Category Archives: Jerry Lee Lewis Week

Happy Birthday, Jerry Lee!

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By Ted Cogswell

We finally conclude Jerry Lee Lewis Week with the big day itself, the Killer’s 80th birthday. So many are expressing wonder that he lasted this long, but he’s proving to be a survivor and seems to be in fine shape, just returning from a triumphant tour overseas.  With luck we’ll have the opportunity to wish him at least ten more happy birthdays.

Our celebration here at Rock ‘n’ Roll Freaks has been, in my humble opinion, a resounding success.  I’m sure that there have been and will be many superb online tributes, but has any other site dedicated a whole week to him? I think not. Thank you to Kevin Chanel, Joe Bonomo, Steve Butts, Gary Pig Gold, and Ken Burke for all contributing some tremendous stuff. I’m honored to put all of it out there for the world to enjoy. And thanks to everyone for all the positive feedback, it wouldn’t have been possible without the Freaks. This sets the bar really high for Chuck Berry Week next month, the second of our three Freaks High Holy Weeks (Little Richard will be honored in December).

Before we began this week I scoured YouTube to find choice videos to present to you.  Many have been posted over the last seven days, but there are a few I didn’t find the time to get in, so I’m going to use this post to toss ‘em all out there for you to enjoy. The first two are audio only, documenting two 1960s performances, and the second two are television specials.

First up is a set at the Rebel Room in Memphis from 1961.

Setlist:

Let’s Talk About Us 
Break Up 
Old Black Joe 
Your Cheatin’ Heart 
It All Depends (Who’ll Buy The Wine) 
High School Confidential 
What’d I Say

Next up is an August, 1966 radio broadcast from Paris. This one was released as a bootleg album in the 1980s. It isn’t the best quality sound-wise, but is well worth checking out for historical value and for rare performances of “Breathless” and “Just Because.”

Setlist:

Little Queenie
You Win Again
Jenny Jenny
Breathless
Your Cheating Heart
What’d I Say
Who Will The Next Fool Be
Just Because
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
Good Golly Miss Molly

Here is a 1971 TV special. The Jerry Lee Lewis Show. It features Jackie Wilson, Carl Perkins, Linda Gail Lewis, the Memphis Beats, Bill Strong, and others.  Jerry Lee and Carl sing “Honey Don’t” and “Blue Suede Shoes” together and Jackie Wilson sings “Lonely Teardrops” and more.  Some very memorable performances here. 

And wrapping it up, 25 Years of Jerry Lee Lewis: A Celebration. This was produced in 1982. Performances were filmed in Nashville, and it features Johnny Cash, Mickey Gilley, Kris Kristofferson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, and Dottie West.

I hope to use the momentum of this week to keep posting at least three or four things a day here between now and Chuck Berry Week. I encourage everyone and anyone here who wants to share some passion for real rock ‘n’ roll to get in touch (rocknrollfreaks@gmail.com) about submitting pieces. If it’s passionate and about real rock ‘n’ roll, I wanna help get it out there. New stuff as well as older pieces are welcome. So keep checking in for your daily dose of rock ‘n’ roll here and on our Facebook page.

 

The Continuing Saga of Dr. Iguana – The Kenneth Lovelace Interview

left to right: Kenneth Lovelace, Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee

By Ken Burke

(Editor’s Note: I want to thank Ken Burke for being generous enough to share this previously unpublished interview with us for Jerry Lee Lewis Week. I am very proud to present it for the first time anywhere.)

In early 2003 Chicago Review Press hired me to write the book Country Music Changed My Life I spoke with dozens of country stars ala Bobby Bare, Glen Campbell, Mickey Gilley, Kitty Wells, etc. in addition to some vintage rockers who later turned to country including Joe Stampley, Freddy Weller and Wanda Jackson.

The one artist I desperately wanted to speak with for the project was Jerry Lee Lewis. As I reveal in the book, Jerry Lee was the artist who persuaded this southeastern suburban Detroit boy to dig country music almost as much as rock.  Indeed, the Killer’s recorded output is the soundtrack of my life. I even met him once in 1977 and he proved a gracious guy with a keen, quick wit. That said, I couldn’t arrange an interview, but his music was so vital to my story that I decided to work around him. I spoke with Lewis’s sister Linda Gail, his childhood friend and on-again off-again manager Cecil Harrelson and – thanks to JLL’s daughter Phoebe Lewis – guitarist/fiddler Kenny Lovelace.

