This article is about country singer Jerry Lee Lewis, who occupies and inhabits the same body as the somewhat demented rock ‘n roller about whom we will speak little further.
Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana, and is a first cousin to famed evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and a second cousin to fellow country singer Mickey Gilley. Swaggart and Lewis were born in Ferriday, and Gilley across the river in Natchez, Mississippi, all within a ten month span, and grew up together.
Like most of his era Jerry Lee grew up singing in church. He also was influenced by the country and rhythm and blues music that surrounded him. While Jerry Lee has cited few specific influences to his music, one of those cited was Texas-born Moon Mullican, an exuberant performer who frequently toured Louisiana during the 1930s and 1940s. Moon, who is worth an article himself, played a pounding piano, barrelhouse boogie style, that would vibrate beer bottles off the tables.
Jerry Lee made his way to Memphis and the attention of Sam Phillips at Sun Records. While Jerry Lee was to gain great initial success doing other forms of music, Jerry Lee continued to record country music. His 1957 cover of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” reached #2 for two weeks, and other songs, while not charting, demonstrated an artist comfortable with the most country of country songs. Jerry Lee’s cover of the Ray Price hit “Crazy Arms”, while bearing no strong resemblance to the Price hit, is worth seeking.
A minor scandal that erupted while Jerry Lee was touring England derailed the chart career of the ‘Ferriday Fireball’ after 1958 (Jerry Lee hadn’t actually done anything illegal – or even unusual for folks of his upbringing). While “Cold Cold Heart” would chart at #22 during August 1961, Jerry Lee would only hit the country charts once more time through 1967.
Jerry Lee Lewis never quit performing, playing small southern ‘tank towns’ and the ‘chitlin’ circuit’. After his Sun Record contract expired in 1963, Jerry Lee signed with Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury, which had Jerry Lee re-record his old Sun hits and record modern rhythm & blues classics. Several live albums were released that demonstrated that Jerry Lee had lost a thing when it came to live performing but between the lingering effects of scandal and the influence of Berry Gordy’s slick Motown enterprise, and the “British Invasion” of the mid-1960s, American audiences just weren’t buying Jerry Lee’s brand of pop music. Read more of this post