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Lewis, Jerry Lee

Jerry Lee Lewis

Singer, songwriter, pianist

Kicking his piano stool back before leaping on top of his piano, Jerry Lee Lewis burst onto the emerging rock scene in 1957 with "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." At his early peak, his action-packed live shows and follow-up hits "Great Balls of Fire" and "Breathless" soon put him in a position to rival Elvis Presley for the title of "King of Rock and Roll." Dubbed "the Killer" because of his pulverizing affect on live audiences, he has been known to bang his piano with fists, feet, head, and buttocks during concerts. According to legend, he even once doused his instrument with gasoline and set it on fire. The hottest musical performer not named Elvis of his time, Lewis drew huge audiences wherever he performed, until public disapproval of his marriage to a 13-year-old third cousin sent his career into decline. Unofficially blacklisted from most northern radio playlists, he continued performing in small clubs for far less money until 1968, when his switch to country music yielded a string of major genre hits ranging from "What Made Milwaukee Famous" and "Middle Age Crazy" to "Over the Rainbow" and "Thirty Nine and Holding." Despite a career marred by controversy, alcoholism, and drugs, he has remained an international concert attraction. Of his contemporaries, only Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley have enjoyed a more enduringly loyal fan base.

Sun Records Made Him a Star

When he was only eight years old, Lewis's parents observed him attempting to play "Silent Night" on a relative's piano using only the black keys. Impressed by his natural ability, they mortgaged the family farm to buy their son his first piano. Born into a Pentecostal family in Ferriday, Louisiana, young Jerry Lee, along with Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee's cousin Jimmy Swaggert, gathered around the piano to sing and play hymns while their parents were present, but would sneak off to hear the forbidden, rousing music of black rhythm and blues players in juke joints like Haney's Big House, which often featured the likes of Albert and B.B. King. (Lewis's cousins achieved their own measures of fame, Swaggert as a piano playing televangelist, Gilley as a Jerry Lee sound-a-like country star.) Lewis also heard country artists such as Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams from his father's collection of 78 rpm records, along with popular country boogie singer/pianist Moon Mullican.

Although radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayridefed his growing repertoire of country, folk, gospel, blues, and boogie, Lewis cited vaudeville superstar Al Jolson as the artist who made the biggest impression on him. In an interview for Arnold Shaw's The Rockin' 50s he explained, "When I was about twelve, I walked into a theater…. Before the picture went on, they played a record. I never stayed for the picture. That record hit me so hard I rushed out, ran all the way home, sat down at the piano, and tried to sing 'Down Among the Sheltering Pines' exactly as Al Jolson had done it." Lewis also admired famed singing cowboy Gene Autry, whose ability to sing and play a guitar while riding a horse mystified him until he made his own very first film appearance.

Lewis told Rolling Stone that his first public appearance was made at a local Ford dealership when he was 13, where his father passed the hat and collected $13. After that, Lewis turned pro. Playing whenever and wherever he could, the youngster briefly hosted his own radio show on WNAT in Natchez, Mississippi, and cut his first demos, which clearly demonstrated that the youngster played rock 'n' roll long before the music derived its official name.

For the Record …

Born September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, LA.; son of Elmo (a carpenter, contractor, and farmer) and Mamie Ethel; married Dorothy Barton, c. 1951 (marriage ended); married Jane Mitcham, c. 1952 (marriage ended); married Myra Gale Brown, December, 1957 (divorced, c. 1970); married Jaren Gunn Pate, 1971 (deceased, 1982); married Shawn Michelle Stephens (a cocktail waitress), June, 1983 (deceased, 1983); married Kerrie Lee McCarver Mann (a country singer), 1984 (divorced, 2004); children: (second marriage) Jerry Lee, Jr. (died in a jeep accident); (third marriage), Steve Allen (drowned in backyard pool accident), Phoebe Allen; (fourth marriage) Lori Leigh, (sixth marriage) Jerry Lee Lewis III. Education: Attended Bible Institute (Waxhatchie, Texas), c. 1953.

Solo vocalist and pianist, 1956– rock and country performer, 1956– appeared in motion pictures, including High School Confidential, American Hot Wax, and Disc Jockey Jamboree, and as Iago in a rock version of Shakespeare's Othello, retitled Catch My Soul, staged at the Los Angeles Music Center, 1968; appeared on numerous network television programs, 1957– provided soundtrack to the movie based on his life, Great Balls of Fire, 1989; autobiography, Killer! The Baddest Rock Memoir Ever, dictated to author Charles White, 1995; recorded for various labels including Sun, Smash, Mercury, Elektra, MCA, SCR, Bellaphon, Sire, and Artists First, 1956–2006.

