Sid Tepper dies at 96; songwriter for Elvis, other stars

Obituary: Sid Tepper co-wrote more than 40 songs specifically for Elvis Presley

Songwriter Sid Tepper, who co-wrote more than 40 songs specifically for Elvis Presley plus hundreds of others performed by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Perry Como, Jeff Beck and many more, died Friday at his home in Miami Beach. He was 96.

He died of natural causes, said his daughter Jackie.

Although Tepper and his songwriting partner Roy C. Bennett wrote extensively for Elvis, they never met him. All their Elvis songs were for his movies, including the title number for "G.I. Blues" (1960) and "The Lady Loves Me," sung as a poolside duet with Ann-Margret in "Viva Las Vegas" (1964).

By the time they wrote for Elvis, Tepper and Bennett were already established songwriters. Their first big hit, "Red Roses for a Blue Lady," was recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1948. Over the years it was covered by Sinatra (on a radio show), Andy Williams, Paul Anka, Wayne Newton and others, including Vic Dana, who got it back on the bestselling charts in 1965.

Elvis needed the songwriting duo's kind of material.

"When Elvis started to make the movies, they needed non rock-and-roll writers, people who could come up with special material songs and ballads," Tepper said in a 2005 interview for the book "Elvis Presley: Writing for the King," by Ken Sharp.

Tepper and Bennett would be given movie scripts and asked to write for specific scenes. But they were not the only songwriters approached — others were asked to submit songs for the same scenes.

"The way it worked was that it was actually a competition," Tepper said in the Sharp interview. "To be honest, it was a little downer feeling that we had to compete with the other writers because Roy and I had a life before Elvis....

"We wrote songs for all the stars of our generation."

Tepper and Bennett, who both wrote music and lyrics, often beat out the competition. On "Blue Hawaii" (1961) alone, they have five credited songs.

They were especially good at writing for specific situations. "The Lady Loves Me" comes at a point in "Viva Las Vegas" where Presley's flirtations with Ann-Margret are getting him nowhere, though he remains supremely confident.

He sings:

I'm her ideal, her heart's desire

Under that ice she's burning like fire

To which she shoots back:

The gentleman has savoir-faire

As much as an elephant or a bear

Tepper and Bennett never had a big hit with an Elvis song — many of them were novelty numbers. For "Girls! Girls! Girls!" (1962), they wrote "Song of the Shrimp" with lyrics from the point of view of a shrimp.

Goodbye mama shrimp, papa shake my hand

Here come the shrimper for to take me to Louisian'

The songs were in sharp contrast to the gritty numbers that made Elvis an electrifying star. But Tepper made no apologies.

"I believe that Elvis' movies and their songs made a mighty contribution to his career," he told Sharp. "They brought him to the attention of millions of people who otherwise would never have known the greatness of the King."

He said one of his favorite Elvis songs that they wrote was from "Kissin' Cousins" (1964) called "Once Is Enough."

All you got is one life

Living once can be rough

But if you live every day all the way

Once is enough

Tepper was born June 25, 1918, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He wrote poetry while in school but got involved with music in the Army, where he was assigned to Special Services, the division that provided troop entertainment.

After World War II, he teamed with his childhood friend Bennett. During their career, they wrote more than 300 songs. They had a 1958 hit with "Kewpie Doll," sung by Perry Como. Their novelty holiday song "Nuttin' for Christmas" was sung by numerous performers, as wide-ranging as Shirley Temple, Eartha Kitt and Stan Freberg.

In Britain, Cliff Richard had a hit with their "The Young Ones" in 1961. And the Beatles album "30 weeks in 1963" includes Tepper and Bennett's "Glad All Over" (not to be confused with the Dave Clark Five hit of the same title), also recorded by Carl Perkins and Jeff Beck.

But Tepper always had a special place in his heart for their first hit, written after a tiff with his wife, Lillian. "I sent her some red roses and wrote on the card, 'I'm sorry, red roses for a blue lady,'" he told the Miami Herald in 2008. "And about a week later, I thought, 'What a great idea for a title.'"

In addition to his daughter Jackie, Tepper is survived by daughters Susan Tepper-Kopacz and Michelle Tepper-Kapit; sons Warren and Brian; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Lillian Tepper died in 2005.

david.colker@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidcolker

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