In their own words, the songwriting legends mental the origins of among the first-ever absent & roll standards

Mike Stoller & Jerry Leiber, 2006. Photograph by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter

It’s among the most famous early on rock & role songs ever, videotaped by much more than 300 artists and also bands, consisting of The Beatles and little Richard. The songwriters, however, didn’t favor The Beatles record of it, for factors they comment on in the following story.

They wrote “Kansas City” once they were both 19 in 1952. They additionally wrote “Hound Dog” the same year. “Kansas City” to be the an initial one to come to be a hit, and their first ever hit. Yet its introduction as a hit, and also ultimately a conventional – tape-recorded over 300 times – was gradual. Though it came to be one that the most famous rock & role anthems ever. Prefer “Hound Dog,” that was written not together rock & roll yet as blues. Through a connection, they learned that California blues artist tiny Willie Littlefield needed a an excellent blues tune to record. Leiber created the words, and also Stoller, together always, composed the music. But unlike numerous blues records at the time which were “blues shouts” v no actual melody, Stoller want this one come be identified from the rest, and composed a genuine melody because that it, a selection the two songwriters continued to argue around for decades.

They taught it come Littlefield themselves, who videotaped it v that melody in 1953 for federal Records. But Federal’s Ralph Bass changed the name to “K.C. Loving,” which he discovered stronger. Maybe because of the title-switch, the did not capture on together hoped and failed to come to be a hit. Little Richard tape-recorded it then, and did two entirely various versions that it, one with the melody, and also the other at a faster tempo together a shout, which came to be a fight in 1959.

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It was in 1959, some seven years after they very first wrote it, the the song with the best tune and also title came to be a hit, as taped by Wilbert Harrison. It was close to the version very first recorded through Littlefield, though had a much more compelling shuffle groove, resulting in its fast climb up the charts. Soon numerous other artists and bands recorded it, and also it came to be one of the first ever rock & roll standards. The year alone five various versions all were ~ above the charts, through Littlefield, small Richard, Hank Ballard (known for writing “The Twist”) and The Midnighters, Rocky Olson and also Rockin’ Ronald & the Rebels. However it was the Wilbert Harrison record that ended up being the biggest hit by far, soaring come the peak of the Pop and R&B charts for seven weeks, do it among 1959’s best records.

The Beatles taped it in 1964, however based their version on small Richard’s blues shout record, abandoning the melody, lot to Mike’s dismay. He and Jerry spoke around that wrinkle in this story and an ext during one interview us did in their Sunset strip office in 2006.

Wilbert Harrison, “Kansas City”

MIKE STOLLER: <“Kansas City”> was our first big hit. “Hound Dog” and “Kansas City” to be both created the same year, 1952, as soon as we to be 19. Yeah, ns remember very well both of those songs, the creating of them.I’m no absolutely sure which to be first. I do recognize when “Hound Dog” was taped — that was videotaped in August, 1952, it came out in 1953. “Kansas City” can have to be after that, however it come out in December or thereabouts the ’52. There might not have actually been as lengthy a wait. Cause I remember –

JERRY LEIBER: “Hound Dog,” wait –

STOLLER: we were waiting and waiting and also waiting for “Hound Dog” come come. Us knew, if one have the right to know, it to be a stop –

LEIBER: In the blues. I do remember just how <“Kansas City”> came about. I don’t remember just how a most other ones came about, however I perform remember around that. There was a blues with a big band that i loved. And it was among the just blues v a large band that ns really cottoned to. There to be one track that i really loved, and also it to be “Sorry, yet I Can’t take it You.” “We’re goin’ come Chicago, sorry, yet I can’t take you.” i was influenced by that song, and I wanted to have actually something like that.So i sang “Kansas City” to Mike choose I sang “You ain’t nothin’ yet a hound dog.” And Mike said, “Yeah, I choose that, but I don’t want simply a blues shout. Ns wanna compose a melody come that. I desire to write sort of a jazz-blues oriented melody for Basie, or someone favor that.”STOLLER: What I stated was the I want to beat a blues –LEIBER: with a melody-STOLLER: through a tune, so the if it’s play instrumentally, world will acknowledge it together that song.LEIBER: ns said, “I desire it to be a blues shout. I don’t desire it to have actually a predictable melody, part jazz melody. I want it to it is in a blues, I desire it come be yes, really raw, i don’t want it to it is in phony.”He said, “Well, who’s composing the music, you or me?”I said, “Well, ns guess girlfriend are.” therefore he created the music, and it became the big standard the it became.

STOLLER: We’ve had a disagreement around everything since 1950. LEIBER: Our relationship is the longest running single argument in the to chat business.

But i think out of those confrontations come very an excellent work.I loved the sound the syllabically. Kan-sas Ci-ty. Chicago was good, yet I preferred Kansas City better. Due to the fact that Chicago is halting consonantly-wise. And Kansas City simply rolls out.STOLLER: and also Kansas City to be the facility –LEIBER: that jazz, yeah.

STOLLER: Blues and also jazz-blues.LEIBER: Jay McShann. Charlie Parker. The was type of one homage from united state to Kansas City.STOLLER: counting Basie placed together one of his very first bands in Kansas City and also had the Kansas City Seven, which had actually Lester Young. So the was the amalgam the blues and jazz. And also Joe Turner –

LEIBER: It was a reproduction ground for good musicians.STOLLER: It to be a lot of history of that kind of music.STOLLER: also including the argument, i would venture to guess that the entirety thing, in ~ 45 minutes to one hour, was complete. Including the argument.

LEIBER: The songs that were tooled and worked on because that weeks go not happen that way. “Is that All this Is?” did not take place that way, was not spontaneous combustion. “Hound Dog” was. “Kansas City” was. “Stand by Me” was. “Down house Girl” was. A many things were. A the majority of the beforehand blues things would be finished in ten minutes, twelve minutes. At the most, a half hour. STOLLER: I wrote the melody ~ above the piano. Ns didn’t prefer the Beatles’ record of it since they neglected to song my melody, the way it was written.

The Beatles, “Kansas City”

LEIBER: we don’t prefer the biggest records, the greatest names.

STOLLER: but Joe Williams, and Count Basie, you understand –

LEIBER: — to be killer.

STOLLER: “Kansas City” was probably written in C. Because at the time I used to create a the majority of things in C, since it was basic to whip lock off that way. And also that to be done by little Willie Littlefield. That was the very first record. He was a boogie-woogie blues pianist. And also it’s feasible that it was in E flat. It may be. We taught the tune to little Willie at Maxwell Davis’ home.

LEIBER: he chipped his this on the microphone. Of every the “Kansas City” records, out of all those good stars – little Richard, Joe Williams, you name it. Ns think the ideal take is tiny Milton. You’ve acquired to hear it.STOLLER: because that me that Joe Williams.LEIBER: Well, i mean, that Joe Williams because that me, too.

LEIBER: It’s yes, really what the oughta be.STOLLER: The intention. That was, finally, the intentionally of a real kind that Kansas City blues-jazz feel.LEIBER: It to be stylistically perfect. A many of people who go it prior to did the as type of a country, semi-country version, semi-big city blues. Small Bradshaw.

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STOLLER: Or dropped many of the tune and just shouted. The Beatles copied small Richard’s record. The Beatles’ version is good, but it isn’t what ns wrote. The doesn’t have the melody that ns liked.