“What The Hell Else Do You Need?”
“Pretty fly for a white guy,” I summarized Jerry Lee Lewis most of my life—but always at the tail end of my summation of those Rock And Roll Grandaddies. Elvis was Elvis, I would say, and that needed no further explanation. Roy Orbison had the voice. Bo Diddley had the humor. Hank Williams had the desperation. Chuck Berry had the storytelling. And Little Richard, Lord save us, Little Richard sounded like a locomotive getting ready to run us over. And Jerry Lee had something. Just not quite that much something.
This is 18 CDs later, I surrender. This is everything Jerry Lee cut before his original Sun contract ran out in 1963. Listening to the man and company build a song, take by take, examining options and wincing at bloopers, the man egan to take wavery shape over my file cabinet.
I have, in fairness, never listened to 18 CDs from any of the others above. But I surfaced hearing a man with most of Little Richard’s ferocity, a man who sang surer than Williams, wider and deeper than Diddley, much looser than Berry, with an uncanny knack for song to beat Orbison. Elvis? Elvis remains Elvis. But Elvis sung starchy by 1963. Jerry Lee had of course ruined his career; if you’re reading this I bet you know how. But the frightening fullness of humanity, everything a man can be, remains.