Jerry Lee Lewis

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Jerry Lee Lewis

Background information
Birth name Jerry Lee Lewis
Also known as The Killer
Born September 29, 1935 (age 71)
Origin Ferriday, Louisiana, USA
Flag of United States State flag
Genre(s) Rock and Roll
Occupation(s) Singer, Songwriter, Pianist
Instrument(s) Vocals, Piano
Years active 1954Present
Label(s) Sun Records

Jerry Lee Lewis (born September 29, 1935), also known by the nickname The Killer, is an American rock and roll and country music singer, songwriter, and pianist. An early pioneer of rock and roll music, Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[1].


[edit] Biography

Lewis was born to the poor family of Elmo and Mamie Lewis in Ferriday, Louisiana, and began playing piano in his youth with his two cousins, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. His parents mortgaged their farm to buy him a piano. Influenced by a piano-playing older cousin Carl McVoy, the radio, and the sounds from the black juke joint across the tracks, Haney's Big House, Lewis developed his own style mixing rhythm and blues, boogie woogie, gospel, and country music, as well as ideas from established "country boogie" pianists like recording artists Moon Mullican and Merrill Moore. Soon he was playing professionally.

His mother enrolled him in Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, secure in the knowledge that her son would now be exclusively singing his songs to the Lord. But legend has it that he tore into a boogie-woogie rendition of "My God Is Real" at a church assembly that sent him packing the same night. Pearry Green, then president of the student body, related how during a talent show Jerry played some "worldly" music. The next morning, the dean of the school called both Jerry and Pearry into his office to expel them both. Jerry then said that Pearry shouldn't be expelled because "he didn't know what I was going to do." Years later Pearry asked Jerry "Are you still playing the devil's music?" Jerry replied "Yes, I am. But you know it's strange, the same music that they kicked me out of school for is the same kind of music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I am playing for the devil and they don't."

Leaving religious music behind so far as performing, he paid dues at clubs in and around Ferriday and Natchez, Mississippi. He became a part of the burgeoning new rock and roll sound, cutting his first demo recording in 1954. He made a trip to Nashville around 1955 where he played clubs and attempted to drum up interest, but was turned down by the Grand Ole Opry as he had been at the Louisiana Hayride country stage and radio show in Shreveport. Recording executives in Nashville suggested he switch to playing a guitar, Lewis, even then confrontational, once recalled suggesting to one Nashville producer, "You can take your guitar and ram it up your ass!"

Two years later, at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee, producer and engineer Jack Clement discovered and recorded Lewis for the Sun label while owner Sam Phillips was away on a trip to Florida. He became a session musician playing piano for Sun artists like Billy Lee Riley and Carl Perkins. As his own career came on the upswing, hits "Great Balls of Fire" soon followed, and would become his biggest hit. Watching and listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley allegedly said that if he could play the piano like that, he'd quit singing. Lewis' early billing was Jerry Lee Lewis and his Pumping Piano.

On December 4, 1956, Presley dropped in on Phillips to pay a social visit while Perkins was in the studio cutting new tracks with Lewis backing him on piano. The three started an impromptu jam session, and Phillips left the tapes running. He later telephoned Johnny Cash and brought him in to join the others. These recordings, almost half of which were gospel songs, survived, and have been released on CD under the title Million Dollar Quartet. Tracks also include Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", Pat Boone's "Don't Forbid Me" and Presley doing an impersonation of Jackie Wilson (who was then with Billy Ward and the Dominoes) singing "Don't Be Cruel." is own distinct version of the Ray Price song "Crazy Arms". In 1957, his piano and the pure rock and roll sound of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (which in 2005 was selected for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress) propelled him to international fame.

Lewis, though not the first pianist in that style, was a pioneer of Piano rock, not only through his sound but also through his dynamic performance. He would often kick the piano bench out of the way to play standing, rake his hands up and down the keyboard for dramatic accent, and even sit down on the instrument. His frenetic performance style can be seen in films such as High School Confidential (he sang the title song from the back of a flatbed truck), and Jamboree. He has been called "rock & roll's first great wild man and also rock & roll's first great eclectic."[1] These performance techniques have been adopted by later Piano rock artists, notably admirers Elton John, Billy Joel, and Ben Folds.

