Colonel came in and he doesn't want anyone here but me and the guys'. 'Okay' I said, not wanting to make any more trouble. And with that, I left. The next day at the shoot I mentioned the incident to one of Elvis' Memphis buddies. 'Don't take it personally, Mike' he said 'It's just that the Colonel doesn't want Elvis to develop a friendship with anyone but us'.

Leiber: A couple of months after Jailhouse Rock wrapped, Mike and I were still living in LA when we got a frantic call from Freddy Bienstock. 'Elvis is cutting a Christmas album' he said, 'and they're a song short.

He wants you guys to write something for him'.

'When?'

'Today'.

Next thing I know, Mike and I are driving over to Radio Recorders on Santa Monica Boulevard.

When we walk in, Elvis is all smiles.

'My good luck charms are back!' He 's beaming.

The Colonel is scowling.

'You got the song?' the Colonel wants to know.

'We just got the call' I say.

'Write me something good' says Elvis.

'Write it right now' says the Colonel.

Mike and I go into a mixing room where there 's an upright piano in the corner.

'You know what, Mike' I say 'Let's not screw around with anything overly inventive. Let's write this guy a straight-up, no-nonsense twelve-bar blues with a Christmas lyric. What do you say?'

'Okay by me'.

I start singing:

Hang up your pretty stockings
And turn off the light
'Cause Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight

It takes us about fifteen minutes. When we come back into the studio, I say, 'Okay, we got it'.

'What took you so long?' the Colonel asks.

'Writer's block' I say.

The Colonel doesn't laugh and the Colonel doesn't smile when we run down the song for Elvis. I know the Colonel thinks it's too bluesy and too black, but just before he can say anything, the King speaks out.

'Now that's what I call a goddamn great Christmas song!' he tells the Colonel, 'I told you these guys would come through'. And with that, Elvis proceeds to sing the [expletive] out of it.

He does it in just a couple of takes. When he's through, he puts his arms around me and Mike and says, 'Whenever I record, you guys are gonna be with me'.

For me, 'Santa Claus Is Back in Town' lives on as one of Elvis' great blues performances. It took him back to his Beale Street roots, a place where he was always comfortable.

Stoller: Given Elvis' enthusiasm for our work, I wasn't surprised that we got a call from Jean Aberbach inviting us to his LA office, which was housed in a big home on Hollywood Boulevard.

'The Colonel wants to manage you' he said.

'We're unmanageable' Jerry was quick to retort' Everyone knows that'.

'This isn't a joke' Aberbach insisted.

'I wasn't joking' said Jerry'. We don't need management'.

'Is that how you feel, Mike?' asked Aberbach.

'Absolutely'.

'The Colonel feels he can do great things for your career' said Aberbach, 'and he'd like you to sign these contracts'. He handed us blank pieces of paper with only a signature line.

'Are you kidding?' we asked.

'No' Jean answered'. The Colonel said we can fill it in later, but basically it's a matter of mutual trust'.

The Colonel got over our rejection of his offer. We knew that because we got a call late in 1957 that Elvis wanted more Leiber and Stoller songs. By then Jerry and I had made a permanent move to New York - more on that shortly - and went back to the Coast for a series of meetings.

The first was with Ben Hecht, the great Hollywood screenwriter, who had written, among many important works, Notorious for Alfred Hitchcock and The Front Page. Hecht had been in touch with us about an idea of Jerry's, a musical based on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Despite the week we spent with him at his beach home in Oceanside, California, the project never materialized. Welcome to Hollywood.

The second reason we had returned to LA was Elvis. He wanted us to write songs for his new movie, King Creole. It was based on Harold Robbins's novel A Stone for Danny Fisher, and the screenplay suggested some real substance. We submitted four songs - 'King Creole', 'Trouble', 'Steadfast, Loyal and True', and 'Dirty Dirty Feeling', Elvis liked all four. ('Dirty Dirty Feeling' was dropped from the score, but two years later, when Elvis got out of the army, he remembered the tune and recorded it.) We worked in the studio with Elvis and, just like the Jailhouse Rock sessions, the rapport was good and the atmosphere relaxed. The Colonel may have been resentful that we turned down his offer for management, but when Elvis was happy - and whenever we were around, he seemed happy - the Colonel wasn't about to complain.

View more photos from Photos Jailhouse Rock

Article Jailhouse Rock : MGM 1957
Article Elvis Presley's Best Song Writers
Article Mike Stoller recalls day he survived a wreck and discovered his Elvis hit

Photos Courtesy : Photos Elvis Presley Photos

Excerpted from Hound Dog by Jerry Leiber Mike Stoller David Ritz Copyright © 2009 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted.

Lieber and Stoller songs that Elvis recorded include:

(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care
Bossa Nova Baby
Dirty, Dirty Feeling
Don't
Fools Fall In Love
Girls! Girls! Girls!
Hot Dog
Hound Dog
I Want To Be Free
If You Don't Come Back
Jailhouse Rock
Just Tell Her Him Said Hello
King Creole
Little Egypt
Love Me
Loving You
Santa Claus Is Back In Town
Saved
She's Not You (co-written by Doc Pomus)
Steadfast Loyal & True
Three Corn Patches
Treat Me Nice
Trouble
You're The Boss

Buy the CD Elvis Chante Jerry Leiber And Mike Stoller

Elvis Presley Article Interview with Mike Stoller
Elvis Presley Article
Mike Stoller recalls day he survived a wreck and discovered his Elvis hit
Elvis Presley Article Songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman
Elvis Presley Article Elvis Presley's Best Song Writers

Writing For The King FTD Book + 2 CD'sIf you like reading this article, you will love the book; Writing For The King - a 400 page Book with more than 140 interviews with songwriters like Paul McCartney, Leiber & Stoller, Pomus & Shuman, Red West, Mark James and Tony Joe White. Included are two CDs, the first contains previously unreleased RCA recordings of Elvis performing live in Las Vegas (1969 through 1972), the second a selection of the original demos submitted to Elvis.

The demo CD takes us from Heartbreak Hotel through classics like Teddy Bear, Trouble, Burning Love and Way Down.

'Writing for the King' by Ken Sharp is a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of politics, money, inspiration and great trivia about Elvis and the songs he turned into classics.

Jerry Leiber was born April 25, 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland. Mike Stoller was born March 13, 1933 in Long Island, New York. Both of their families moved to the West Coast after World War II. They met as teens in Los Angeles in 1950, where they discovered they had similar interests in R&B music. They began writing songs together in a partnership that continues today. Their first nationally recognized song was called Hard Times, recorded by Charles Brown. In 1953, their song Hound Dog as recorded by Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thorton topped the R&B charts. They formed the Spark recording label and developed a style of telling a story in their songs, as illustrated by tunes such as Smoky Joe's Cafe, Riot in Cell Block 9,and Framed. They wrote for a group called The Robins, which later changed their name to The Coasters (as they were from the West Coast). Leiber and Stoller wrote such Coaster hits such as Searchin', Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Poison Ivy, Along Came Jones and Little Egypt. They soon moved their operations to New York. By this time, in addition to writing, they were also producing recording sessions and they began experimenting with adding new sounds using Latin percussion and strings. It was under their tutelage that a young Phil Spector learned techniques that would lead to his being a producer famous his signature 'wall of sound' technique.


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