Awards: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album, Interviews from the Class of '55 Recordings Sessions, 1986; awarded star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1989; inducted into Rockabilly Hall of Fame, 1997; inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, 2001; inducted into Delta Music Hall of Fame, 2002; Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2005.

Addresses: Booking—Steven Green, Artists International Management, 9850 Sandalfoot Blvd., Ste. 458, Boca Raton, FL 33428, website: http://www.airocks.com., e-mail: booking@jerryleelewis.com. Website—Official Jerry Lee Lewis Website: http://www.jerryleelewis.com.

Sexually precocious, the teenaged Lewis had two brief teenage marriages; the second, to Jane Mitcham, produced a son, Jerry Lee Jr., who died at the age of 19 in a car accident. While married to Mitcham, Lewis's strong Pentecostal upbringing led him to enter the Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas, in hopes of becoming a preacher. He was expelled within a year, however, when he was caught playing "My God is Real" with an improvised rhythm and blues beat. By his own admission, Lewis has always been torn between the righteousness of Pentecostalism and his wild secular life, replete with women, drugs, and alcohol.

Lewis had unsuccessfully auditioned for labels in Nashville, and had returned to playing clubs in Louisiana and Mississippi when he heard "That's Alright (Mama)" by Elvis Presley. Reading that Sam Phillips of Sun Records had discovered Presley, he and his father sold 33 dozen eggs, and set off for Memphis. Phillips was away on business, but recently hired producer Jack Clement was intrigued by Lewis's claim that he could play piano like Chet Atkins played the guitar. Quickly, he recorded a demo of Ray Price's hit "Crazy Arms" that eventually became Lewis's first Sun single.

Although "Crazy Arms" was a modest regional success, Lewis found it necessary to work as a session pianist behind other artists to support himself. During a Carl Perkins session that yielded "Matchbox" and "Put Your Cat Clothes On," Elvis Presley—by then a superstar for RCA—dropped in and jammed with Lewis and Perkins. When Johnny Cash arrived, the four had their pictures taken together and were promptly dubbed "The Million Dollar Quartet."

During a tour of Canada with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, Lewis discovered the gimmick that made him a show-stealing star. After a less than stellar audience response, the piano player bemoaned the fact that he wasn't connecting with live audiences the way his guitar playing contemporaries did. According to Michael Lydon's book Rock Folk, Perkins advised, "Turn around so they can see you; make a fuss." The next night he stood up, kicked the piano stool back and the crowd roared with approval. "And we regretted it because he damn near stole the show," recalled Perkins. "Four nights later he was top of the bill."

The piano-pumper's cover of Big Maybelle's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" was initially banned by most radio stations, but when Lewis performed it on NBC's The Steve Allen Show, he became a rock and roll star overnight. He almost didn't record "Great Balls of Fire," a song sent to Sun by black artist and songwriter Otis Blackwell, because he felt it was too sinful. However, the hit garnered Lewis a gold record, and the collective sales of the two hit singles were over eleven million copies, as reported by Mark Humphrey in Esquire.

Lewis recorded prolifically at Sun, partly due to his compulsive need to show off and partly because he enjoyed it. Working primarily with drummer J.M. Van Eaton and guitarist Roland Janes, the body of work he crafted at the 706 Union Avenue studio represents some of the finest examples of personal interpretation in the history of American popular music. Lewis refined a style that garnered airplay on pop, country, and R&B stations nationwide. Only Elvis Presley was more successful with this model of tri-market success.

By 1958 Lewis enjoyed a solid Top Ten pop hit with "Breathless," and set out to tour Great Britain. In England, reporters noticed the young wife who accompanied him; though Lewis claimed the former Myra Gale Brown—the daughter of his bass player/personal manager Jay W. Brown—was 15, investigation revealed that she was not only 13, but was his third cousin, and that he had married her before his divorce from Mitcham was final. Though in the South women often married young, and marriage between distant cousins was not uncommon, the British papers cried scandal, and there was talk of deporting Lewis. He returned from England early to find many of his concert bookings in the United States cancelled as well. As a result, the single "High School Confidential," one of the hot teen rockers of the 1950s, stalled out at number 21 on the charts and Lewis's career plummeted.