[edit] Scandal

He married Jane Mitcham, his second wife, 23 days before his divorce from his first wife was final.

Lewis' turbulent personal life was hidden from the public until a 1958 British tour, when reporters learned about the twenty-three year old star's third wife, Myra Gale Brown, who also happened to be his thirteen-year-old first cousin once removed. The publicity caused an uproar and the tour was canceled after only three concerts.

The scandal followed Lewis home to America, and as a result he almost vanished from the music scene. Lewis felt betrayed by numerous people who had been his supporters. Dick Clark dropped him from his shows. Lewis even felt that Sam Phillips had sold him out when the Sun Record patriarch released "The Return of Jerry Lee," which mocked Lewis' marital and music problems. Only Alan Freed stayed true to Jerry Lee Lewis, playing his records until Freed was removed from the air because of supposed payola problems.

Even though Jerry Lee Lewis was still under contract with Sun Records, he stopped recording. He had gone from $10,000 a night concerts to $100 a night spots in beer joints and small clubs. He had few friends at the time who he felt he could trust. It was only through Kay Martin, the president of Lewis' fan club, T. L. Meade, (aka Franz Douskey) a sometime Memphis musician and friend of Sam Phillips, and Gary Sklar, that Lewis went back to record at Sun Records.

By this time, Phillips had built a new state-of-the-art studio at 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis, thus abandoning the old Union Avenue studio where Phillips had recorded B. B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Lewis, and Johnny Cash, and others. It was at the new Madison Avenue studio that Lewis recorded his only hit during this period, which was a cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" in 1961. Another recording of Lewis playing an instrumental boogie arrangement of the Glenn Miller Orchestra favorite "In the Mood," was issued by Sun under the pseudonym of "The Hawk," but disc jockeys quickly figured out the distinctive piano style, and this gambit failed.

Lewis's Sun recording contract ended in 1963 and he joined Smash Records, where he made a number of rock recordings that did not further his career.

His popularity recovered somewhat in Europe, especially in the UK and Germany during the mid-1960s. A live album, Live at the Star Club, Hamburg (1964), recorded with the Nashville Teens, is widely considered one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever. Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes, "Live at the Star Club is extraordinary, the purest, hardest rock & roll ever committed to record."

[edit] Switch to country

A comeback eluded him in the United States, however, at least within the rock and roll genre, in part because of the changing face of rock music due to the British Invasion and the American folk-rock movement, which gave rock an entire new style, even though most of the musicians in those fields idolized Lewis. Although Lewis was again making steady money touring, he didn't have much success in the charts. Producers coaxed Lewis into trying various ideas, but the one that held the most potential came on an album called "Country Songs for City Folks" which featured Lewis doing country ballads. In the late 1960s, Mercury Records producer Jerry Kennedy convinced Lewis to make a complete switch to country music on record, explaining that he could record country and still play whatever he wanted onstage. Lewis, who had always considered country one of the genres he blended into his trademark sound, had recorded similar ballads at Sun, so it wasn't a stretch. "Another Place, Another Time" shot up the country charts in 1968. More country hits soon followed over the late 1960s and through the 1970s, many of them crossing over into the Hot 100 charts. As his success grew in the country field, he began adding more and more rock to his albums, culminating in a 1972 # 1 single with the Big Bopper hit "Chantilly Lace," which rocked as hard as any of his earlier work. Bear Family Records of Germany later licensed and reissued all of Lewis's Sun Recordings on a box set with selected material on various CD's, and did two box sets first on LP, then on CD, compiling Lewis's complete Smash recordings including unreleased material.