Jerry Lee’s right hand man since 1967, Lovelace was married to Linda Gail for a few years and proved so important to the Pumpin’ Piano cat’s sound onstage and in the studio that he remained with the Ferriday Fireball to this very day. As the leader of JLL’s band the Memphis Beats, the Alabama-born Lovelace helped pave the way for country music and good ole rock ‘n’ roll in place where neither had been welcome before. Often, during Lewis’s years as a big country act, it was an utter delight to hear him cue into a fiddle or guitar solo by calling out: “Mr. Kenneth Lovelace!” So, I reasoned, if anyone understood the Ferriday Fireball, it was probably this man.

Speaking from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, Lovelace gave me a wonderful interview filled with great background information on himself and about working with Jerry Lee Lewis. Further, when I sent him a raw transcript to look over, he and his wife took the time to correct my typos and clarify a few statements. (My interview philosophy? The quotes are yours, the article is mine.) Simply put, Mr. Lovelace was one of the nicest people I’ve spoken with in connection with this project.

In addition to drawing quotes for the Jerry Lee Lewis entry, I had wanted to feature Lovelace’s story separately because country music and rock were so solidly fused together in the events of his life. (Proving my point that rock and country come from the different branches of the same sonic family.)  Due to time constraints and editorial decisions, it never happened and the bulk of this interview has not seen the light of day until now.

Ken Burke:    Tell us how you got started in music.

Kenneth Lovelace:    Well, I grew up in Florence, Alabama – the Muscle Shoals area, and started playing at the age of five. My mom taught me how to play a mandolin, then I went to the fiddle, then the guitar, then I’d play a little mandolin, a little banjo.

KB:     Who taught you all those instruments?

KL:      Well, my mom actually started me out and then I taught myself. I would hear things from other fiddle players on the radio. I’d just pick up some things from listening to the Grand Ole Opry. We worked once in Sheffield, Alabama, that was right across the river from Florence. I was about 11 years old and I was entering fiddler’s contests back then. I won the North Alabama Fiddler’s Contest when I was about 12. So, anyway, Hank Williams was booked in the local community center one night, and I was about 11 years old and I was playing fiddle with Eddie McDougall and the Southern Playboys. We played before Hank went on and I was ecstatic, “Golly, Hank Williams is here tonight.” Anyway, after he got through with the show, I got to meet him and he told me, “Son, you play a real good fiddle, you just hang in there.” (Laughs.) I never will forget that. I just remember when he went out on stage, he walked out there and hit “Lovesick Blues” and “Hey Good Lookin’,” man he just tore ‘em up.

KB:     Was he in pretty good shape that night?

KL:      Oh yeah, he looked real good that night. They were traveling a lot, I’m sure. But I was so young and so anxious to meet him. Also, Jerry Rivers, his fiddle player, he impressed me a lot and I learned some things from Jerry through his records and stuff.

KB:     What did you pick up from him, tone?

KL:      Well, I kind of had my own tone, my own style. After I heard what Jerry Rivers was doing – he used to do some double string things, I did some double string things. But I was the first one to ever play fiddle on Jerry Lee’s records, and I learned to play a bluesy country type thing.

KB:     Was blues an element of your early style?

KL:      Well, at that time basically I got to hear a little blues, but mostly I’d hear the Grand Ole Opry. Our home back then didn’t have no electricity, we had a battery radio – one of those big old radios you put a battery in. We’d all sit around on Saturday night and wait for the Grand Ole Opry to come on – Jimmy Dickens, Hank Williams, and all them would come on. Sometimes that old battery would get a little weak and we’d all just gather around and get a little closer to the radio, trying to get all of it in. It was really great growing up and hearing all of that stuff. From listening to different people like that, I kind of developed my own style of fiddling. Everybody always says they can pick my fiddling out. Of course I played on all of Jerry’s country stuff. “Another Place, Another Time” was the first one I played fiddle on with Jerry.

KB:     Tell me more about your early professional experience.

