US rock ‘n’ roll star Jerry Lee Lewis dies at 87 | Music News

Jerry Lee Lewis, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer could not be known for his talent, drive, and outrageous ego that set clear records like Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin ‘ On, and whose career was marred by a personal scandal, died on Friday at 87.

The last survivor of a generation of groundbreaking performers including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little RichardLewis died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, representative Zach Farnum said.

Of all the rock rebels that rose to prominence in the 1950s, few have captured the charm and dangers of this new genre as unforgettable as the Louisiana-born pianist who calls himself as “The Killer”.

Gentle ballads are best suited for old people. Lewis was a man trampling a man who made fans scream and keyboards swear, his live performance so flammable that during his 1957 Whole Lotta Shakin ‘Goin’ On performance on The Steve Allen Show, chairs were thrown at him like hell.

“There is rockabilly. There’s Elvis. But there was no pure rock ‘n’ roll before Jerry Lee Lewis kicked in the door,” commented one Lewis admirer. That admirer is Jerry Lee Lewis.

But in his private life, he raged in ways that would have ended his career today – and almost did at the time.

For a brief time in 1958, he was a candidate to replace Elvis as rock’s top hitmaker after Presley was enlisted in the United States Army. But while Lewis toured the UK, the press learned three disastrous things: He was married to 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown (maybe even 12). She is his cousin. And he is still married to his previous wife. His tour was canceled, he was blacklisted on the radio, and his income dropped to almost nothing overnight.

“I might have rearranged my life a little bit differently, but I never hide anything from people,” Lewis told the Wall Street Journal in 2014 when asked about the marriage. “I’m still carrying on with my life as usual.”

In the decades that followed, Lewis struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, legal disputes, and illness. Two of his many marriages ended in the premature death of his wife. Brown herself divorced him in the early 1970s and later it was alleged that physical and mental cruelty caused her to nearly commit suicide.

“If I were still married to Jerry, I would probably be dead by now,” she told People magazine in 1989.

Lewis reinvents himself as a national performer in the 1960s, and the music industry finally forgave him, long after he stopped having hits. He’s won three Grammy Awards and recorded with some of the industry’s greatest stars.

In 2006, Lewis debuted with Last Man Standing, featuring Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, BB King and George Jones. In 2010, Lewis brought in Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw and others for the album Mean Old Man.

In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, first published in 1975, he recalls how he persuaded poker players to give themselves a second chance.

“This time I said, ‘Look, man, let’s get together and draw a line on this thing – a peace treaty you know,” he explained. Lewis still plays old hits on stage but on the radio he will sing country music.

Lewis broke into the top 10 country music from 1967 to 1970 and has barely faltered. He remains popular in Europe, and his 1964 album, Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, is considered by many to be one of the greatest concert records.

A 1973 performance proved more troubling: Lewis sang for the Grand Ole Opry and broke two age-old rules – no swearing and no singing non-country songs.

“I’m a rock and rollin, country-and-Western, rhythm and blues-singin ‘motherf**ker’ artist,” he told the audience.

Lewis was married seven times and rarely had trouble or death. His fourth wife, Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool in 1982 while suing for divorce. His fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, 23 years his junior, died of a drug overdose in 1983. Within a year, Lewis was married to Kerrie McCarver, then 21, and she filed for divorce. in 1986, accusing him of physical abuse and infidelity. He protested, but both lawsuits were eventually dismissed. They finally divorced in 2005 after several years apart. The couple has one child, Jerry Lee III.

Another son from a previous marriage, Steve Allen Lewis, drowned in a swimming pool in 1962 at the age of 3, and his son Jerry Lee Jr died in a traffic accident at the age of 19 in 1973. Lewis also has two daughters, Phoebe and Lori Leigh, and is survived by his wife Judith.

His finances were also in disarray. Lewis made millions, but he preferred his money in cash and ended up owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Internal Revenue Service. When he began welcoming tourists in 1994 to his longtime residence near Nesbit, Mississippi – complete with a piano-shaped swimming pool – he set up a phone number that fans could call a recorded message for $2.75 a minute.

The son of one-time entrepreneur Elmo Lewis and cousin of television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and country star Mickey Gilley, Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana. As a young boy, he first learned to play the guitar but found the instrument too limited and longed for an instrument that only the wealthy in his town could afford – a guitar. piano. His life changed when his father got in a truck one day and gave him a set of upright, dark wood keyboards.

“My eyes almost fell out of my head,” Lewis recalls in Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, written and published by Rick Bragg in 2014.

He started playing the piano right away and began sneaking up to Black juke’s joints and absorbing everything from gospel to boogie-woogie. He was soon at odds between secular and sacred music. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 with plans to become a preacher playing the piano. Lewis briefly attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, a fundamentalist Bible college, but was expelled for playing the “wrong” music.

Great Balls of Fire, a sexized image based on a biblical image that Lewis initially refused to record, and “Whole Lotta Shakin” are his most enduring songs and performances. Lewis only had a handful of other pop hits, including High School Confidential and Breathless, but they were enough to secure his place as a rock ‘n’ roll architect.

“There is no group, maybe [the] The Beatles, Dylan or the Stones, used to improve Whole Lotta Shakin’ for my money,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970.

A road veteran in his early 20s, Lewis left Memphis in 1956 and appeared at the Sun Records studio, the musical home of Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Asked by company founder Sam Phillips to take some rock ‘n’ roll lessons, Lewis returned and quickly left Whole Lotta Shakin’ in one go.

“I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” he later said. “Sam Phillips thought it would be too risky, he couldn’t do it. If it’s risque, well, I’m sorry. “

In 1986, together with Elvis and Berry, he became the first inductive artist class for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “The Killer” not only outlived his contemporaries but also saw his life and music re-introduced periodically to younger fans, including in the biopic Great Balls of Fire. 1989, starring Dennis Quaid and Ethan Coen’s 2022 documentary Trouble in Mind. A 2010 Broadway musical, Million Dollar Quartet, was inspired by a recording session starring Lewis, Elvis, Perkins, and Cash.

He won the 1987 Grammy Award for quoted interview album for best speech recording, and he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. The following year, Whole Lotta Shakin’ was selected to the Agency. National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Its board praised the “push boogie piano perfectly complemented by the energetic drum beats of JM Van Eaton. Those who listened to the recording, like Lewis himself, had trouble sitting still during the performance. “

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