[edit] Drug addiction and personal tragedies

Although he was always a heavy drinker who often combined his sprees with raucous, even violent behavior, he increasingly became plagued by alcohol and drug problems after Myra divorced him in 1970. Tragedy struck when Lewis' 19-year-old son, Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., was killed in a car accident in 1973. During the 1960s, his second son, Steve Allen Lewis, drowned in a swimming pool accident. He also has a daughter, Phoebe Lewis, who is a singer and musician - and for the past few years has been her father's manager. Lewis' own erratic behavior during the 1970s led to his being hospitalized in 1981 after nearly dying from bleeding stomach ulcers. Again addicted to drugs, Lewis checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic.

While celebrating his 41st birthday in 1976, Lewis accidentally shot and injured his bass player, Butch Owens. According to Lewis' own account, he had been playing around and didn't realize the gun was loaded. Owens himself stated that Lewis was trying to shoot at an empty cola bottle and he was simply hit by the ricochet.

A few weeks later, on November 23, Lewis, still drinking heavily, was involved in another gun-related incident at Elvis Presley's Graceland residence. Lewis had been invited by Presley, but security was unaware of the visit. Lewis, displaying a gun given to him by a local sheriff on the dashboard of his car, was questioned as to his motives for bringing the weapon. He sarcastically replied, "I'm not here to kill Elvis if that's what you're worried about," but the guard remained suspicious. The same sheriff who gave him the gun cleared the matter up.[citation needed]

[edit] Later career

In 1989, a major motion picture based on his early life in rock & roll, Great Balls of Fire, brought him back into the public eye, especially when he decided to re-record all his songs for the movie soundtrack. The film was based on the book by Lewis' ex-wife, Myra Gale Lewis, and starred Dennis Quaid as Lewis, Winona Ryder as Myra, and Alec Baldwin as Jimmy Swaggart. The movie's cartoonish, shallow nature, however, failed to capture anything but the most superficial side of Lewis's story, all but ignoring the darker side and ending with the scandal of the late 1950's.

The very public downfall of his cousin, television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, resulted in more adverse publicity to an already troubled family. Swaggart is also a piano player, as is another cousin, country music star Mickey Gilley. All three listened to the same music when they were growing up and frequented Haney's Big House, the Ferriday club that featured black blues acts. Lewis and Swaggart have had a complex relationship over the years.

Lewis's sister, Linda Gail Lewis has recorded with Jerry Lee, toured with his stage show for a time and more recently recorded with Van Morrison. In 1990, Lewis made minor news when a new song he co-wrote called "It Was the Whiskey Talking, Not Me" was included in the soundtrack to the hit movie Dick Tracy. The song can even be heard in a scene from the movie in which it is playing on the radio.

Despite the personal problems, Lewis' musical talent is widely acknowledged. Nicknamed "The Killer" for his forceful voice and piano production on stage, he was described by fellow artist Roy Orbison as the best raw performer in the history of rock and roll music.[citation needed]In 1986, Lewis was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

That same year, he returned to Sun Studios in Memphis to team up with Orbison, Cash, and Perkins along with longtime admireres like John Fogerty and Ricky Nelson to create the album Class of '55, a sort of followup to the "Million Dollar Quartet" session, though in the eyes of many critics and fans, lacking the spirit of the old days at Sun.

Lewis has never stopped touring, and fans who have seen him perform say he can still deliver unique concerts that are unpredictable, exciting, and personal. In February 12, 2005, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Recording Academy (which also grants the Grammy Awards). On September 26, 2006 a new album titled Last Man Standing was released, featuring many of rock and roll's elite as guest stars. Receiving positive reviews, the album charted in four different Billboard charts, including a two week stay at number one on the Indie charts.

A DVD entitled "Last Man Standing Live", featuring concert footage with many guest artists, was released in March 2007, while the CD was well on the way to going gold. 'Last Man Standing' CD is Jerry Lee's biggest selling album of all time. If it goes gold it will be his 10th official gold record, and his first since 1973. ('The Session' album was awarded a Gold Disk for selling over 250,000 copies because it was a double album. Single albums and CDs have to sell over 500,000. 'Last Man Standing' has more tracks than the original 'The Session' release and has already shipped over 400,000 copies worldwide.)

