Songwriting great Mike Stoller celebrates his 79th birthday March 13, but he’s keeping up a schedule that could frighten a younger man. Stoller’s activities are diverse as can be — from participating in planning meetings for the Democratic Convention, to book signings of his Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography at Graceland during this summer’s Elvis Week. It’s the 35th anniversary year of Elvis’ passing.
“It’s extremely gratifying when people talk about how much our songs have meant to them,” says Stoller, who lost his writing partner of 61 years, Jerry Leiber, last year.
The man who cowrote more than 20 songs for The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll admits he’s been asked all too many times, “What was Elvis really like?” It’s a complicated answer, he says, and “I usually avoid the question if I can. It’s either that, or they ask ‘What was your favorite song that you’ve written?'” That one’s easier. “My favorite song is the one I’m working on at the moment, always. But Jerry and I would always say our favorites were Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog,’ or Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’ That gives you kind of the breadth we enjoyed.”
Stoller will be fielding questions today (3/6) with his wife, Corky Hale Stoller, who has her own illustrious musical history. The couple are kicking off a new “In Conversation” Speaker Series at the Museum at Eldridge Street in New York.
He also has, newly in release, the cast album CD of his The People In The Picture Broadway show, starring Donna Murphy. According to Stoller, there are plans underway to bring the work, on which he collaborated with Artie Butler and Iris Rainer Dart, to other cities around the country next year. The story time-travels from present day, back to pre-WWII Yiddish theater. “It was a very moving story, very touching. Audiences in general really seemed to like it, they had tears in their eyes,” he says.
And then there’s the prospect of Stoller being present for the upcoming unveiling of the Edith Piaf stamp, since he and Leiber wrote the legendary singer’s biggest-selling record, “L’Homme a La Moto.” That would require a trip to Paris — but that, he acknowledges, wouldn’t be bad.