KL:      Well, in Florence I was playing hayrides and fiddlers conventions starting when I was eight or nine years old. Whoever won would get a prize, I remember one time I was in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and there were a lot of fiddlers at this convention. I was about 11 then, and I won first price and got $20. Back then, that was a lot of money. (Laughs.) $20, I thought I was rich. I was doing a lot of fiddlers conventions and then later on my brother and my two sisters, we’d have a band. Sometimes I’d win first prize for fiddlers them we’d turn around and win first prize band. So we’d take home a little bit of prize money. I remember one night we played a convention up in Collingwood, Tennessee. What they had for first prize that night was they’d give you so much money for groceries. My daddy never could play anything but he loved music and he always supported me and the whole family. My mother was musically inclined, and so were the rest of us, except daddy. But he wouldn’t miss one of those fiddler’s conventions for nothing. He’d see that I got there and make sure that everything went right. So, I won first prize that night and they gave me a certificate for $25 worth of groceries, and daddy gave out a great big smile and said, “Well, we’ll eat good next week, won’t we?” (Laughs.) Those days were really good. After that I played with bands around Florence and Muscle Shoals for a while and we did Saturday morning radio shows. We’d do like a 30-minute or an hour show every Saturday morning, and I played steel guitar some too. I do a lot of string instruments. I was playing guitar too, but I wasn’t playing electric, I was playing acoustic.

KB:     What were some of your first bands named?

KL:      Well, a bunch of my cousins got together and they formed this band called The Go-Go Five. At the same time, around when I was about 14 or 15, I played with a guy named Bud Deckleman. He was on MGM Records and they thought he would be like the next Hank Williams, you know? He looked like Hank, he was tall and thin, wore the hat. He heard about me and so he wanted me to come up to Memphis. We were going to do two or three dates that weekend. I remember that I had an old ‘46 Chevrolet Coupe, and to go to Memphis from Florence was about 160 miles. I thought, “Man, this is a long way by myself.” (Laughs.) Little did I know. Well, I went up there and Bud had a brand new ‘55 Ford Crown Victoria, so we got in that and went down around Arkansas playing dates with Johnny Cash & His Tennessee Two and Carl Perkins.

KB:     What was the money like?

KL:      I think I was making ten bucks a night. It was good experience for me too. Bud was a good singer and his brother played steel guitar. He had a record out on MGM called “I’ll Keep Trying.” I never will forget playing fiddle on those shows with him. I did that for a little while, and then my cousins had formed this little band – well, my aunt Christine Gentry had kind of gotten them together. She was a great piano and organ player and is still is performing.  She was playing in Birmingham at the time. She was really popular down there and later she had her own TV show. So, she got us together with my first cousin Jimmy and Raymond Lovelace, and then the singer was Don Moore, and the drummer was Bobby Cox, the other singer then was Junior Thompson. My aunt Christine got us this thing at a little club in Birmingham, Alabama to kind of get things kicked off, you know? We were called Junior Thompson & The Go-Go Five.

KB:     It sounds like you were a rock’n’roll band.

KL:      We were playing country, rock’n’roll – that was in ‘55 and ‘56. We were playing the Platters’ tunes, Elvis, Jerry Lee, all the artists that were out then. We’d learn their stuff, and we had group singing, and my first cousin was a natural born comedian. We had a lot of things going for us and we stayed down in Birmingham and worked a lot of shows with the disc jockeys that did these sock hops back then. We did some of those sock hops on Saturday mornings. Another guy we played for was Happy Hal Burns, The Ramblin’ Ranch guy. He had a little trailer that he’d broadcast from. He’d pull it around to different places. We also worked on a TV show with a guy named Country Boy Eddie out of Birmingham. We worked in Birmingham for a good long while, up until ‘58 I guess. Then, we branched out and got us an agent and he started booking us in different places in the South. When we did that, we changed our name from the Go-Go Five to The Five Jets. At that time, Junior Thompson who did most of our singing, he wanted to go home and not do any more traveling. So, it was me, Jimmy, Raymond, Don Moore, and Bobby Cox. Bobby stayed with us for two or three years and then he wanted to go back and do something else, and we hired another drummer from our same hometown, Ed Goodwin. So, we started traveling and worked all the supper clubs in the South – Gus Stevens’ in Biloxi, the Azalea Grill in Mobile, Old Dutch in Panama City. We even went to Buffalo, New York and started playing. We played the Glen Park Casino and the Harry Altman Theater. People like Jerry Vale were there. We were working the lounge and Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee were booked in the main room. Then we went to Goose Bay, Labrador and stayed six weeks and worked for the military in a USO type of thing. After that we traveled around a bit, but we worked this place called the Stork Supper Club in Shreveport, Louisiana. We played there a couple of times and we drew a big crowd. The club owner asked, “Would y’all like to stay here a while and settle down and play?” We’d been traveling a lot and around that time we started having families, so we settled down there and stayed four years at the Stork Supper Club. Later, we moved onto Monroe, Louisiana, which is about a hundred miles away, still the Five Jets, and we stayed there for about a year.

