Sometimes there are celebrity singers and musicians that have lived a long and storied life but with the passage of time are not given enough credit for their outstanding contributions to music. One such person is the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis.
Jerry Lee was born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1935. His parents were Elmo and Mamie Lewis. Even though they were poor they supported his endeavor to sing and play his own style of rock and roll music. They even took a loan out to their farm to buy him a piano.
In 1956 Jerry Lee traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to audition for Sun Records. When Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun heard his recording he knew then and there that he had an artist that really had something he could sell. Jerry Lee began to record vocally and also as a session musician at Sun on a regular basis.
One of the things that made Jerry Lee unique was his style of piano playing. But let me tell you his uniqueness was about to rise up a notch in his career as a soloist. In his mind when he played what he felt was good Rock and Roll his fingers were flaming down that piano keyboard highway with more jumping ‘, jiving, boogie-woogie, snap popping rhythmic Rock and Roll than anyone had ever heard. This was proven out when he earned prominence in 1957 with two of his biggest hits ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On “and” Great Balls of Fire. ”
The first person in television to give Jerry Lee his big break was Steve Allen and once he appeared on Steve’s show history was made. “Whole Lot of Shakin ‘Going On” started being played on radio stations coast to coast in the states and around the world. Later on Jerry Lee had a new-born son whom he named Steve Allen Lewis after the TV host who gave him his first break on National TV.
Four months after his appearance on Steve Allen’s show Jerry Lee made an appearance on another television show that would further propel him on his musical journey. The show was Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. And the song he san was “Great Balls of Fire.” As sales began rising into the stratosphere Sun Records was supposedly shipping out 50,000 records a day.
Both of those songs were considered sexually suggestive by some adults. Authorities in the Establishment began to label it as the Devil’s music because it was driving teenagers into a frenzy as they listened to those songs. To Jerry Lee, Rock and Roll was not evil but was simply his ticket to actually going to a big city, getting a recording contract and buying himself a new car.
In December of 1957, he married his third wife Myra Gale Brown who was his first cousin. It was decided to keep the marriage hidden from the public.
In May of 1958, Jerry Lee went to England to begin a British tour. His wife Myra and his sister Frankie accompanied him.
A lone news reporter at the airport began asking questions and asked one girl who she was and she said she was Jerry Lee’s sister. He then asked Myra who she was and even though she was hesitant that she said she was Jerry Lee’s wife. The reporter then began to dig deeper and also found out that she was not only Jerry Lee’s wife but she was also his first cousin and was supposedly 15 years old. But the worst was yet to happen. In the next few days, it was discovered that her age was not correct and that she was only 13 years old.
Once the scandal broke that he had married his under-aged cousin who was 13 years old, the officials in England literally canceled the tour and told him to leave. In fairness to Jerry Lee, it was not unusual at that time for some people in the deep South to marry quite young.
When he returned to the United States Jerry Lee discovered quite quickly that he was being blacklisted from having any of his records played on the radio. He felt that many people in radio and the music business had deserted him. The only one who stood by him was Alan Freed, a DJ broadcaster. Even that came to an end when Alan was removed from the air due to the payola scandal.
Jerry Lee’s downfall was not pleasant and he felt that the press was biased because all they talked about now was the dark moments of his life. They never seemed to focus on his great music and contributions to Rock and Roll.
Once the British invasion started in 1964 with the Beatles coming to the United States, Rock and Roll began to take a back seat to this new form of Pop music.
Jerry Lee was strong and determined not to give up on music and in 1968 he decided to go back to his roots and record country songs. His first song “Another Place, Another Time” went to Number One on the Country charts. He continued to have other country hits and of course inserted that special blend of piano playing as only he could do.
In 1986 he was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him Number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Dick Clark says that Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the founding fathers of Rock and Roll and Sam Phillips says that Jerry Lee is a musical genius.
Sadly Jerry Lee has had many tragedies during his lifetime. But one thing that was not a tragedy was his MUSIC. Every award he received was gotten by a man with immense talent both as a singer and pianist. He is a good father to his children and he is a man who has every reason to be proud of his accomplishments in music.
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