Jerry Lee Lewis
God gave me talent. I don`t question God. Never have, never will. –JERRY LEE LEWIS.
There`s nothing like a woman. I mean, if God made anything better, he kept it for Himself. –JERRY LEE LEWIS.
I`ve been picked on, abused, sued, jailed, ridiculed, persecuted, and prosecuted, but I never let it bother me. –JERRY LEE LEWIS.
As far as contemporary music from the fifties on, Jerry Lee Lewis has been my biggest influence. I`ve bought more records of Jerry Lee Lewis than any other entertainer. –TOM JONES.
I consider Jerry Lee Lewis one of the great singer of all time. Put him up there with opera singers. This guy`s natural resourse who is inclined to selfdestruet. He had a way of transforming my songs into something I couldn`t belive I was hearing…I loved what he did with »ME AND BOBBY McGEE». He was late for the recording session… They had all these musicians lined up. Now in Nashville they don`t have three songs in three hours – someone`s gonna lose their job. In walks Jerry Lee and Jerry Kennedy, the producer says, `how are we gonna do it killer?` and Jerry Lee says `like this`. He sat down at the piano and he just destroyed it, it was a wonderful version. He hated Janis Joplin`s version of it, and he told me he cut HIS version of it to show that woman how it should be done. –KRIS KRISTOFFERSON.
I want to thank you for making it possible for me and the boys to be rock`n roll stars. –JOHN LENNON.
Man, what a piano player. –ELVIS PRESLEY.
You`re right Elvis ! …Jerry Lee is one of the best and most talented piano players around. And with his caracteristic voice he`s a thrill listening to. Well I guess Jerry Lee is most famous for his early rock and roll hits like Great Balls Of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin` Goin On, Breathless and High School Confidential, but these songs shows just about 10 per cent of what he really can do. Blues songs like the low-down Big Legged Woman or Hello, Hello Baby show his capability on the blues field. She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye, Crazy Arms, Restless Hart, Another Place, Another Time and One Of Them Old Things are perfect examples of great traditional country numbers. And then there`s all those trademark Jerry Lee songs like I Belive In You, Things, Just Because and Sticks And Stones.
All is a mixture of his musical roots and his own self developed style. Mixture has almost always been a caracteristic of his live shows, and his albums. You never know what`s coming up. He might change from Chantilly Lace to Your Cheating Hart or from You Belong To Me to Keep My Motor Running…
Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29th, 1935 at Turtle Lake on The Calhoun Plantation and grew up on his parent's farm in the small town Ferriday, Louisiana. He is Elmo and Mary Ethel (Mamie) Lewis' second son. His older brother, Elmo Jr., died when Jerry Lee was four years old. He has got two sisters, Linda Gail and Frankie Jean, also musically talented. Jerry Lee´s parents were both religious and musical persons. Jerry´s father actually signed with Sun Records in the fifties, although that probably was Sam Phillips` last desperate atempt to keep Jerry Lee with his company. Mother Mamie was later backup singer on Jerry Lee´s gospel song In Loving Memories. Both of Jerry Lee`s sisters have recorded in the Sun Studios and Linda has her own career these days. Frankie Jean runs the Ferriday family museum, and is also a capable singer. Elmo was a farmer, but a wild man who spent time in jail more than once. His corn harvests failed several years in a row, and he found comfort in his collection of Jimmie Rodgers records. Mamie was a gospel fan and a very religious woman. These two styles were Jerry Lee´s basic influences. It was at his aunt´s home that he first started to develop his own style. Not only him, but also his well-known cousins Jimmy Lee Swaggart and Mickey Gilley. Father Elmo and mother Mamie quickly realized that Jerry Lee could be really good on that thing, so they mortgaged their farm, (and lost it) to buy Jerry Lee his first piano, A Stark upright. Soon Jerry Lee discovered a new type of music. He started frequenting Haney´s Big House with Jimmy Lee Swaggart. Haney´s was a meeting place for blacks. They gathered there for parties. Jerry Lee´s uncle, Lee Calhoun, owned the place. Jerry Lee and his cousin would hide behind the bar and watch the plantation workers moving around to the blues.