Linda Gail Lewis and Kenny Lovelace at Panther Hall Fort Worth Texas 1971
Kenny Lovelace and Linda Gail Lewis, 1971

KB:     How did you hook up with Jerry Lee Lewis?

KL:      Well, Ferriday was only about 80 miles from Monroe, and Jerry’s sister Linda Gail, she was real young back then and she came in and talked to the club owner. She wanted to sing on the weekends for a little while. She did. Of course, we had our own show and then we backed her up when she was singing. So, we did that, and once Jerry was booked in Monroe and she had told him about what a good group we had. She got him to come out and see the show the night he was booked into the big club he was playing. Well, he came out and saw our show and man; he wanted to hire the whole band! But, the other guys couldn’t travel with Jerry because of their families – they were all having children and everything.

KB:     They just wanted to be a local band?

KL:      Yeah, because we had traveled so much. But I was kind of free at that time to travel and Jerry said, “Well, if they can’t go, I’d really like to have you, Kenny.” I said, “Of course, I hate to split up the band, but I’ll talk to the guys about it and I’ll see what they say.” So, I talked with ‘em and they said, “You go ahead. It’s a good opportunity for you. We wish we could go too.”

KB:     Prior to that, did the Five Jets do any recording?

KL:      Yeah, we did a record out of Shreveport on the Jewel label. It was a single record for Stan Lewis. The played it in the South for a good while there, but it never had the promotion that it needed. Some people from Sweden were talking to me about that the other day – they know about that overseas, man. (Laughs.)

KB:     Did you know Joe Stampley around that time?

KL:      Oh yeah. We were good friends with the Uniques around that time. Me and Joe and his brothers, we were all good friends because we were working on that same strip – the Bossier City Strip.

KB:     Was Joe Stampley talented from the get-go?

KL:      Oh yeah. They had that record “Not Too Long Ago.” Of course Nat Stuckey was from that area too, and he wrote a lot of great things like “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line.”  We knew him real well before he went up to Nashville. And, the Five Jets went up to Nashville for about a month and played at the Brass Rail and stayed in Mark Dinning’s house. You know “Teen Angel?” Well, he was a good friend of ours and he had a little house out in Hendersonville and he said, “When you boys come into town, you just use my house, man.” So we did, and we played the Brass Rail for about a month and did a little recording at Scotty Moore’s studio.

KB:     What happened to those sides?

KL:      Well, they just never did get off – we just couldn’t get anybody to promote it back then. We did three or four songs and Scotty was there and Billy Sherrill played organ. Billy, he’s a great friend too, and Scotty I got to know him real well.

KB:     As a young act, when you’re playing in front of one of rock’s classic guitar players, do you feel like you have to watch yourself a little extra?

KL:      Oh yeah, you have to be on your toes. You want to do good. One of my real good friends also, and he played for a real long time with Jerry, is James Burton. James is originally from Shreveport and when we were working that show bar, at that time he was real young – of course we all were, he was working with Ricky Nelson. When he’d come in off that little tour or recording, he’d come home and come out to see us every once in a while. We’d get him up to play.

KB:     He was about 16 or 17 when he started playing with Bob Luman.

KL:   Oh yeah. Bob used to come out there and play with us!

KB:     He was supposed to be the Louisiana Hayride’s answer to Elvis after Elvis left.

KL:      He was and the Hayride went on for a while and Bob did good, then, of course he went to Nashville. But he did good on the Hayride for a long time. Frank Page handled the Hayride then.

James Kirkland, Bob Luman, and James Burton on the Lousiana Hayride.
James Kirkland, Bob Luman, and James Burton on the Lousiana Hayride.

KB:     Did the Five Jets ever get a shot at doing the Hayride?

