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Mike Stoller, 90, the songwriter and producer who, with his partner wrote many of Elvis‘ biggest songs, poses for a portrait at his home in Los Angeles, CA. 

Mike Stoller was 17 years old when he wrote his first song. He hadn’t been interested in writing songs before that, but he was playing the piano in Los Angeles when a complete stranger, Jerry Leiber, also 17, called him out of the blue.

 “…we had a funny conversation on the phone where he asked me if I’d like to write songs with him and I said no,” laughs Stoller. He told Leiber that he did not like the songs he heard on the radio; that he liked Bartok, Stravinsky, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

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“…and [Leiber] said this word that struck me, because it changed my life. He said: ‘…however… I think we should meet.” 

They met, and when Stoller saw Leiber’s lyrics, he recognized them as 12-bar Blues. Stoller had grown up in New York, attending an interracial summer camp where he was exposed to Boogie-Woogie and Blues music, and was thrilled: “…I was at the piano and I started writing some blues, and he started singing.” “…we shook hands and said, ‘…we’ll be partners,’ and we were for 61 years.” 

These two Jewish white boys quickly carved a niche for themselves by writing Rhythm’n’Blues music primarily for black artists. One of his first hits was for “Big Mama” Thornton. 

Other early Leiber & Stoller songs were recorded by Charles Brown, Little Willie Littlefield, “Little Esther” Phillips, and Jimmy Witherspoon

In 1956, with a $5,000 royalty check for his song “Black Denim Pants and Motorcycle Boots,” Stoller went on an ocean voyage to Europe with his wife. Upon his return, the ship, the SS Andrea Doria, sank. 

“…fortunately, I went down in a broken lifeboat,” he says. “…when I arrived on a freighter who picked us up, Jerry was on the dock, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘…Mike, we’ve got a super hit!’” 

Leiber told him it was his song “Hound Dog“. 

“‘Big Mama’ Thornton?” Stoller asked. “No,” Leiber replied. “…a white boy named Elvis Presley!” 

Presley’s version of “Hound Dog” reigned at number one on the charts for a record 11 weeks and became the best-selling single of his career.

Elvis Presley with Leiber & Stoller

Naturally, says Stoller, “…the music publishers who controlled Elvis Presley’s music…asked us if we had anything else that might be good for Elvis. Jerry thought of this kind of blues ballad we’d written called ‘ Love Me'”. 

Presley “…loved it, recorded it, and it became a hit,” says Stoller. “…and then they kept asking for more songs.

” Stoller and Leiber became Elvis Presley’s good luck charms: “…he referred to us that way,” says Stoller, “…but not necessarily directly to us,” and the duo gave him a parade of hits including “Loving You,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Don’t,” “King Creole” and “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”

 Stoller, 89, is in a reflective mood with the release of the Baz Luhrmann film “Elvis,” which features several of the songs he wrote with Leiber, who died in 2011. 

When they finally met the King, who was only a year younger, Elvis was respectful of his court composers. “…we had to say, ‘Elvis: That’s Jerry. I’m Mike. Don’t call us sir!‘” Stoller laughs. 

When they started writing songs specifically for Elvis, “…we knew he could sound good singing this and that,” says Stoller. “…the truth of the matter is that Elvis was very special, and he could sound good singing anything.

 Source: npr.org 

Information provided by Elvis Shop Argentina

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