Roll 'Em out! from 'Yakety Yak' to 'Love Potion #9,' 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' Is Hopping to Rock Pioneers Extraordinaire Leiber and Stoller

By Valeo, Tom | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Roll 'Em out! from 'Yakety Yak' to 'Love Potion #9,' 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' Is Hopping to Rock Pioneers Extraordinaire Leiber and Stoller


Valeo, Tom, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Tom Valeo Daily Herald Theater Critic

"Smokey Joe's Cafe"

- Mini-review: Did the same two guys really write all those songs?

- Location: Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe St., Chicago

- Times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Closes Nov. 3

- Parking: discount parking ($7) in self-park garage 1 1/2 blocks east of theater at 55 W. Monroe

- Tickets: $27-$57

- Box office: (312) 977-1717

On the surface, "Smokey Joe's Cafe" is just a musical revue of songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Listen a little deeper, however, and you'll encounter a phenomenon that seems beyond belief - the roots of rock 'n' roll were put down by a couple of Jewish boys writing songs for black blues singers whose work was picked up by white entertainers who popularized it and paved the way for the emergence of black superstars in the 1960s.

Only in America, as they say. (Actually, Leiber and Stoller did say that in a song that Jay and the Americans took to number 25 on the Billboard chart in 1963.)

How did these two prolific songwriters do it? Hearing their songs all in a row provides one important clue - Leiber and Stoller had an amazing ability to imitate and innovate simultaneously. They could mimic the sound and the sensibility of any song, and then put a clever spin on it that drilled the words and the lyrics into the mind of the most casual listener.

When they were just 20 years old, for example, they went to listen to a growlin' black blues singer named "Big Mama" Thornton. They went home and wrote a song for her called "Hound Dog," which became her biggest hit. …

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