Jason Vivone Talks a Blue Streak with MIKE STOLLER of Leiber and Stoller
JASON VIVONE TALKS A BLUE STREAK with MIKE STOLLER of LEIBER and STOLLERJerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are legendary songwriters and producers.
Their catalog is as vast as it is brilliant. “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton, “Stand By Me” for Ben E. King, “Jailhouse Rock” for Elvis and all of those classic Coasters gems. Our focus today — “Kansas City (KC Lovin’)”
When we play out of town, the following happens.
PATRON: Hey Billy Bat! You’re from Kansas City? (sings) ‘Goin’ to Kansas City…Hmmm….this tune is how people picture my town. So let’s investigate.
The song was originally recorded as “KC Lovin” by Little Willie Littlefield in 1952 for the Federal label. It hit only in the L.A. area where the label was located.
After some tweaking, Leiber and Stoller recut it with Wilbert Harrison in 1959. This is the version most of us know. It features a searing guitar solo by Wild Jimmy Spurill.
Harrison’s version hit Number One on the R & B charts and the Billboard Hot 100. Since then the tune’s been covered by the Beatles, James Brown, Albert King and every bar band in America.
Just after the holidays Mike Stoller answered my questions about our official anthem and some KC luminaries.
VIVONE: Your song KANSAS CITY has a driving piano line. Were you influenced by such Kansas City piano luminaries Pete Johnson?
MIKE STOLLER: We were (and are) big fans of such Kansas City greats as Pete Johnson and Jay McShann, but they were not a direct influence on the song, “Kansas City.”
VIVONE: We’ve read that you hadn’t visited Kansas City when you had written the song. Had you heard tales of our music scene?
MIKE STOLLER: Of course! We heard about everyone from Piney Brown to Charlie Parker. But, I’d never been to Kansas City until 2005, when Mayor Kay Barnes gave us the key to the city, dedicated “Goin’ to Kansas City Plaza,” and made “Kansas City” the official song.
VIVONE: Big Joe Turner is one of our iconic figures. Any anecdote about Joe you’d like to share?
MIKE STOLLER: Jerry Wexler asked me to play piano on a Joe Turner record, “Teenage Letter,” in 1956. I loved the idea of working with Big Joe, even though Ray Charles was in the studio, which was daunting. I remember distinctly that, while we were recording, Ahmet Ertegun stood next to Joe and whispered the words of the song into his ear, as Joe couldn’t read music–or anything else.If you get a chance compare the Harrison version (www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt7zGi9Jdww)
versus the Little Willie Littlefield version
The lyrics in Littlefield’s version were considered quite the scandal. (“I’m gonna get me some..” and the third verse. All this in the days when TV couples had separate beds.) )We’ll ask Little Willie himself about it next time.
Jason Vivone is one half of The BILLY BATS (www.myspace.com/thebillybats) and works as a solo artist as well. This year marks the tenth anniversary of his theatre company, CinnamonEye (www.myspace.com/cinnamoneye).