Made a Comeback in Country Music

Initially banned by many important radio stations, Lewis felt things easing up by 1960, when he recorded a version of Ray Charles's "What's I Say." The record hit the Top 30 on the national pop, country, and R&B charts. However, Sun records was losing ground to better organized and financed major labels, and the piano pounding singer's recording career stayed in decline despite several well-reviewed recordings and an increasingly popular live show.

In late 1963 Lewis began recording for Smash Records, a division of Mercury, where for four years he recorded prolifically without much success. On one of his best albums, The Greatest Live Show on Earth, his performance of Buck Owens's "Together Again" brought cheers from the predominantly rock crowd. Out of desperation, Smash had Lewis record an album of pop-coated cover songs, titled Country Songs For City Folks. Welsh belter Tom Jones took "Green Green Grass of Home" from it and turned it into a major pop hit, but few others were buying.

Convinced by producer Eddie Kilroy to give a true country session a try before he left the label for good, Lewis cut "Another Place, Another Time" in mid-1968. By the fall of that year, it was a bona fide hit. Kenny Lovelace, Lewis's guitarist and fiddle player since 1967, played on that first full country session.

Taking up where the departing Kilroy had left off, producer Jerry Kennedy had the magic touch with Lewis. He chose songs such as "Once More With Feeling" and "Touching Home," that fit the singer's persona as well as his unique interpretive gifts. After a decade of struggle, Jerry Lee Lewis was once again a hot record act. By the time his run in this genre was over, he would rack up nearly four dozen Top 40 country hits.

Lewis's career benefitted from both his fresh blast of country hits and the rising rock 'n' roll revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s. After hitting number one with a Grammy-nominated version of the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace," Lewis's comeback had reached its zenith. He returned to the rock 'n' roll charts in 1973 with the all-star double LP London Sessions and worked out an album deal with Mercury with the intention of cutting as much rock as country. That's when things started to crumble.

Dogged by Personal Tragedy

Touring for months without end, Lewis began to burn out his voice. Once a regular studio workhorse, Mercury began to have trouble getting him in to record. The switch to Elektra records in 1979 gave his country career its final chart boost. However, before he could build on the momentum of "Over The Rainbow" and "Thirty Nine and Holding," his stomach lining tore open and he nearly died. As he recuperated, his label dropped him. And health issues were among many problems that the singer had to endure.

Lewis's marriage to Myra Gale lasted for 13 years, seeing him through years in small clubs and his return as a popular country performer. They had two children, daughter Phoebe and son Steve Allen, but the boy drowned in a swimming pool accident at the age of three. After Myra Gale divorced him, his mother died of cancer, and his son Jerry Lee Jr. died in a jeep accident. Fourth wife Jaren Gunn, a.k.a. Jaren Pate, then estranged from him and seeking divorce, was found drowned in a swimming pool in June of 1982. In June of 1983 Lewis married Shawn Stephens; approximately two and a half months later, she was found dead in their home of a drug overdose. The media reported what seemed to be suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of both Gunn and Stephens, and in a People article, Jane Sanderson reported that Stephens's family had asked the FBI to investigate her death. Eventually, Lewis was completely exonerated of any wrongdoing in the two deaths, but the accusations derailed the last phase of his career as a country hit maker. Tax problems forced him to flee to Ireland during the 1990s; he returned only after a deal had been struck. In the meantime, the lone bright spot in his tempestuous sixth marriage, to Kerrie McCarver Mann, was the arrival of a son, Jerry Lee Lewis III.

The Last Man Standing

Lewis did not fare well at MCA, where two spotty albums did little to resurrect his chart momentum, although occasionally Lewis's prodigious talent seemed to prevail. His work on the soundtrack from the semi-autobiographical movie Great Balls of Fire, was the best aspect of an otherwise poorly acted film, and his eponymous album for Sire in 1995 was a brilliantly distilled cornucopia of roots and rock that drew enthusiastic reviews, but relatively few sales.

Serious health problems continued to affect his output and performance into the 2000s. By that time, contemporaries Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash had all died. Physicians restricted his time on stage, and Lewis began taking gigs opening for his rivals Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Further, an album of rock and country songs cut at Sam Phillips's studio in 2003 couldn't find a home. Initially, it was scheduled to be released by Columbia and called "The Pilgrim," then on Sony as "Old Glory," but the project was temporarily dropped by the labels without comment.

