Updated! Jerry Leiber, Half of Smokey Joe's Café Songwriting Team, Dead at 78

Obituaries   Updated! Jerry Leiber, Half of Smokey Joe's Café Songwriting Team, Dead at 78
Jerry Leiber, the rock 'n' roll songwriter who, with Mike Stoller, penned hit after hit between the 1950s and the 1970s — including "Stand By Me," "Jailhouse Rock," "On Broadway" and many others — has died of cardiac failure at the age of 78, Rolling Stone reported.

Jerry Leiber
Jerry Leiber

Though the team was internationally known for penning songs popularized by Elvis Presley, the Coasters, the Drifters and many others, they also had a late-career brush with Broadway. The Jerry Zaks-directed Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller (1995) is one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history; it's the longest-running musical revue. The show played 2,036 performances between 1995 and 2000 at the Virginia Theatre, and was nominated for the 1995 Tony Award as Best Musical.

Smokey Joe's Café helped solidify director Jerry Zaks' reputation as someone who could grow lively, colorful, good-natured musical theatre out of disparate — yet potent — seeds. Zaks and choreographer Joey McKneely were both nominated for Tonys for their work, as were a handful of performers from the show.

The songs from Smokey Joe's Café were preserved on a cast album. The musical numbers from the entertainment included the Leiber collaborations (with Stoller, and some with other writers and Stoller) "Young Blood," "Dance With Me," "Yakety Yak," "Poison Ivy," "On Broadway," "Neighborhood," "I'm a Woman," "Searchin'," "Fools Fall in Love," "Treat Me Nice," "Charlie Brown," "There Goes My Baby" and the title song, among others.

Director Zaks, reached Aug. 22, told Playbill.com, "I was more personally invested in the music of Smokey Joe's than any other show. As a kid I would cloister myself away in the basement and sing to the songs of Leiber and Stoller. I became the Drifters, the Coasters, Elvis, et al. My impersonations were pretty good for a 12-year-old. It was a very special private little world. And I loved it. And I loved Jerry and Mike's music. Their songs spread joy and I was determined that the show do the same. We lost a real giant of pop music today. We'll all miss him, but his music will always keep us company."  


Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber

Leiber & Stoller were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1987. Stoller recently co-wrote the score of the 2011 Broadway musical The People in the Picture.

Songs by Mr. Leiber were also heard in Broadway's Million Dollar Quartet (currently Off-Broadway), Ring of Fire, All Shook Up, Peg, Rock 'n' Roll! The First 5,000 Years and Dancin'. Mr. Leiber, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, was born in 1933 and grew up near Baltimore's black ghetto. Stoller, born in 1933, was raised in Queens, and learned the blues from black kids at summer camp, according to their Hall of Fame bio. They met in Los Angeles in 1950 and began writing immediately.

Leiber & Stoller's catalog includes almost every major hit by the Coasters, including "Searchin'," "Young Blood," "Charlie Brown," "Yakety Yak" and "Poison Ivy." They penned "Jailhouse Rock," "Treat Me Nice" and "You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)" specifically for Elvis Presley, who recorded more than 20 Leiber & Stoller songs.

"As pop auteurs who wrote, arranged and produced countless recordings by the above-mentioned artists and others, Leiber and Stoller advanced rock and roll to new heights of wit and musical sophistication," according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "They were particularly influential during rock and roll's first decade, beginning with the original recording of 'Hound Dog' in 1953 and continuing through to the Drifters' 'On Broadway' in 1963. They brought a range of stylistic flavor to their story songs, which ranged from wisecracking, finger-popping hipster tunes to quieter love ballads. …About all that their songs had in common was a fundamental grounding in rhythm & blues."

The cast of Broadway's <i>Smokey Joe's Caf</i>
The cast of Broadway's Smokey Joe's Caf Photo by Joan Marcus
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