He now resides on a ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi with his family.

[edit] Hit singles

Year Title Chart Positions
US Hot 100 US Country R&B UK Pop
1957 "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (Gold Record) #1 #1 #1 #8
1957 "Crazy Arms" - - - -
1957 "Great Balls of Fire" (Gold Record) #1 #1 #3 #1
1957 "You Win Again" (Gold Record) #21 #2 #3 -
1958 "Breathless" (Gold Record) #7 #4 #3 #8
1958 "Down the Line" #51 - - -
1958 "High School Confidential" (Gold Record) #20 #9 #5 #12
1958 "Fools Like Me" - #9 - -
1958 "Break Up" #52 #19 - -
1958 "I'll Make It All Up to You" - #19 - -
1959 "Lovin' Up a Storm" #81 - - #28
1959 "Let's Talk About Us" #76 - - -
1960 "Baby Baby Bye Bye" - - - #47
1961 "What'd I Say" #25 #27 #26 #10
1961 "Cold Cold Heart" - #22 - -
1961 "Save The Last Dance for Me" - #26 - -
1962 "Sweet Little 16" #95 - - #38
1962 "How's My Ex Treating You?" - #98 - -
1963 "Good Golly Miss Molly" - - - #31
1964 "I'm on Fire" #98 - - -
1964 "Hi Heel Sneakers" #91 - - -
1968 "Another Place, Another Time" #97 #2 - -
1968 "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)" #94 #1 - -
1968 "She Still Comes Around (to Love What's Left of Me)" - #1 - -
1968 "To Make Love Sweeter for You" - #1 - -
1969 "Don't Let Me Cross Over" (with Linda Gail Lewis) - #9 - -
1969 "One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)" - #1 - -
1969 "Invitation to Your Party" - #4 - -
1969 "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye" - #2 - -
1969 "One Minute Past Eternity" - #2 - -
1970 "Roll Over Beethoven" (with Linda Gail Lewis) - #8 - -
1970 "Once More with Feeling" - #1 - -
1970 "I Can't Seem to Say Goodbye" - #6 - -
1970 "There Must Be More to Love Than This" - #1 - -
1970 "Waiting for a Train" - #7 - -
1971 "In Loving Memories" - #48 - -
1971 "Touching Home" #110 #3 - -
1971 "Love on Broadway" - #30 - -
1971 "When He Walks on You" - #10 - -
1971 "Me and Bobby McGee" (Gold Record) #40 #1 - -
1971 "Would You Take Another Chance on Me" - #1 - -
1972 "Chantilly Lace" (Gold Record) #43 #1 - #33
1972 "Think About It Darlin'" - #1 - -
1972 "Lonely Weekends" - #10 - -
1972 "I'm Walking" #95 - - -
1972 "Whose Gonna Play This Ol' Piano?" - #14 - -
1973 "No More Hanging On" - #19 - -
1973 "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" (Gold Record) #41 #20 - -
1973 "No Headstone on My Grave" #104 #60 - -
1973 "Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough" - #6 - -
1974 "I'm Left You're Right She's Gone" - #21 - -
1974 "Tell Tale Signs" - #18 - -
1974 "He Can't Fill My Shoes" - #8 - -
1975 "I Can Still Hear The Music in the Restroom" - #13 - -
1975 "Boogie Woogie Country Man" - #24 - -
1976 "Let's Put It Back Together Again" - #6 - -
1976 "The Closest Thing to You" - #27 - -
1977 "Middle Age Crazy" - #4 - -
1978 "Come on In" - #10 - -
1978 "I'll Find It Where I Can" - #10 - -
1979 "Rockin' My Life Away" #101 #18 - -
1979 "I Wish I Was Eighteen Again" - #18 - -
1979 "Who Will the Next Fool Be?" - #20 - -
1980 "When Two Worlds Collide" - #11 - -
1980 "Honky Tonk Stuff" - #28 - -
1980 "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - #10 - -
1981 "Thirty Nine and Holding" - #4 - -
1982 "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" - #43 - -
1982 "I'd Do It All Again" - #52 - -
1982 "My Fingers Do the Talking' - #44 - -
1983 "Come as You Were" - #66 - -
1983 "Why You Been Gone So Long?" - #65 - -
1986 "Sixteen Candles" - #61 - -