»That place was full of those colored folks, man... they had been picking' cotton all day, had a 25 cent pint of wine in their back pocket, and were gittin' with it you know!» –JERRY LEE LEWIS
In 1949 Jerry Lee made his first public appearance. The event took place in Ferriday, at a local Ford dealership. With his new, mixture of blues, gospel and country, and with his unique style, he stepped onstage to join a country band. The song he performed that night was Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee O´Dee. Elmo passed the hat around and collected $13. The same year he got his own 20-minute show on the radio station WNAT just across the river, in Natchez, Mississippi. He made very little money on those jobs until he got his first paid job on the Hilltop Club in Natchez. During the summer of 1951 he visited the city of jazz and blues, New Orleans. There, on a wax record given to him by his friend Cecil Harrelson, he recorded two songs, rock instrumental, and Don´t Stay Away Till Love Grows Cold. February 21, 1952 he got married for the first time with Dorothy Barton. The story says that Dorothy´s brothers showed up at his door and threatened him to marry his sister.
While still young, Jerry Lee`s erratic behavior worried his mother, who finally decided to send him to a Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas. He was almost immediately expelled for playing a rock boogie version of My God Is Real on piano.
On September 15, 1953 he married Jane Mitcham, 23 days before the divorce with Dorothy Barton. On November 2, 1954, Jane gave birth to their son, named Jerry Lee Lewis Jr.
Home again, he got a job playing piano at the Louisiana Hayride. He also made a trip to the country music capital, Nashville, Tennessee. None of the studios there wanted a piano player. They wanted guitar players like Chet Atkins.. Piano players weren´t yet hot in country music.
»I thought Elvis was the best thing since popcorn, man!» –JERRY LEE LEWIS
»That's All Right, Mama!... Jerry Lee heard Elvis Presley on the radio, he was also a southern boy who had grown up with similar musical influences. A small company in Memphis, called Sun Records, recorded Elvis. Jerry Lee realized he should take a shot at this. He and his father financed a trip to Memphis with money they earned by selling 33 dozen of eggs at Nelson's Supermarket in Ferriday. When they arrived at the Memphis Recording Service, they found that the owner, Sam C. Phillips, was on vacation in Florida. Jerry Lee persuaded producer Jack Clement to let him record some demo songs in the studio. The month was September, and the year was 1956. Two months later Sam Phillips called Jerry Lee back in studio to record. The first single was Crazy Arms/End Of The Road. Crazy Arms was recorded in November, and End Of The Road was recorded the second time Jerry Lee was in studio. The single sold nearly 300 000 copies locally. Six months after this first release, Jerry Lee was working as a studio musician. His "pumping piano" can be heard on Your True Love and Matchbox by Carl Perkins. For a short while Jerry was a part of Billy Riley´s "The Little Green Men" and played on Riley´s Red Hot and Flying Saucer Rock and Roll using only his half first name and last name, Jerry Lewis.
The afternoon of Tuesday, December 4, 1956 remains the most famous date in the history of Rock and Roll. That was the day "The Million Dollar Quartet" jammed in Sun studio! Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash sung, played and had a good time together. Luckily, Sam Phillips let the tape machine run... Which "The Quartet" didn´t know about. The songs they played were basically old gospel songs like Peace In The Valley and When God Dips His Love In My Heart, but they also did some rock and roll songs like Brown Eyed Handsome Man and Don´t Be Cruel. Elvis, Carl, and Johnny joined Jerry Lee on Crazy Arms. Unfortunately the voices are barely audible.. Jerry Lee did some great versions of End Of The Road, Black Bottom Stomp, That´s My Desire, and You´re The Only Star In My Blue Heaven.
Now it was time to let Jerry Lee show his skills to rock and roll. With his cousin J.W. Brown on bass, Jimmy Van Eaton on drums, and Roland Janes on guitar, he cut a rock version of a song called Whole Lotta Shakin´ Goin´ On. On a single take they recorded one of the most legendary rock and roll songs ever! Jerry Lee claims that they didn´t even know the tape machine was running. A month later he appeared on the "Steve Allen Show". Allen never achieved that level of success with his show again. By autumn, one million copies of Whole Lotta Shakin singles had been sold.
Three new hit singles followed in 1957 and 1958: Great Balls Of Fire and You Win Again; Breathless and Down The Line; and High School Confidential and Fools Like Me. Great Balls Of Fire was recorded with thumbtacks stuck on the piano hammers, witch accounts for the special clicking sound on that recording. His songs were soon the "hottest" music around. They topped the charts in every category. Jerry Lee even beats Elvis Presley in record sales. On December 12, 1957, he married Myra Gale Brown, his second cousin. They became known while he was staying at J.W. and Louis´ house in Memphis. Cousins or second cousins getting married was a common practice in the rural south in the Fifties, something the British press didn´t understand or refused to understand.
When he went to England with his sister Frankie Jean, Myra, her little brother and Jud and Sam Phillips in 1958, the press scandalized his marriage. He did a few concerts, but the pressure from the furious and judgemental British press became overwhelming, and the tour had to be cancelled.
Back home, people were affected by the controversial marriage and his record sales deelined. High School Confidential, from the MGM with the same name sank to the bottom of the charts.
On February 27, 1959, Jerry Lee´s second son Steve Allen was born, named for the TV host. Musically things were bad. His records sold poorly, and Sam Phillips struggle to find Jerry Lee´s next hit. Songwriters didn´t send him their newest material anymore, so he had to find an old song which he could »renovate.» Jerry Lee is known for his ability to make every song his own, and What´d I Say was no exception. It was similar to Charles, but it was a rock and roll version in the Lewis style. What´d I Say did well, and Jerry soared on the charts again.
During the autumn of 1963 his contract with Sun Records expired... Sam Phillips desperately tried to keep Jerry Lee by. He signed contracts with Linda Gail, and Elmo. But that didn´t change Jerry Lee´s mind, he decided to go to Smash Records, a division of Mercury Records. Frank Casone became Jerry Lee´s new manager. The first thing he did when he went to Nashville under the Smash label was to re-record all his Sun hits, some old Rhythm & Blues numbers, a few old country song, some rock tunes and one of his own pieces called He Took It Like A Man. The first album was called The Golden Hits Of Jerry Lee Lewis.
April 5, 1964 was the day Jerry Lee and The Nashville Teens entranced the StarClub in Hamburg, Germany. They were there to record Jerry Lee´s first live album. The material had been previously released, but the Killer´s energy, singing, and playing talents made this one of the best live albums in the history of rock and roll ! Live at the StarClub became a "goal" for other artists to beat. The sound quality on the album was terrific, even compared to today's quality, you can hear every note Jerry Lee is playing, without it being amplified. Back in the United States, in Birmingham, Alabama, he recorded his second live album of 1964, with just as much energy as in Germany. The sound quality of this recording was not as good as the StarClub recordings, however.
The first years at Smash resulted in numerous rhythm & blues/country singles. Jerry Lee´s producers wanted him to record some pure country, and maybe achieve a major comeback in the country field. One producer, Eddie Kilroy, was exited about this idea, and Jerry Lee recorded a beautiful song called Another Place, Another Time. This record boosted his career and Jerry Lee was again a number one record artist. Soon followed great country classics such as: What´s Made Milwaukee Famous, She Still Comes Around, She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye, Once More With Feeling and There Must Be More To Love Than This. He played "Iago" in Jack Goods version of "Othello" in 1968.
He divorces Myra on December 9, 1970.
By 1971 he was hosting his own TV show, called "The Jerry Lee Lewis Show". Among the guest stars were his sister Linda Gail, Carl Perkins, and Jackie Wilson.
Jerry Lee did some rock and roll songs, some country up tempo songs, and a long medley of country hits.
In the early Seventies he recorded two songs that resulted in another »comeback,» Chantilly Lace and Me and Bobby McGee. While things were going well professionally, he suffered many tragedys personally. His mother died in 1971, and his marriage to Myra ended. He married Jaren Pate, and on April 27, 1972 he got a daughter, Lori Leigh. Jerry Lee´s first visit to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville took place in 1973, he became the first (and last) artist to perform rock and roll at the Grand Ole Opry. In January, 1973, his son Jerry Lee Jr. and several family members joined him on his trip to London where he planned to record some new rock material. The sessions in London resulted in a double LP set released by Mercury in 1973. Many great guest stars was included, and the powerful songs that came out of these sessions are some of his best material. Several of the songs feature Jerry Lee Lewis Jr. on percussion. The album proved "the Killer" could still rock and roll. The most impressive song would be No Headstone on My Grave, written by Charlie Rich. It is about five minutes long, and includes some marvelously improvised piano solos... "don´t put no headstone on my grave, I want a monument !!! ...this is the Killer speaking."
Another family tragedy occurred in 1973, when his beloved son Jerry Lee Jr. died when a car crashed into his Jeep.
Jaren Pate wants to divorce in December, 1973. The next few years were hard for Jerry Lee, but he recorded some excellent material during this time. Such as, Just A Little Bit, Boogie Woogie Country Man and A Damn Good Country Song.
December 15, 1977, was the last session for Mercury, and he changed to Elektra Records after fourteen years with the same company. Electra released eight singles and five albums during the three years he spent with them. Middle-Age Crazy, I´ll Find It Where I Can, Rockin´ My Life Away, Who Will The Next Fool Be, Over The Rainbow and Thirty Nine and Holding are some of the best songs he recorded with Electra. In July, 1979 his father Elmo Lewis died.. In 1981 Jerry Lee was brought to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. It was serious. Many famous performers visited Jerry Lee at the hospital, thinking he wouldn´t survive... But the killer was soon back on his feet again. With God's help... In 1983 he married Shawn Michelle Stevens, she died two months later of an overdose.
In 1986 he moved from Electra to MCA, and stayed there for four years. Four singles were released. Among the songs were: Let My Fingers Do The Talking, Why You´ve Been Gone So Long and I Am What I Am. On April 24, 1984 he married Kerrie McCarver.
The same year, in April, he went on tour in Europe. The tour went well, and ended in Madrid.
In 1986, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison gathered in the old Sun studios to record an album together. Among the songs were Waymore´s Blues, Class Of '55, and Big Train From Memphis. Jerry Lee recorded Keep My Motor Running and Sixteen Candles. They also made a music video.
In 1989 Jerry Lee stepped onstage in front of a sell-out crowd at London´s "Labatt´s Apollo" with Van Morrison, Dave Edmunds, John Lodge, Brian May and Dave Davies by his side. The gig was filmed and released on video. The concert featured his early as well as his latest hits.
The same year, a movie about Jerry Lee´s life was made. The movie is about his childhood in Ferriday, the marriage to Myra and the English tour of 1958. The terrific soundtrack was supplied by Jerry Lee himself, recorded with Polydoor. All his early Sun hits are included and a few rare ones like That Lucky Old Sun, Wild One and I´m Throwing Rice. The motion picture soundtrack was released by Polydoor. Great Balls Of Fire captures the »first impression» image of Jerry Lee, and doesn`t focus on his serious sides.
Dennis Quaid did his best to portray Jerry Lee`s personality, but the effort proves there`s only one killer.
My brother has his faults, but he´s never been goofy. –Linda Gail Lewis.
Jerry Lee´s last album was released by Sire in 1995, it´s called Young Blood. It has many old songs on, and new ones as well. Goosebumps and Crown Victoria Custom '51 are new songs written especially for Jerry Lee. Andy Paly, a gifted musician and a great producer who had wanted to work with Jerry Lee for years, produced the sessions. Also, a music video was made, featuring the song Goosebumps, it was filmed in an old warehouse. The album got good reviews, but not as much publicity as it deserved. Young Blood is one of Jerry Lee´s best albums ever !! His piano playing is unsurpassed, as well as his singing matches it. He has regained the confidence that had deelined in the Eighties. All this, with some terrific instrumental work by Kenny Lovelace, James Burton and the studio musicians, makes the album one of the greatest.
Today, Jerry Lee, his wife, and his son, live on The Lewis Ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi. They have a mansion with a piano shaped swimming pool, they have horses, 42 dogs and several cats! The ranch is open to the public. Visitors are given a guided tour to see all the gold records, pianos, memorabilia items and all the cars and motorcycles.
Today Jerry Lee´s band is called "The Killer Band" consist of Kenny Lovelace (guitar), James Burton (guitar), B.B. Cunningham (electric bass) and Robert Hall (drums). They tour the United States and Europe. Sometimes his wife Kerrie, his son Jerry Lee Lewis III("Lee") and his father in law, Bob McCarver, join them.
During the summer of 2000, Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard performed major concerts in Europe, as they have done in previous years (but not in 1999).
New songs include: Classified Freed Speak, Doctor Nice, Jerry Lee Can Guarantee, King Of Rock&Roll, Living It Up, Memphis Rose, Present 2nd Ave, Pyrotechnics, Return To Rock, Saturday Night Approval, Scene 60, and Piano Cue 1. These songs were written or co-written by Jerry Lee.