Monday, October 6, 2014

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer

Lewis’s musical journey started in his hometown of Ferriday, Louisiana, where he was born on September 29, 1935. Lewis was a cousin of television evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart and country singer Mickey Gilley. Lewis studied the piano from the age of ten, and his mother enrolled him in a bible college in Texas.

According to a famous story, Lewis was thrown out of the school on his first day for performing a raucous version of “My God Is Real”. It is stories such as this one and Lewis’s fervent performances that earned him the moniker, “The Killer.”

At 21, Lewis auditioned for Sun Records, and Sam Phillips signed him as soon as he heard the tape of the audition. His first single, “Crazy Arms,” was a minor hit, and. Phillips believed that Lewis could become another Elvis Presley. Accordingly, Phillips poured out money for the promotion of Lewis’s follow-up, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

The record was banned on many radio stations across America, but it went to be a huge hit on the country, R&B and pop charts. His next single, “Great Balls of Fire,” became his trademark song, and another release, “Breathless,” made for three huge Lewis hits in a row. In the meantime, Lewis was also gaining a reputation as a live performer unequalled in intensity.

Lewis had secretly married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, the daughter of his bass player and uncle, J.W. Brown. While on a trip to England, the British press found out about the marriage and ripped him to shreads, causing Lewis to retreat to the U.S. His career went into rapid decline as a result.
Smash Records signed Lewis, and he began recording country music in his own style, and due to the label’s bargaining with country music disc jockeys, Lewis became a star again.

After overcoming a series of personal problems with drugs and alcohol and a divorce from Myra Gale, Lewis became one of the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986. In 1989, Lewis was the subject of the film, “Great Balls of Fire,” which told his life story. Lewis re-recorded all of his old hits for the film, and has continued to record and play live since.

Several fine compilations of Lewis’ early hits are available, including the three-volume, “Original Golden Hits” (1969) and “Original Sun Greatest Hits” (1983).