[edit] Hit albums

Year Title Chart Positions
UK Chart US Chart
1962 Jerry Lee Lewis Vol. 2/Jerry Lee's Greatest #14

[6 wks]

1964 Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis - #40

[8 wks]

1964 The Greatest Live Show on Earth - #32

[17 wks]

1965 The Return of Rock - #64

[5 wks]

1965 Country Songs for City Folks/All Country - #39 Country
1966 Memphis Beat - #145

[3 wks]

1968 Another Place, Another Time - #160 #2 Country

[12 wks]

1969 She Still Comes Around - #9 Country
1969 Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1 - #127 #1 Country

[10 wks]

1969 Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 2 - #124 #5 Country

[10 wks]

1969 Together (duets with Linda Gail Lewis) - #8 Country
1969 Original Golden Hits, Vol. 1 - #119

[4 wks]

1969 Original Golden Hits, Vol. 2 - #122

[5 wks]

1970 She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye - #186 #9 Country

[2 wks]

1970 Best Of - #114 #8 Country

[14 wks]

1970 Live at the International, Las Vegas - #149 #5 Country

[6 wks]

1971 In Loving Memories - #18 Country
1971 There Must Be More to Love Than This - #190 #8 Country

[6 wks]

1971 Touching Home - #152 #10 Country

[3 wks]

1971 Would You Take Another Chance on Me - #115 #3 Country

[12 wks]

1972 The Killer Rocks On - #105 #4 Country

[12 wks]

1972 Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano? - #3 Country
1973 The Session (double album; Gold Record) - #37 #4 Country

[19 wks]

1973 Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough - #6 Country
1973 Southern Roots - #6 Country
1974 I-40 Country - #25 Country
1975 Boogie Woogie Country Man - #16 Country
1975 Odd Man In - #33 Country
1976 Country Class - #18 Country
1977 Country Memories - #21 Country
1978 Best of/Vol. 2 - #23 Country
1978 Jerry Lee Keeps Rockin' - #40 Country
1979 Jerry Lee Lewis - #186 #23 Country

[3 wks]

1980 When Two Worlds Collide - #32 Country
1980 Killer Country - #35 Country
1981 Best of/Vol. 3 - #49 Country
1982 The Survivors Live (with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins) - #21 Country
1986 Class of '55 (with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison) - #87 #15 Country

[12 wks]

1989 Great Balls of Fire - #62

[10 wks]

2006 Last Man Standing (duets with 22 super-star guest artists) - #6 Pop (Americana Radio chart) #9 Pop (CIMS chart) #26 Pop (Billboard) #4 Country #8 Rock #1 Indie. Made Billboard's Top 25 Indie Albums of 2006

[edit] Trivia

  • The song, "Jesus Built My Hot Rod," by Ministry opens with the line, "Soon I discovered that this rock thing was true. Jerry Lee Lewis was the Devil. Jesus was an architect previous to his career as a prophet. All of a sudden I found myself in love with the world, so there was only one thing that I could do, was ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long."
  • A live cover of "Great Balls of Fire" is featured on the album "Stay Under The Stars" by singer-songwriter Teitur. The song is noticeably different from the original because of the added string-section, a slower tempo and a more dramatic approach.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Tosches, Nick (1982). Hellfire. New York: Grove Press. 
  • Gutterman, Jimmy (1991). Rockin' My Life Away: Listening to Jerry Lee Lewis. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press. 
  • Gutterman, Jimmy (1993). The Jerry Lee Lewis Anthology: All Killer, No Filler. Rhino Records. 
  • Lewis, Myra (1981). Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis. William Morrow/Quill/St. Martin's Press. 
  • Whitburn, Joel (1985). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. 

[edit] External links and sources