Who was/is Jerry Lee Lewis ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Jerry Lee Lewis rocks.

Well, of course he does. "I come out feet first and been jumpin' ever since," he has told interviewers for many years. He has been rocking for as long as most of us can remember, and now his face is a personal geography that speaks of the toll that rock 'n' roll can exact.

Rock 'n' roll music and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle; Jerry Lee has done as much as anyone to define both. The miles, the wives, the hits, the pills. He has lived and sung without compromise. Surely no one has damned the torpedoes more often, and lived to tell. He saw his career rise meteorically, plummet meteorically, and rise again.

True talent cannot be denied. "Other people," says Jerry, "they practice and they practice. These fingers of mine, they got brains in 'em. You don't TELL them what to do - THEY do it." There are but four stylists in music, he'll tell you: Jimmie Rodgers, Al Jolson, Hank Williams, and himself. It was a foregone conclusion that Jerry Lee Lewis would be a charter inductee to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

 

Jerry Lee Lewis & Sam Phillips

Fifty years ago as of this writing, Jerry Lee Lewis and his father, Elmo, drove up from Ferriday, Louisiana to see Mister Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Jerry Lee was sure that Phillips would understand him. He'd been turned away in Nashville, yet Phillips would see his potential. They were destined to come together: Lewis the former divinity student tortured by an unfathomable religion, and Phillips the former mortician's assistant who had persuaded unlettered country folk to give up their dead. Jerry Lee's indomitable mother, Mamie, had stopped him from listening to records because she didn't want him to sound like anyone else. Every day, Jerry Lee would pound the old Starck upright, slowly discovering something that was truly his.

A little boogie woogie, a little gospel, a little Hank Williams, and a little beerjoint blues. The Lewises lived in Ferriday, Louisiana, and Jerry Lee was born there on September 29, 1935. Six months after his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart. He was twenty-one when he arrived in Memphis. Telling the people at Sun Records that he played piano like Chet Atkins. Sam Phillips encouraged him to write songs, but the only tangible result was the B-side of his first record, End Of The Road.

Phillips copyrighted it without realizing that it had been loosely adapted from Ballard McDonald and James Handley's 1922 song At The End Of The Road. The only other song from Jerry Lee's pen on this collection is the monumentally egotistical Lewis Boogie. For Jerry, about Jerry, and by Jerry.  

 

SUN Records

Very quickly, Sam Phillips saw that, unlike Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis would interpret rather than write. He would reveal himself to us through the words of others. Phillips also understood that he must let Lewis plunder the musical reliquary in his head before encouraging him to return to the one song out of ten or twenty that held promise.

That's how Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On came to be recorded. Jerry Lee had probably heard Roy Hall play it at an after-hours club in Nashville (Hall claimed to be the mysterious co-writer 'Sunny David' although that seems very unlikely).

In the opening four bars, Jerry Lee Lewis and Sam Phillips made the piano into a percussion instrument. In feeding the signal back upon itself at just the right increment of tape delay. Phillips fattened the sound to the point that the record throbs with its own hypnotic life by the time J. M. Van Eaton's drums come in.

 

Jerry Lee's first hit

Van Eaton is exactly where he needs to be: it's textbook stuff, and Van Eaton wrote the textbook. In the two or so years that Jerry Lee had been fooling with Shakin', he had refashioned it in his image. Stripping away the opening couplet and inserting a half-spoken segment before storming back to close with a triumphant glissando. Wondrous and imperishable. It became Jerry Lee's second record and first hit. The record was pegging out half-way up the charts when Jerry made his first networked television appearance on 'The Steve Allen Show'. It was a landmark date in the history of rock 'n' roll; Sunday July 28, 1957.

He hammered the piano, eyes fixed above with messianic intensity. He glared at the camera with wild-eyed fury. "Whose barn? MAH barn!" Shakin' resumed its upward movement, eventually peaking at #3. The entertainment business realized that Jerry Lee was an up-and-coming act and he was offered a cameo movie appearance. It's a testament to his genius that he took a slight song manufactured for an equally slight movie, 'Jamboree,'and transformed it into one of the era's classics.

That song, of course, was Great Balls Of Fire. Carl Perkins and the movie's other stars had already turned it down, but it became Jerry Lee's defining moment. His biggest pop hit. Some claim to hear a rhythm guitar, but it's essentially Jerry Lee Lewis and drummer J. M. Van Eaton. If there's a third instrument, it's Sam Phillips' reverberation, adding depth and presence.

Great Balls Of Fire

Two New York-based R&B songwriters, Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, had written Great Balls Of Fire and were offered a chance at the follow-up. Blackwell came up with Breathless while Hammer presented Milkshake Mademoiselle. Blackwell got the nod, and Milkshake Mademoiselle was left for wideeyed European researchers to find some fifteen years later. Blackwell's submission was yet another 'exclamation' song, and Sam Phillips engineered a promotional tie-in between television.

Host Dick Clark and Beechnut chewing gum in which kids could send in 50 cents and five Beechnut wrappers to receive a 'free' autographed copy of Breathless. Everyone at Sun's tiny operation, including lesser artists, were put to work autographing and mailing Jerry Lee's records. The television appearances jump-started the single, and it eventually rose to #7. Jerry Lee's last Top 20 hit was the title song for another quickie exploitation movie, 'High School Confidential'. Starring Mamie Van Doren (whose website has to be visited to be believed).

It was supposed to be an exposé of the high school drug problem. (yes there was a high school drug problem in 1958) The song was written by Ron Hargrave, a struggling MGM recording artist and protégé of Lou Costello (Hargrave can be seen in Abbott & Costello's last movie, 'Dance With Me Henry'). Try as he might, Hargrave couldn't quite work the title into the song, and had to surrender half of his writer's share to Jerry Lee. In the movie, Jerry performed the song on the back of a flatbed truck. It was released just as he left for a tour of England in May 1958.

Excerpt from BCD16396 - Jerry Lee Lewis Jerry Lee Lewis -

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Jerry Lee's Greatest! (LP, Colored Vinyl, Ltd.)
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(Sun Entertainment) 12 Tracks Compilation by Jerry Lee Lewis, indie exclusive. Limited to 1000 copies worldwide
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Milkshake Mademoiselle - Carrying On (7inch, 45rpm)
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Keep Your Hands Off It - Good Rockin' Tonght (7inch, 45rpm)
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The Essential One & Only (LP)
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Greatest Hits - The Sun Records Years (LP, Green Vinyl, Ltd.)
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(Charly) 18 tracks Next to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis was the fourth man in the famous "million dollar quartet", which happened to arrive at Sun Studios in December 1956. As if that wasn't enough, the...
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Down The Road With Jerry Lee (LP, 10inch, Ltd.)
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(Charly) 10 tracks - limited edition (1.000) - cyan vinyl. When Jerry Lee Lewis walks on-stage, he provokes uproar just by standing still. And from the moment he hits the keyboard, hands raking and floating around the mic stand, hair...
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The Ballads Of Jerry Lee Lewis (CD)
Jerry Lee Lewis: The Ballads Of Jerry Lee Lewis (CD) Art-Nr.: BCD17544

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1-CD (Digipak) with 24-page booklet, 27 tracks. Total playing time approx. 72 minutes. With 'Ballads' Bear Family presents the soulful and sentimental side of the Killer. 27 beautiful Rock ‘n’ Roll and Country ballads recorded between...
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The Mercury & Smash Years Recordings - Featuring Live & Studio Recordings (CD)
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Great Balls Of Fire (2-CD)
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