Apologies to Holland/Dozier/Holland, Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, Pomus & Shuman, Lennon & McCartney et al, but if JERRY LEIBER and MIKE STOLLER ain't the greatest songwriting team of the modern era, it's hard to imagine who the heck are. As a pair of ultra-hip 17-year-olds, they began their creative partnership at the pre-dawn of the Rock'n'Roll era, eventually laying claim to over 100 hit copyrights. Covering the years 1951 through 1956, Hard Times: The Los Angeles Years" is the first volume of what will eventually be an ambitious three CD series that will, in the shape of 80 L & S compositions, tell chronologically the story of the glorious first two decades of their career. Messrs L & S themselves have been hands-on in the track selection department."
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were born within two months of each other in 1933. Leiber moved to Los Angeles from his hometown of Baltimore in 1945, and became hooked on R&B via radio exposure while part-timing as a busboy at a Filipino restaurant. By the decade's end he was working at a record store and writing blues lyrics on the side. Stoller grew up in a white neighbourhood of New York. It was while attending an integrated summer camp that he heard kids playing boogie-woogie on an old upright piano, sparking his love of black music. The Stollers moved to LA in 1949 and Mike soon began moonlighting in a Latino dance band. Our subjects first met each other in 1950. Their mutual admiration of black music and culture meant that it was inevitable that they would write together. And they did.
Enter Lester Sill, salesman at Modern Records, who, impressed by their songs, took L & S around the local R&B labels. Their first compositions, Real Ugly Woman and That's What The Good Book Says, were released on Modern in 1951 by Jimmy Witherspoon and the Bobby Nunn & the Robbins (sic), respectively. Hard Times, a hit for Charles Brown early the following year, was followed by Willie Mae Big Mama" Thornton's Hound Dog, which spent seven weeks atop the R&B charts a few months later. But it took legal action to secure royalty payments for that chart-topper. The logical next step was for L & S to form their own label, Spark, which debuted in March 1954. Six cuts by the Robins and two-dozen others from the logo are contained on Ace's "The Spark Records Story" (CDCHD 801), released a couple of years back, but y'all knew that already, right? Whatever, included here are Willy & Ruth's Come A Little Bit Closer and the Honey Bears' It's A Miracle, both of which were excluded from that CD for reasons of space. Recordings like these grabbed the attention of Atlantic Records' prexy Ahmet Ertegun, who offered to buy out the Robins' contract and relocate the whole set-up to the East Coast. In short order the group had osmosed into the Coasters and L & S were in situ as in-house songwriters and producers at Atlantic in New York.
Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots, a smash hit for the Cheers in 1956, marked our subject's crossover into the pop mainstream. But hellfire, who wants that when you can have the driving French language version by Edith Piaf?! Their 'in' at Capitol Records also yielded great covers of Riot In Cell Block #9 and Down In Mexico by Vicki Young and Ella Mae Morse respectively. Elsewhere, Jack Cardwell's version of the Cheers' Whadya Want illustrates L & S's influence on C & W. And then ... and then ... some guy named Elvis cut a version of Hound Dog and their place in history was sealed.
A few items of special interest: the tracks included here by Roy Hawkins and Bobby Nunn & the Robbins are previously unissued alternate takes-.-Billy Black, the featured vocalist on Sam "Highpockets" Henderson's Too Bad Sweet Mama, is actually Jerry Leiber in disguise-.-and the featured version of Hound Dog by Freddie Bell & the Bellboys is actually the one on which Elvis Presley based his. So there.
Volume 2 in this series will see the action switch to New York, where the spotlight will fall on the years 1956 through 1962 and acts like the Drifters, Jay & the Americans, the Exciters and Babs Tino-.-while Volume 3 will continue the Leiber & Stoller story through to the end of the decade. Fortunately, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote some 500+ songs together, so co-compiler Tony Rounce and myself are literally spoilt for choice. We're chomping at the bit to get stuck into the job.
By Mick Patrick"