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1962 U.K. CONCERT RETURN IN COLOR!
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About 'The Killer!' ~ Jerry Lee Lewis from Rolling Stone Magazine Though he had only three Top Ten hits in the first, purely rock & roll phase of his career, many believe Jerry Lee Lewis (a.k.a. "The Killer") was as talented a 1950s rocker as Sun label-mate Elvis Presley. Some also believe he could have made it just as big commercially if his piano-slamming style was not so relentlessly wild, his persona not so threateningly hard-edged.

Jerry Lee Lewis' first musical influences were eclectic. His parents, who were poor, spun swing and Al Jolson records. But his earliest big influence was country star Jimmie Rodgers. In his early teens he absorbed both the softer country style of Gene Autry and the more rocking music of local black groups, along with the gospel hymns of the local Assembly of God church. Lewis first played his aunt's piano at age eight and made his public debut in 1949 at age 14, sitting in with a local C&W band in a Ford dealership parking lot. When he was 15 Lewis went to a fundamentalist Bible school in Waxahachie, Texas, from which he was soon expelled. He has often said that rock & roll is the Devil's music.

In 1956m The Killer headed for Memphis (financed by his father) to audition for Sam Phillips' Sun Records. Phillips' assistant, Jack Clement, was impressed with Lewis' piano style but suggested he play more rock & roll, in a style similar to Elvis Presley's. (Presley had recently switched from Sun to RCA.) Lewis' debut single, "Crazy Arms" (previously a country hit for Ray Price), did well regionally, but it was the follow-up, 1957's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" (Number Three), that finally broke through. The song first sold 100,000 copies in the South; after Lewis' appearance on Steve Allen's TV show, it sold more than 6 million copies nationally. "Great Balls of Fire" (Number Two, 1957) sold more than 5 million copies and was followed by more than a half million in sales for "Breathless" (Number Seven, 1958) and "High School Confidential" (Number 21, 1958), the title theme of a movie in which Lewis also appeared. Both "Whole Lotta Shakin'" and "Great Balls" were in the pop, country, and R&B Top Five simultaneously, "Shakin'" at Number Three pop and Number One country and R&B, and "Great Balls" at Number Two pop, Number Three R&B, and Number One country. Lewis' high school nickname was "the Killer," and it stuck with him as he established a reputation as a tough, rowdy performer with a flamboyant piano style that used careening glissandos, pounding chords, and bench-toppling acrobatics.

Lewis' career slammed to a stop, though, after he married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, in December 1957. (She was his third wife; at age 16 he had wed a 17-year-old, and soon after that ended, he got caught in a shotgun marriage.) The marriage lasted 13 years, but at the time Lewis was condemned by the church in the U.S. and hounded by the British press on a 1958 overseas tour. His career ran dry for nearly a decade. He had a modest 1961 hit with "What'd I Say," but in 1963 he left Sun for Smash/Mercury. He toured relentlessly, playing clubs, billing his act as "the greatest show on earth." On the way, he developed a drinking problem. In 1968 he played Iago in a rock-musical version of Shakespeare's Othello called Catch My Soul.

Eventually, Lewis and his producer, Jerry Kennedy, decided to abandon rock & roll for country music. In 1968 Lewis had the first of many Top Ten country hits with "Another Place, Another Time," followed by "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Made a Loser Out of Me)." Between then and the early-1980s he had more than 30 big country hits, including "To Make Love Sweeter For You" (Number One C&W, 1968), "There Must Be More to Love Than This" (Number One C&W, 1971), "Would You Take Another Chance on Me" (Number One C&W, 1971), "Chantilly Lace" (Number One C&W, 1972), "Middle Age Crazy" (Number Four C&W, 1977), and "Thirty-Nine and Holding" (Number Four C&W, 1981). Subsequent singles were minor C&W hits, none charting higher than Number 43. In 1973 Lewis released The Season, a return-to-rock album recorded in London with a host of top British musicians, including Peter Frampton, Alvin Lee, Klaus Voormann, and Rory Gallagher, redoing oldies. It resulted in some pop chart success with "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee," an R&B song he'd performed at his public debut in 1949. In 1978 Lewis signed with Elektra and enjoyed some radio airplay with "Rockin' My Life Away." He also continued to tour, performing all the styles of his career: rock, country, gospel, blues, spirituals, and more. In 1981 Lewis played a German concert with fellow Sun alumni Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The show was released as an album called Survivors in 1982. On June 30, 1981, Lewis was hospitalized in Memphis with hemorrhaging from a perforated stomach ulcer. After two operations he was given a 50-50 chance of survival; four months later he was back on tour. He appeared on the 1982 Grammy Awards telecast with his cousin Mickey Gilley; another cousin is TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.

More recently, Lewis was plagued by serious health problems and battles with the IRS. He was treated at the Betty Ford Clinic for addiction to painkillers. In 1989, Lewis came to widespread public attention for perhaps the last time thanks to the biographical film Great Balls of Fire, starring Dennis Quaid as the Killer. Lewis was among the first 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1995 he released Young Blood. He gigs sporadically still; in 1999 he performed in Baltimore at the Smithsonian Institution's bash celebrating the 300th anniversary of the piano. In 2006 he released Last Man Standing, a new studio album, and A Half Century of Hits, a career-summary box set.

So, what rumors buzzing about "The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis were true and which were not? That Elvis Presley was jealous of Jerry Lee? False. While Jerry had four top twenty records to his credit, Elvis was past his twentieth gold record. That Chuck Berry snubbed The Killer at rock concerts? True, in a sense that Chuck was oft times aloof and uppity. That Jerry often had sex with his teeny bopper admirers? That we will leave go, because, who knows? While televangelist cousin Jimmy Swaggart endeavored to gain popularity with his television appeal that The Killer be "saved" and "born again," Jerry Lee made numerous and generous contributions to cuz Jimmy's ministry despite the fact he "didn't buy it." Swaggart often demeaned Jerry Lee's freewheeling and flamboyant conduct (admitting that his cousin taight him paino techniques), up until the time the preacher himself was hiring prostitutes and allegedly even propositioning one hooker's 14 year old daughter. Swaggart still has his ministry tin cup rattlings on a few puny cable stations, Jerry Lee Lewis still remains a shining roots of rock and roll icon, appearing still on network television.

Jerry Lee Lewis
JERRY LEE RETURNS TO THE BBC WITH A KILLER CONCERT:
"KISS & MAKE UP," "WHAT'D I SAY," & "WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN'"
CLICK & let Jerry Lee show you how he showed them true Rock & Roll!


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