Non­fic­tion

Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography

Jer­ry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with David Ritz
  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

Jer­ry Leiber and Mike Stoller were not only two of the most cre­ative song­writ­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry, but also vital fig­ures — along with fel­low Amer­i­can Jews such as Ben­ny Good­man, Jer­ry Wexler, and the Chess broth­ers — in the inte­gra­tion of Amer­i­can music and pop­u­lar cul­ture. Today, they are fig­ures of nos­tal­gia, per­haps known best as the song­writ­ers whose music makes up the musi­cal Smokey Joe’s Café.” Back in the 1950’s and ear­ly 1960’s, how­ev­er, their writ­ing not only cat­a­pult­ed Elvis Pres­ley to world­wide fame, but also helped per­form­ers such as Joe Turn­er, Big Mama Thorn­ton, The Coast­ers, and The Drifters make their mark with col­or­ful and enter­tain­ing songs that crossed col­or lines, some­times in rather dar­ing fash­ion. Kansas City,” Stand by Me,” Hound Dog,” and Jail­house Rock” are some of the most rec­og­niz­able Amer­i­can songs ever.

This dual auto­bi­og­ra­phy essen­tial­ly has Leiber and Stoller trad­ing vers­es, alter­nat­ing as they share the sto­ries of their lives. This is an effec­tive tech­nique when they are telling the same sto­ry — as in their anec­dotes about Pres­ley and his over-the-top man­ag­er Colonel Park­er — but a bit con­fus­ing when they are dis­cussing dif­fer­ent top­ics. More­over, once they get past their hey­day, the nar­ra­tive goes a bit flat, becom­ing more on the order of stan­dard celebri­ty fare. The book’s cer­tain­ly not a bad one, but it will not have the place in my life that their best songs do. Appen­dices, index.

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