KL:      I think we did play the Hayride one time. I just remember going on and doing one number, I believe. Frank had heard about us because we played locally in Shreveport. Of course, Jerry Kennedy, who later produced Jerry Lee, he was from Shreveport also. Tillman Franks was a good friend too.  We knew all those guys. He autographed his book for me.

KB:     Linda Gail had told me that Jerry Lee had built his career back up to the point to where he was an established club performer. Was joining Jerry’s group a big step for you?

KL:      I think I was taking a big step because Jerry was a big artist. I was just so dumbfound and so happy to be a part of his show. When I left, I went with him the early part of ‘67, and we started to tour out in Texas and I just thought, “I can’t believe that I’m playing with Jerry Lee.” It was really great, and he drew such big crowds.  After coming off that marriage years ago – that’s history y’know, they had knocked him down, but he worked himself back. We worked these honky-tonks in Texas and we’d work sometimes 25 – 26 days out of the month. We were traveling with Jerry – me, Jerry, Cecil Harrelson, and Dick West traveled in the limo. We’d each take turns driving and of course Jerry would sit back there relax, smoke his pipe, and get ready for the show. So, we traveled so much, and then we started recording. The first recording I did with him was Soul My Way. I was playing guitar on that.

KB:     What did you think of that album?

KL:      Well, I liked it. Now, you listen to stuff like “Turn On Your Lovelight” and all that was pretty dynamic.

KB:     Were you surprised that Smash/Mercury couldn’t sell that?

KL:      Yeah I was. At that point, I don’t know how they were trying to promote it or anything; I was just there, y’know? Then, after that, Eddie Kilroy found this song “Another Place, Another Time.”

KB:     Were there discussions between Jerry, Dick, Cecil, and yourself about getting into country music before Eddie Kilroy brought him that song?

KL:      Well, Jerry loved country. They said he was rock’n’roll back then, and he was, but on the flip-side of “Great Balls of Fire,” there’s “You Win Again,” and that’s country. But a lot of things at Mercury were at a standstill because of the promotion and I don’t know what it was. They just weren’t getting out what needed to be gotten out. So, Jerry said, “I’d like to do some country stuff too.” They found this song “Another Place, Another Time,” and I started playing fiddle on it and that started the whole thing rolling.

KB:     Did you have a good feeling about that session when it was happening?

KL:      I had a good feeling about that song. There was something about it that you just knew it was a hit record. It just had that feeling and Jerry phrased the song so good, man, and he sings country so good. “To Make Love Sweeter For You,” “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous,” “She Still Comes Around To Love What’s Left Of Me,” man he just had hit after hit after that first song. All those things were hits, man – “Chantilly Lace,” “Bobbie McGee.”

KB:     Was it true that some of the overseas fans weren’t too keen on Jerry Lee performing his country material at the time?

KL:      Yeah, I was with him. We used to work places like Germany, and at first they didn’t want to hear the country they said, “We want rock’n’roll!” Of course, Jerry would do his country anyway. Later they loved the country, but there was that period where he had to break the ice. He broke it open and they got to where they loved the country. Right at first they were hesitant and they’d say, “We want the rock’n’roll.” Jerry would do the rock’n’roll but during that show he’d sing a country song. Then it just grew and grew and grew and they loved his country after that.

KB:     Once the country hits started coming, what was the impact on Jerry’s career? Were the halls bigger?

KL:      Oh yeah, I remember the first time I went to Europe with him in ‘68 and there must have been 50,000 people there. I had never played to that many people in my life and those people were going wild! They were Jerry Lee fans! What a show.

KB:     When you first joined Jerry Lee, I’m assuming that he mostly did flat out rock’n’roll, and occasionally breaking it up with a country song. Did that change after he began to have more country hits?

KL:      Yeah, it did. But I’ve been with him going on 36 years and he’s never done the same show twice. He’s always going to do something different. You never get bored playing with Jerry, but you just never know what he’s going to do. I know him well and I do my best to hang in with him, and of course the band we have now knows him well. But it makes it so interesting to go out and play a show with Jerry because he doesn’t do the same thing all the time.

KB:     For lack of a better title, are you the band leader?

KL:      Right. KB:     So, more or less you communicate Jerry’s wishes to the rest of the band?

KL:      Right.

KB:     How do you prepare the other band members for Jerry’s spontaneity?

KL:      Well, I just tell ‘em, “You’ve got to watch him like a hawk. