Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis (born September 29, 1935) is an American rock and roll and country usic singer 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 Rockbilly Hall of fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 2003, they listed his box set All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology number 242 on their list of "500 greatest albums of all time.

Lewis was born to the poor family of Elmo and Mamie Lewis in Ferriday in Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, and began playing piano in his youth with his two cousins, Mickey Gillie and Jimmy Swaggart. His parents mortgaged their farm to buy him a piano. Influenced by a piano-playing older cousin Carl McVoy (who later recorded with Bill Black 's Combo), 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 Lewis daringly played 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 Lewis played some "worldly" music. The next morning, the dean of the school called both Lewis and Green into his office to expel them both. Lewis said that Green shouldn't be expelled because "he didn't know what I was going to do." Years later Green asked Lewis: "Are you still playing the devil's music?" Lewis 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."
After that incident, Lewis stopped performing religious music. He played at clubs in and around Ferriday and Natchez
,Mississippi, becoming part of the burgeoning new rock and roll sound and 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 travelled to Memphis
, Tennessee in November 1956, to audition for Sun Records. Label owner Sam Phillips was away on a trip to Florida, but producer and engineer Jack Clement recorded Lewis's rendition of Ray Price's "Crazy Arms" and his own composition "End of The Road". During December 1956, Lewis began recording prolifically, both as a solo artist and as a session musician for such Sun artists as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. His distinctive piano playing can be heard on many tracks recorded at Sun during late 1956 and early 1957, including Carl Perkins' "Matchbox", "Your True Love", "You Can Do No Wrong", and "Put Your Cat Clothes On", and Billy Lee Riley's "Flyin' Saucers Rock'n'Roll". Until this time, rockabilly had rarely featured piano, but it proved a highly influential addition and rockabilly artists on other labels soon also started working with pianists.
On December 4, 1956, Elvis 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 tape 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 Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" and "Paralyzed", 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 Doinoes) impersonating him on "Don't Be Cruel".
Lewis's own singles (on which he was billed as "Jerry Lee Lewis and his Pumping Piano") advanced his career as a soloist during 1957, with hits such as "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire", his biggest hit, bringing him to national and international fame, despite criticism for the songs' overtly sexual undertones which prompted some radio stations to boycott them. In 2005, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" was selected for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.
According to several first hand sources, including Johnny Cash, Lewis himself, who was devoutly Christian, was also troubled by the sinful nature of his own material, which he firmly believed was leading himself and his audience to hell. This aspect of Lewis's character was depicted in Waylon Payne's portrayal of Lewis in the 2005 film Walk the Line, based on Cash's autobiographies.
Lewis would often kic
k the piano bench out of the way to play standing, rake his hands up and down the keyboard for dramatic accent, sit down on the keyboard and even stand on top of the instrument. His first TV appearance, in which he demonstrated some of these moves, was on The Steve Allen Show on July 28, 1957, where he played the song "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". He is also reputed to have set a piano on fire at the end of a live performance, in protest at being billed below Chuck Berry. (Pictured left: The Jerry Lee Lewis Drive in Ferriday)
His dynamic 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." Classical composer Michael Nyman has also cited Lewis's style as the progenitor of his own aesthetic.

Lewis's turbulent personal life was hidden from the public until a May 1958 British tour where Ray Berry, a news agency reporter at London Airport (the only journalist present), learned about Lewis's third wife, Myra Gale Brown. She was Lewis's first cousin once removed and only 13 years old. (Brown, Lewis, and his management all insisted she was 15.) Lewis was nearly 23 years old. The publicity caused an uproar and the tour was cancelled after only three concerts.
The scandal followed Lewis home to America, and as a result, he was blacklisted from radio and 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," a bogus "interview" cut together by Jack Clement from excerpts of Lewis's songs, which made light of his marital and publicity problems. Only Alan Freed stayed true to Jerry Lee Lewis, playing his records until Freed was removed from the air because of payola allegations.
Jerry Lee Lewis was still under contract with Sun Records, and kept recording, regularly releasing singles. He had gone from $10,000 a night concerts to $250 a night spots in beer joints and small clubs. He had few friends at the time whom he felt he could trust. It was only through Kay Martin, the president of Lewis's 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, Johnny Cash and others, and also opened a studio in Nashville. It was at the latter studio that Lewis recorded his only major hit during this period, a rendition of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" in 1961. In Europe other updated versions of "Sweet Little Sixteen" (September 1962 UK) and "Good Golly Miss Molly" (March 1963) entered the Hit Parade. On popular EPs, "Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes", "I've Been Twistin'", "Money" and "Hello Josephine" also became turntable hits, especially in nascent discotehques. Another recording of Lewis playing an instrumental boogie arrangement of the Glen Miller Orchestra favorite "In The Mood," was issued on the Phillips International label 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 concert 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."

Lewis has been married six times. First to Dorothy Barton for 20 months from February 1952 to October 1953. His second marriage to Jane Mitchum was of dubious validity because it occurred 23 days before his divorce from Barton was final. They were married 4 years from September 1953 to October 1957. They had two children. He then married Myra Lewis in December 1957. She was his first cousin once removed, and thirteen at the time of the marriage. This marriage caused a scandal which destroyed his career for a decade. They had two children and divorced in December 1970 after 13 years of marriage. His fourth marriage was to Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, and ended when she drowned in the swimming pool at their home. They were married for 11 years from October 1971 to August 1983 and had one child. His fifth wife was Shawn Stephens. This marriage ended with her death from a drug overdose. They were married for three months, from June to August 1984. His sixth marriage was to Kerrie McCarver, with whom he had one child. This marriage lasted 20 years and ended in divorce in 2004.
Lewis has had six children (two have no information known to be published). In 1962, his son Steve Allen Lewis drowned in a swimming pool accident when he was three, and in 1973 Jerry Lee Lewis, Jr. was killed in a car accident at the age of 14. His current living children are a daughter, Phoebe Lewis, and a son, Jerry Lee Lewis III.

Later career
In the 1960s, Lewis's attempts at a comeback as a rock and roll performer had stalled during four years with Smash Records until he began recording country ballads.
He had already recorded a country-oriented LP for the label Country Songs for City Folks. In 1968, his single "Another Place, Another Time" became a Top 10 success and led to a string of Top Ten singles including the 1968 number-one country single "To Make Love Sweeter For You" that brought Lewis renewed stardom among country music fans, much like that which ex-rockabilly Conway Twitty began to cultivate during that same time. His shift to country reflected the fact that he had grown up listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Lewis's country hits during this period include "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out of Me)", "She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left of Me)", "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye", "Once More With Feeling", "There Must Be More to Love Than This", "Touching Home", "Would You Take Another Chance On Me", "Me & Bobby McGee", "Think About It, Darlin'", "Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough", and "Tell Tale Signs". Lewis's singles and albums were issued on Mercury records instead of Smash from 1970 on. Lewis's renewed popularity encouraged Sun International Inc. to issue previously unpublished recordings dating from 1963 including "Invitation to Your Party", "One Minute Past Eternity", "I Can't Seem To Say Goodbye" and "Waiting For A Train" on singles that also did well on the country music charts in 1969/70. Lewis's successes continued throughout the decade and he eventually began to re-emphasize his rock and roll past with hits like his 1972 revival of the The Big Bopper's rock classic "Chantilly
Lace" and "Drinkin' Wine Spo dee-o dee" as well as looking at middle age with the 1977 "Middle Age Crazy". In 1979, he signed with Elektra Records and had his last major country hit with 1981's "Thirty-Nine and Holding." He spent a very brief period with MCA Records in 1983 but left the label due to unspecified differences.
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's ex-wife, Myra Gale Lewis, and starred Dennis Quaid as Lewis, Winona Ryder as Myra, and Alec Baldwin as Jimmy Swaggart. The movie focuses on Lewis's early career and his relationship with Myra, and ends with the scandal of the late 1950s. A year later, 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 also be heard in a scene from the movie in which it is playing on the radio.
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.
Despite the personal problems, Lewis's musical talent is widely acknowledged.