Manager/guitarist Jimmy Ripp helped make the project more attractive by calling in high-powered guest stars such as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Toby Keith, and John Fogerty. Surprisingly, the beleaguered rock pioneer attacked the mix of blues, rock, and country with the flair and abandon of the old days, showing up most of the younger musicians with his dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics.

Appropriately titled Last Man Standing, the 21-song album was released in 2006 on the little known Artists First label. Benefitting from numerous television appearances and glowing reviews, the 71 year-old Lewis enjoyed the highest charting album of his career. Moreover, he sang what might prove to be his final epitaph. Empathizing with Kris Kristofferson's ballad of a rounder fallen on hard times ("The Pilgrim Chapter 33"), he channeled a character who offers no apologies for the life he's led, singing with resignation tempered by pride, "the going up was worth the coming down."

Selected discography

Singles

"Crazy Arms," Sun, 1956.
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," Sun, 1957.
"Great Balls of Fire," Sun, 1957.
"You Win Again," Sun, 1958.
"Breathless," Sun, 1958.
"High School Confidential," Sun, 1958.
"I'll Make It All Up to You," Sun, 1958.
"Break-Up," Sun, 1958.
"I'll Sail My Ship Alone," Sun, 1959.
"What'd I Say," Sun, 1961.
"Sweet Little Sixteen," Sun, 1962.
"Cold Cold Heart," Sun, 1962.
"Pen And Paper," Smash, 1964.
"Another Place Another Time," Smash, 1968.
"What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me," Smash, 1968.
"She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left of Me)," Smash, 1968.
"To Make Love Sweeter For You," Smash, 1969.
"One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)," Smash, 1969.
(With Linda Gail Lewis) "Don't Let Me Cross Over," Smash, 1969.
"Invitation to Your Party," Sun International, 1969.
"She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye," Smash, 1969.
"One Minute Past Eternity," Sun International, 1969.
"Once More with Feeling," Smash, 1970.
"I Can't Seem to Say Goodby," Sun International, 1970.
"There Must Be More to Love Than This," Mercury, 1970.
"Waiting For A Train (All Around the Watertank)," Sun International, 1970.
"Touching Home," Mercury, 1971.
"Love On Broadway," Sun International, 1971.
"When He Walks On You (Like You Have Walked On Me)," Mercury, 1971.
"Would You Take Another Chance On Me," Mercury, 1971.
"Me and Bobby McGee," Mercury, 1971.
"Chantilly Lace," Mercury, 1972.
"Think About It Darlin'," Mercury, 1972.
"Lonely Weekends" Mercury, 1972.
"Whose Gonna Play This Old Piano," Mercury, 1972.
"No More Hanging On," Mercury, 1973.
"Drinking Wine Spo-Dee O'Dee," Mercury, 1973.
"Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough," Mercury, 1973.
"I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," Mercury, 1974.
"Tell Tale Signs," Mercury, 1974.
"He Can't Fill My Shoes," Mercury, 1974.
"I Can Still Hear the Music in the Restroom," Mercury, 1975.
"Boogie Woogie Country Man," Mercury, 1975.
"Let's Put it Back Together Again," Mercury, 1976.
"The Closest Thing to You," Mercury, 1977.
"Middle Age Crazy," Mercury, 1977.
"Come On In," Mercury, 1978.
"I'll Find It Where I Can," Mercury, 1978.
(With Jimmy Ellis, a.k.a. Orion) "Save the Last Dance For Me," Sun International, 1979.
"Rockin' My Life Away," Elektra, 1979.
"I Wish I Were Eighteen Again," Elektra, 1979.
"Who Will the Next Fool Be," Elektra, 1979.
"When Two Worlds Collide," Elektra, 1980.
"Honky Tonk Stuff," Elektra, 1980.
"Over the Rainbow," Elektra, 1980.
"Thirty Nine and Holding," Elektra, 1981.

