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28 October 2022
BENZTOWN AUDIO TRIBUTE: Jerry Lee Lewis
Please check out the attached Benztown Audio Tribute to Rock ‘n’ roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis, who died today at age 87 at his home in Desoto Country, Mississippi, near Memphis. Listen to the audio tribute at: https://soundcloud.com/ben
Jerry Lee Lewis, along with Fats Domino and Little Richard, established the piano as a rock ‘n’ roll instrument, hands pounding and ripping across the ivories, hitting keys with his foot and kicking his piano stool away – and once, setting fire to his piano on stage. Known by his high school nickname, “The Killer,” Lewis also set the Pop, Country and R&B charts on fire simultaneously with hits like 1957’s “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” He was one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Elvis, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and Buddy Holly. After Don Everly of the Everly Brothers died in 2021, Lewis became the longest-living member of the inaugural induction class. Just days before his death, a battle with the flu led him to miss his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Born September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, LA, Lewis’ parents mortgaged their farm to buy their son a piano, which he played as a youth with his cousins, including televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Country singer Mickey Gilley. Lewis was brought up in the Assembly of God Church, which influenced his music, along with musicians Jimmie Rodgers and Gene Autry, and late-night trips to Black juke joints. Those styles merged into Lewis’ music, played with evangelical fervor and paving the way for . While a teenager, his mother enrolled him in the Southwestern Bible Institute in Waxahachie, TX, to channel his musical talent into religious music – but he was expelled within months, apparently for playing boogie-woogie licks when he accompanied hymns on the piano.
In 1956, he recorded for Sun Records in Memphis as a solo artist and session musician for artists including Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. He unsuccessfully challenged Elvis Presley for the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” crown following his first giant hits, including “Breathless” and “Chantilly Lace,” due to his scandalous marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, during a British tour that was canceled after just three dates – effectively ending his Rock career. At 22, this was his third marriage (though he never actually divorced his first wife) and was just one of the many controversies and personal tragedies that would befall Lewis during his life. He would go on to marry a total of seven times.
In the late ’60s, Lewis had a comeback in Country music, when he was regularly on the Country charts through the early ’80s with singles including “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me” and “Middle Age Crazy.” In 1995, he released a comeback album called “Young Blood,” followed by two duets albums, “Last Man Standing” and “Mean Old Man”), which he recorded with George Jones, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger. His final album came in 2014 with “Rock & Roll Time,” which featured Neil Young and Keith Richards.
The Benztown Audio Tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis was written by Benztown and produced and voiced by Royce Stevenson.