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Biography: Jerry Lee Lewis

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Known as the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis has seen both the peaks and valleys in life - as well as the music charts!

 

Lewis is still famous for his explosive live performances.

 

While he would later become one of the most famous American musicians of all time, Jerry Lee Lewis had humble roots.  Born in late September, 1935, to a poor farming family outside of Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis took to the piano as soon as he was able.  After finding a great amount of frustration trying to take lessons, he decided that he would learn and play piano his way - a way that would not only serve him well later on, but would get him in heaps of trouble.  In his formative years, Lewis would walk down to the local juke joint across the train tracks with his cousins Jimmy and Mickey and listen to some of the best, dirtiest blues in the south.  To the young boys, who were raised in the Assemblies of God denomination, the sounds of those old bluesmen were revolutionary in both style and spirit.  Those cousins, by the way, went on to become famous in their own right: Mickey Gilley went on to join Lewis in the music business and Jimmy Swaggart went on to become a famous (or infamous!) televangelist.  Talent (and trouble) seems to run in the family.

 

There are good reasons why Lewis is known as one of Rock 'n Roll's original wild men.

 

At the insistence of his mother, Lewis enrolled in the Southwest Bible Institute in some far-off Texas town called Waxahachie.  Although he was a devout Christian who even today takes his faith very seriously, he found himself at odds with the schoolmasters when he broke out into a boogie-woogie rendition of "My God Is Real" during assembly.  The incident got him kicked out of school and he found himself back in Ferriday playing gigs at local bars and honky-tonks.  That school, by the way, is now known as the Southwestern Assembly of God University, or SAGU.  He tried getting onto the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, but was turned down.  He had his break when he auditioned for Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, and got work as a studio musician.  Although piano had not been featured much in rockabilly music, Lewis was such a formidable player that the instrument became a new addition to the genre all over the country.  At Sun Records, Lewis was able to play along with other music giants like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison.  The gang would later be known as the Sun Records Class of 55, which Lewis is the last living member of.  Billed as "Jerry Lee Lewis and his Pumping Piano", Lewis was making some strides to success, but in 1957 he shot straight to the top.

 

From left to right: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.

 

Lewis found himself internationally recognizable with his 1957 megahits, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" and "Great Balls of Fire".  Appearances on the Steve Allen Show further made him a household name and offers to appear on television and film became common.  Known as "Rock and Roll's Great Wildman", he would be featured in such movies as Jamboree (1957) and High School Confidential (1958).  Unfortunately, while on a European tour, a scandal broke that almost destroyed his career forever.

 

Lewis and his third wife, Myra Gale Brown, would be married from 1957 until 1970.

 

Although he had already married twice by the age of 23, his third marriage would be the one that almost sunk his career.  He married Myra Gale Brown, his first cousin once removed and only thirteen years old.  As soon as the scandal that he married a minor broke, Lewis's life went as low as it had been high.  The European tour was cancelled and he found himself blacklisted back in the States.  Although he still recorded, he had gone from playing $10,000-a-night concerts to $250 gigs at dives and honky-tonks.  He worked his way back into the mainstream with hits like his cover of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say", but it wasn't until the late 60's that he really found his second wind in country music.

 

Lewis has had 10 #1 singles over his career.

 

In 1968, he released the single "Another Place, Another Time" which became the first in a string of Top 10 country hits.  He even hit #1 on the country charts with "To Make Love Sweeter for You".  In the 70's, along with his several country hits, he revisited his rock past with a cover of the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" along with some new compositions of his own.  In 1981, he had his last country hit, "Thirty-Nine and Holding", and by 1986 he was among the first group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 1989, the blockbuster hit movie Great Balls of Fire! was released and cemented him as a true American icon.

 

Lewis, now in his late 70s, is still performing after 60 years in the music business.

 

Since then, Lewis has continually toured across the world and has performed with all of the biggest names in both rock and country.  He is still releasing new material - his latest album is entitled Mean Old Man and came out in 2010.  It reached the #30 spot on the Billboard 200.  You can check out the official Jerry Lee Lewis website here.

 

Discography:

(1958) High School Confidential

(1962) Jerry Lee's Greatest

(1963) Rockin' with Jerry Lee Lewis

(1964) Live at the Star Club, Hamburg

(1964) Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis

(1964) The Greatest Live Show on Earth

(1965) The Return of Rock

(1965) Country Songs for City Folks / All Country - #39

(1966) Memphis Beat

(1966) By Request: More of the Greatest Live Show on Earth

(1967) Soul My Way

(1968) Another Place, Another Time - #3

(1969) She Still Comes Around - #12

(1969) Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1 - #2

(1969) Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 2 - #5

(1969) Rockin' Rhythm & Blues

(1969) Together (with Linda Gail Lewis) - #8

(1969) Original Golden Hits, Vol. 1 - #8

(1969) Original Golden Hits, Vol. 2 - #6

(1970) The Golden Cream of the Country - #11

(1970) She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye - #9

(1970) A Taste of Country - #16

(1970) Best Of - #8

(1970) Live at the International, Las Vegas - #5

(1971) In Loving Memories: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Albums - #18

(1971) There Must Be More to Love Than This - #8

(1971) Touching Home - #11

(1971) Monsters - #44

(1971) Would You Take Another Chance on Me - #3

(1972) The Killer Rocks On - #4

(1972) Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano? - #3

(1973) The Session - #4

(1973) Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough - #6

(1973) Southern Roots / Back Home to Memphis - #6

(1974) I-40 Country - #25

(1974) Breathless (High Heel Sneakers + Roll Over Beethover)

(1975) Boogie Woogie Country Man - #16

(1975) Odd Man In - #33

(1976) Country Class - #18

(1977) Country Memories - #21

(1978) Best of / Vol. 2 - #23

(1978) Jerry Lee Keeps Rockin' - #40

(1979) Duets - #32

(1979) Jerry Lee Lewis - #23

(1980) When Two Worlds Collide - #32

(1980) Killer Country - #35

(1981) Best of / Vol. 3 - #49

(1982) The Survivors Live (with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins) - #21

(1983) My Fingers Do the Talkin' - #62

(1984) I Am What I Am

(1986) Class of '55 (with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison) - #15

(1989) Great Balls of Fire! Soundtrack

(1989) Jerry Lee Lewis - 18 Original Sun Greatest Hits

(1993) Solid Ground

(1993) All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology

(1994) Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

(1995) Young Blood

(1999) Live at Gilley's

(2006) Last Man Standing - #4

(2006) A Half-Century of Hits

(2007) Last Man Standing Live

(2007) Live from Austin, TX

(2010) Mean Old Man

(2012) Sun Recordings: Greatest Hits - #71

 

Songs on KBEC 1390:

"Chantilly Lace" - #1

"I'll Find It Where I Can" - #10

"Let's Put It Back Together Again" - #6

"Once More With Feeling" - #2

"One Minute Past Eternity" - #2

"She Still Comes Around" - #12

"There Must Be More to Love Than This" - #8

"Would You Take Another Chance on Me" - #1