Albums

Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun, 1958.
Jerry Lee's Greatest, Sun, 1961.
Golden Hits, Smash, 1964.
Greatest Live Show On Earth, Smash, 1964.
Country Songs for City Folks, Smash, 1965; reissued as All Country, Smash, 1969.
Return of Rock, Smash, 1967.
By Request, Smash, 1967.
Soul My Way, Smash, 1967.
Another Place, Another Time, Smash, 1968.
She Still Comes Around, Smash, 1969.
Ole Tyme Cuntry Music, Sun International, 1969.
Country Music Hall of Fame, Vol. 1, Smash, 1969.
Country Music Hall of Fame, Vol. 2, Smash, 1969.
Rockin' Rhythm & Blues, Sun International, 1969.
She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye, Smash, 1970.
Taste of Country, Sun International, 1970.
(With Linda Gail Lewis) Together, Smash, 1970.
Best of Jerry Lee Lewis, Smash, 1970.
Live at the International Hotel, Mercury, 1970.
Original Golden Hits, Sun, 1970.
Original Golden Hits Volume 2, Sun, 1970.
Monsters, Sun International, 1971.
The Golden Cream of Country, Sun International, 1971.
There Must Be More to Love, Mercury, 1971.
In Loving Memories, Mercury, 1971.
Touching Home, Mercury, 1971.
Original Golden Hits, Volume 3, Sun, 1972.
The Killer Rocks On, Mercury, 1972.
Would You Take Another Chance, Mercury, 1972.
Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano, Mercury, 1973.
Sometimes A Memory Ain't Enough, Mercury, 1973.
London Session, Mercury, 1973; reissued, Lemon Recordings, 2003.
I-40 Country, Mercury, 1973.
Southern Roots, Mercury, 1974.
Boogie Woogie Country Man, Mercury, 1975.
Odd Man In, Mercury, 1975.
Country Class, Mercury, 1976.
Country Memories, Mercury, 1977.
Best of Jerry Lee Lewis, Volume 2, Mercury, 1978.
Keeps On Rockin', Mercury, 1978.
(With Jimmy Ellis, a.k.a Orion) Duets, Sun International, 1979.
Jerry Lee Lewis, Elektra, 1979.
When Two Worlds Collide, Elektra, 1980.
Killer Country, Elektra, 1980.
(With Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins) The Survivors, Columbia, 1982; reissued, Razor & Tie, 1995.
My Fingers Do the Talking, MCA, 1983.
Live at the Star Club Hamburg, London, 1964; reissued, Rhino, 1983, 1992.
I Am What I Am, MCA, 1984.
Silver Eagle Presents Jerry Lee Lewis Live, Silver Eagle, 1984; reissued, 1997.
Get Out Your Big Roll Daddy, SCR, 1984.
(With Carl Perkins & Elvis Presley) The Complete Million Dollar Session, Charly, 1985; reissued, BMG, 2006.
Live at the Vapors Club, SCR, 1985; reissued, Ace, 1993.
(With Mel Tillis, Webb Pierce, and Fraon Young) Four Legends, Plantation, 1985.
Six of One Half A Dozen of the Other, SCR, 1985.
(With Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison) Class of '55, America/Smash/Mercury, 1986.
Rocket, Bellaphon, 1988.
Rocket 88, Tomato, 1989.
Heartbreak, Tomato, 1989.
Rockin' My Life Away, Tomato, 1989; reissued, 1992.
Rare Tracks: Wild One, Rhino, 1989.
Killer: The Mercury Years, Volume One, 1963–1968, Mercury, 1989.
Killer: The Mercury Years, Volume Two, 1969–1972, Mercury, 1989.
Killer: The Mercury Years, Volume Three, 1973–1977, Mercury, 1989.
Classic Jerry Lee Lewis (1956–1963) (8 CD set of Sun material), Bear Family, 1989; reissued, 1992.
Great Balls of Fire!, (original motion picture soundtrack), Polydor, 1989.
Rockin' My Life Away: The Jerry Lee Lewis Collection (Elektra recordings), Warner Bros., 1991.
Live in Italy, Magnum, 1991.
The Killer's Private Stash, Electrovert, 1991.
Jerry Lee Lewis Jokes and Sings Mona Lisa, Flash, 1991.
That Breathless Cat, Stomper Time, 1992.
Honky Tonk Rock'n'Roll Piano Man, Ace, 1992.
Pretty Much Country, Ace, 1992.
Great Balls of Fire Live!, Pilz, 1993.
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On Live!, Pilz, 1993.
Locust Years … And the Return to the Promised Land (8 CD set), Bear Family, 1994.
Young Blood, Sire, 1995.
At Hank Cochran's, Stomper Time, 1995.
Killer Country, Mercury, 1995.
Old-Time Rock'n'Roll, Killer, 1997.
Mercury & Smash Recordings, Collectables, 1997.
Whole Lotta Shakin; Goin' On—he Very Best of Jerry Lee Lewis, Vol. 1, Collectables, 1999.
Invitation to Your Party—The Best of Jerry Lee Lewis, Vol. 2, Collectables, 1999.
Live at Gilleys, Atlantic, 1999.
Mercury Smashes and Rockin' Sessions (10 CD set), Bear Family, 2000.
Rockin' the Blues—25 Great Sun Recordings: Rare and Unreleased Classics, Varese Sarabande, 2002.
Alabama Show [Live], Universal International, 2004.
Jerry Lee Rocks, Bear Family, 2006.
The Definitive Collection, Hip-O, 2006.
A Half Century of Hits, Time Life, 2006.
Platinum Collection, Warner Bros., 2006.
Last Man Standing, Artist First, 2006.

