Remembering Rock-and-Roll Pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis
Rock-and-Roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has passed away at age 87. He was part of – and the last surviving member of – the first generation originators of the genre, in the company of the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, and Buddy Holly.
Jerry Lee Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gail Lewis, cousin Jimmy Swaggart and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Elmo and Mamie Lewis, sons Steve Allen Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., his siblings Elmo Lewis Jr. and Frankie Jean Lewis and his cousin Mickey Gilley.
Services and more information will be announced in the following days. In lieu of flowers, the Lewis family requests donations be made in Jerry Lee Lewis’ honor to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares - the non-profit foundation of the GRAMMYs / National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29th, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana. He began playing the piano as a young child, copying the styles of Southern preachers and black musicians that traveled through the Chitlin Circuit. He signed with Sun Records in 1956 and quickly became a star. He was the first person inducted into the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and will be one of only 12 inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame.
With his innovative and flamboyant piano playing style, Jerry Lee Lewis emerged as one of rock music’s early showmen. With no formal training, his musical talents became apparent early on as he sang in church on Sundays and drew inspiration from such radio shows as the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride. In particular, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Al Jolson were some of his early influences.
When he was 10, Lewis’ father mortgaged the family farm to buy Jerry Lee his first piano. He gave his first public performance at the age of 14, wowing the crowd gathered for the opening of a local car dealership with his piano prowess.
Rise To The Top
Lewis eventually ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he found work as a studio musician for Sun Studios. In 1956, he recorded his first single, a cover of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms,” which achieved some local success. Lewis worked on some recording sessions with Carl Perkins and while doing so, he and Perkins jammed with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. This session was recorded and dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet” which spawned a Broadway musical based on the event.
In 1957, Lewis became a superstar with his unique piano-driven sound. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” became a hit on the pop, country and R&B charts. By this time, Lewis had also developed some of his famous stage antics, such as playing standing up and kicking back piano stools. Lewis was on a roll with his next single, “Great Balls of Fire,” proving to be another big hit in December 1957. The following March, Lewis struck again with “Breathless,” which also made it into the Top 10 of the pop charts.
Lewis left Sun Records for Mercury/Smash in the mid-1960’s leading to what would become a recurring theme throughout his career; a return to commercial success. This time as a country artist, he scored his first top 10 hit in a decade with 1968’s album and song, “Another Place, Another Time.”
“Another Place, Another Time,” was just the beginning of what would become more than a decade of Lewis perched at the top of the country charts. Paired with producer Jerry Kennedy, the Nashville A-Team and a slew of top songwriters like Mickey Newbury, Kris Kristofferson and Dallas Frazier, Lewis churned out hit after hit including the number one songs, “To Make Love Sweeter For You,” “Would You Take Another Chance On Me,” “There Must Be More To Love Than This,” and “Chantilly Lace.”
During this period, Lewis released 20 albums on Mercury/Smash Records with 13 of them landing in the top 10, including iconic albums like “Would You Take Another Chance on Me?,” “Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano?,” and “Sometimes a Memory Ain’t Enough.”
After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first class in 1986, there was a strong resurgence in his rock & roll career and music. In 1989, a whole new generation was introduced to Lewis through his biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” with Lewis being portrayed by actor Dennis Quaid.
2000’s and Beyond
For 2006’s “Last Man Standing”, Lewis sang a number of rock, blues and country classics with some help from such famous admirers as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Buddy Guy. Collaborator Kristofferson described Lewis as “one of the few who can do rock ‘n’ roll, country or soul, and every song is authentic.” He told USA Today that Lewis is “one of the best American voices ever.” “Last Man Standing hit #4 on the US Country album charts.
Lewis and Kristofferson worked together again on Lewis’ next effort, 2010’s “Mean Old Man”. The all-star guests on this release included Eric Clapton, Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock and John Fogerty among others.
In April of 2013, Lewis opened Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café & Honky Tonk on historic Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. It is filled with one of the Killer’s pianos, a motorcycle, photos, and other memorabilia, along with great food and live music.
In October of 2014, The Killer released his first ever biography with Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Bragg. “Jerry Lee Lewis – His Own Story” came out to critical acclaim. His most recent album “Rock & Roll Time” also came out that same month.
Less than a year after suffering a stroke in February of 2019, Lewis made a yet another triumphant return, this time to the studio, recording 12 Gospel songs for an upcoming album and documentary produced by T-Bone Burnett and directed by Ethan Coen, respectively.
Lewis scored 23 Billboard Country top 10 singles, 17 Billboard top 10 country Albums and entered the Billboard country charts nearly 100 times. After a more than 65-year career, Lewis continued to record and make appearances with no signs of stopping. As he recently looked back on over six decades of music and what the future might yet hold, Lewis said that he was grateful; “I just think it’s a blessing from God that I’m still living . . . and I’m still rocking.”
Source: 117 Entertainment