Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: "Hound Dog" The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography By Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller With David Ritz

If you love R & B and the "Rock & Roll" music of the 50's and 60's, HOUND D0G is the next book you should read!  If you write or dream about writing music and lyrics, The Leiber and Stoller example proves you have a chance to succeed but only if you are willing to dedicate your life and put your heart and soul into writing music. However even as successful Leiber and Stoller were as composers, they were always living on the financial edge even after writing some of the most successful songs in the history of the music writing business! Writing good music and lyrics is one thing, making a successful living out of it is a more difficult undertaking.

Leiber and Stoller's first love and perhaps their greatest love was the music that Black musicians were singing and playing in the 40's and 50's.  Mostly "Black Blues" music coming out of New Orleans, Chicago, LA and NY.  In addition to the "Blues" they both loved the new jazz style that was being played called "Bebop" along with the music of Fats Waller, Count Basie and the jazz pioneers like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Erroll Garner, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. This was fine except for the fact that the big record labels like RCA, Columbia and Decca almost totally ignored the great Black artists of the times because they didn't think the music was worthwhile, artistically or commercially.  So as great as the writing of Leiber and Stoller was, there was very little market for their songs because there was only a small market for Black performers could sell their records. This fact of American musical history while known by Leiber and Stoller, had little effect on their writing.  They wanted first and foremost to write music and lyrics that would be recorded by Black artists of the times.  Even one of their greatest songs, "Hound Dog" was first recorded by Big Moma Thornton before it became a smash hit for Elvis.  In fact, they both thought that even though the success and dollars they made from the Elvis' recording of "Hound Dog" were welcomed, they both still liked the Big Moma Thornton recording much better.

The book is written in first person, alternating between Leiber and Stoller recalling their individual thoughts during each period of their lives and careers.  I was especially delighted in their later work and personal stories about one of my favorite singers "Peggy Lee".  Peggy had two of her biggest hits with Leiber and Stoller songs, " I'm A Woman" in 1962 and "Is That All There Is" in 1969.

I enjoyed the trip back to a memorable musical period this book provided. However, I thought that the constant back and forth between Leiber's view to Stoller's view made the understanding of narrative somewhat more difficult.

                 BOOK REVIEW
The Music Man Awards This Book "3 Quarter Notes"

4 Quarter Notes= Excellent, Must Read
3 Quarter Notes= Good Read
2 Quarter Notes= Somewhat Interesting
1 Quarter Note = Save Your Time and Money


  1. This book has been on my list. Maybe I'll have to read it sooner rather than later!

  2. Hi Rachelle, It would make a great summer read. Thanks for the comment.


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