Videos

America's Music—Country & Western 2, Century Home Video, 1981.
Jerry Lee Lewis Live!, CBS Fox, 1983.
Fats Domino & Friends (features Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, and Ron Wood), HBO Video, 1986.
The Legends of Rock & Roll (features Lewis, James Brown, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, B.B. King, and Little Richard, HBO Video, 1989; reissued, 2004.
Jerry Lee Lewis—The Story of Rock and Roll, Pioneer, 1991; reissued, 2005.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Friends (with Dave Edmunds, Van Morrison, and Brian May), MCA, 1991.
Shindig! Presents: Jerry Lee Lewis, Rhino, 1992.
I Am What I Am [documentary], J2 Communications, 1995; reissued, White Star, 2002.
High School Confidential, Republic, 1993; reissued, 2004.
The Jerry Lee Lewis Show (from 1969, features guests Carl Perkins and Jackie Wilson), Magnum, 2002.
The London Rock & Roll Show (features concert footage from 1972 with co-stars Lewis, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley), St. Clair Vision, 2003.
Jamboree [1957], Warner Bros, 2005.

Sources

Books

Balfour, Victoria, Rock Wives (contains chapter on Myra Gale Lewis), Beech Tree Books, 1986.

Cain, Robert, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On: Jerry Lee Lewis, Dial Press, 1981.

Fong-Torres, Ben, editor, The Rolling Stone Rock 'n' Roll Reader, Bantam Books, 1974.

Guterman, Jimmy, Rockin' My Life Away—Listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Rutledge Hill Press, 1991.

Lewis, Jerry Lee, and Charles White, Killer! The Baddest Rock Memoir Ever, Arrow Books, 1996.

Lewis, Linda Gail, and Les Pendleton, The Devil, Me and Jerry Lee, Longstreet Press, 1998.

Lewis, Myra, with Murray Silver, Great Balls of Fire! The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis, St. Martin's Press, 1982.

Lydon, Michael, Rock Folk, First Citadel Underground Edition, 1990.

Palmer, Robert, Jerry Lee Lewis Rocks!, Omnibus Press, 1981.

Shaw, Arnold, The Rockin' 50s, Hawthorn, 1974.

Tosches, Nick, Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, Dell, 1982.

Periodicals

Esquire, June 1982.

People, April 24, 1978; September 12, 1983; May 14, 1984; October 27, 1986.

Rolling Stone, March 1, 1984; November 21, 1985.

Time, March 14, 1983.

Online

"Jerry Lee Lewis," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 18, 2006).

"Jerry Lee Lewis," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (October 18, 2006).

Official Jerry Lee Lewis Website, http://www.jerryleelewis.com. (October 19, 2006).

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Lewis, Jerry Lee

Jerry Lee Lewis, 1935–, American singer and composer, b. Ferriday, La. Combining country music elements with an energetic performance style, he was an early star of rock music. His songs include "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire." Hailed as an innovator and a rowdy old master of rock, he continues to perform and record.

See biographies by N. Tosches (1982, repr. 1998) and R. Bragg (2014).

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"Lewis, Jerry Lee." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Lewis, Jerry Lee

Jerry Lee Lewis

Singer, songwriter, pianist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Jerry Lee Lewis burst onto the emerging rock scene in 1957 with Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On. A quick follow-up hit, Great Balls of Fire, soon put him in a position to rival Elvis Presley for the title of King of Rock and Roll. Famed for his antics at the piano, known to bang the instrument with fists, feet, head, and buttocks during concertshe even once doused his piano with gasoline and set it on fireLewis drew huge audiences wherever he performed until public disapproval of his marriage to a thirteen-year-old third cousin sent his career into decline. He continued performing in small clubs for little money until 1968, when he decided to switch to country music. Hits like What Made Milwaukee Famous and Middle Age Crazy have brought Lewis back as one of countrys biggest stars, though he still makes appearances in rock revue shows and likes to end his concerts with Great Balls of Fire.

Born into a Pentecostal family in Ferriday, Louisiana, that includes cousins television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and fellow country star Mickey Gilley, Lewis was formed by varied musical influences during his childhood. He and his cousins gathered around the piano to sing and play hymns while their parents were present, but would sneak off to hear the forbidden, rousing music of black rhythm and blues players in juke joints. Lewis also heard country artists such as Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams from his fathers record collection, but he cites Al Jolson as the artist who made the biggest impression on him. He explains in an interview in Arnold Shaws The Rockin 50s: When I was about twelve, I walked into a theatre. Before the picture went on, they played a record. I never stayed for the picture. That record hit me so hard I rushed out, ran all the way home, sat down at the piano, and tried to sing Down Among the Sheltering Pines exactly as Al Jolson had done it. Although I heard the song just once, I knew every word. The way Jolson did it, each word stood out like an electrified stop sign. Ive never forgotten those wordsand Ive never stopped admiring Al Jolson.

Lewis had two brief teenage marriages; the second, to Jane Mitcham, produced a son, Jerry Lee, Jr., who died at the age of nineteen in a car accident. While married to Mitcham, Lewiss strong Pentecostal upbringing led him to enter the Bible Institute in Wauxhatchie, Texas, in hopes of becoming a preacher. He was expelled within a year, however, when he was caught playing a hymn with an improvised rhythm and blues beat. By his own admission, Lewis has always been torn between the righteousness of Pentecostalism and the wild lifereplete with women, drugs, and alcoholof a rock and country superstar. He has difficulty reconciling one with the other, and told Jim Jerome in People: Salvation

For the Record

Born September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, La.; son of Elmo (a carpenter and contractor) and Mary Ethel (a preacher); married Dorothy Barton, c. 1951 (marriage ended); married Jane Mitcham, c. 1952 (marriage ended); married Myra Gale Brown, December, 1957 (divorced, c. 1970); married Jaren Gunn, 1971 (deceased, June 8, 1982); married Shawn Michelle Stephens (a cocktail waitress), June, 1983 (deceased, August 24, 1983); married Kerrie Lee McCarver Mann (a country singer), 1984; children: (second marriage) Jerry Lee, Jr. (deceased); (third marriage) Steve Allen (deceased), Phoebe Allen; (fourth marriage) Lori. Education: Attended Bible Institute (Wauxhatchie, Texas), c. 1953.

Solo vocalist and pianist, 1956(rock performer, 1956-68; country performer, 1968). Has appeared in several motion pictures, including High School Confidential, American Hot Wax, and Disc Jockey Jamboree, and as lago in a rock version of Shakespeares Othello, 1968, at the Los Angeles Music Center.

Awards: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986.

Addresses: Home Lewis Farms, Nesbit, MS 38651. Office c/o In Concert International Inc., POBox22149, 11716th Ave. S, Nashville, TN 37203.

bears down on me. I dont wanna die and go to Hell. But I dont think Im headin in the right direction. I shouldve been a Christian, but I was too weak for the Gospel. Im a rock n roll cat. We all have to answer to God on Judgment Day.

Lewis was playing in nightclubs in Natchez, Mississippi, when he was discovered by Sam Phillips of Sun Records, the same company that launched Elvis Presleys career. His debut tune, the 1956 Crazy Arms, was a moderate country success, but it was Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, a song Lewis wrote and happened to perform on a studio recording break, that made him a rock and roll star. He almost didnt record Great Balls of Fire, a song sent to Sun by black artist and songwriter Otis Blackwell that garnered Lewis a gold record, because he felt it was too sinful. The collective sales of the two hit singles, however, were over eleven million copies, as reported by Mark Humphrey in Esquire.

By 1958, Lewis had had another moderate hit with Breathless, and he went off to tour Great Britain. In England reporters noticed the young wife who accompanied him; though Lewis claimed the former Myra Gale Brown was fifteen, investigation revealed that she was not only thirteen but his third cousin, and that he had married her before his divorce from Mitcham was final. Though in the South women often married young, and marriage between distant cousins was not uncommon, the British papers cried scandal, and there was talk of deporting Lewis. He returned from England early to find many of his concert bookings in the United States cancelled as well. With the exception of one more hit, the movie theme High School Confidential, Lewiss career plummeted.

Lewiss marriage to Myra Gale lasted for thirteen years, seeing him through years in small clubs and his return as a popular country performer. They had two children, daughter Phoebe and son Steve Allennamed for the comedian who granted Lewis a television appearance early in his careerbut the boy drowned in a swimming pool accident at the age of three. Lewis has seen a lot of personal tragedy; after Myra Gale divorced him, he married his fourth wife, Jaren Gunn, in 1971. After Lewis himself nearly died from a stomach ailment in 1981, Gunn, then estranged from him and seeking divorce, was found drowned in a swimming pool in June, 1982. In June, 1983, Lewis married Shawn Stephens; approximately two and a half months later she was found dead in their home of a drug overdose. Though Lewis, long nicknamed The Killer, has been exonerated of any wrongdoing in the deaths of Gunn and Stephens, some reporters, including Richard Ben Cramer in Rolling Stone, have noted that Gunns death was a mysterious accident, and pointed out suspicious circumstances surrounding Stephenss. People magazine cited inconsistent reports about the condition of Shawns body when it was found, and in another People article Jane Sanderson added that Stephens family asked the FBI to investigate her death. Lewis married his sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver Mann, in 1984.

Despite all of the upsets in his personal life, Lewis keeps performing. Jim Jerome described one of his dinner theater shows in a 1978 People article: The voice is plaintive. It cuts like a laser of grief through the haze. [Lewis] is enveloped by his own feelings; he seems to perform only for himself. He commented on Lewiss finale, Great Balls of Fire : Its the moment the diners had hoped for, the confirmation that primordial rock n roll livesin them, like Lewis, ageless and vital. In his 1982 Esquire article, Mark Humphrey concluded: If you think a redneck cant sing the blues, just listen to [Lewis] belt out Big-Legged Woman or Sick and Tired. If you think hes always a snide bastard without a redeeming trace of sincerity, listen to his moving rendition of the gospel standard Will the Circle Be Unbroken. And if you think anything about the man can be neatly pigeonholed, think again.

Selected discography

Major single releases

Crazy Arms, Sun, 1956.

Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, Sun, 1957.

Great Balls of Fire, Sun, 1957.

You Win Again, Sun, 1958.

Breathless, Sun, 1958.

High School Confidential, Sun, 1958.

Ill Make It All Up to You, Sun, 1958.

Break-Up, Sun, 1958.

Ill Sail My Ship Alone, Sun, 1959.

Whatd I Say, Sun, 1961.

Sweet Little Sixteen, Sun, 1962.

LPs

Golden Hits, Smash, 1964.

Greatest Live Show On Earth, Smash, 1964.

Country Songs for City Folks, Smash, 1965.

Return of Rock, Smash, 1967.

By Request, Smash, 1967.

Another Place, Another Time, Smash, 1968.

She Still Comes Around, Smash, 1969.

Country Hits, Smash, 1969.

She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye, Smash, 1970.

Best of Jerry Lee Lewis, Smash, 1970.

Original Golden Hits, Sun, 1970.

Original Golden Hits Volume 2, Sun, 1970.

There Must Be More to Love, Mercury, 1971.

In Loving Memories, Mercury, 1971.

Original Golden Hits Volume 3, Sun, 1972.

The Killer Rocks On, Mercury, 1972.

Would You Take Another Chance, Mercury, 1972.

Whos Gonna Play This Old Piano, Mercury, 1973.

Sometimes A Memory Aint Enough, Mercury, 1973.

London Session, Mercury, 1973.

Touching Home, Mercury, 1973.

Southern Roots, Mercury, 1974.

Boogie Woogie Country Man, Mercury, 1975.

Country Class, Mercury, 1976.

Country Memories, Mercury, 1977.

Best of Jerry Lee Lewis Volume 2, Mercury, 1978.

Keeps On Rockin, Mercury, 1978.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Elektra, 1979.

When Two Worlds Collide, Elektra, 1980.

Killer Country, Elektra, 1980.

Live at the Star Club Hamburg, Mercury, 1983.

Sources

Books

Cain, Robert, Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On: Jerry Lee Lewis, Dial Press, 1981.

Shaw, Arnold, The Rockin 50s, Hawthorn, 1974.

Tosches, Nick, Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, Dell, 1982.

Periodicals

Esquire, June, 1982.

People, April 24, 1978; September 12, 1983; May 14, 1984; October 27, 1986.

Rolling Stone, March 1, 1984; November 21, 1985.

Time, March 14, 1983.

Elizabeth Thomas

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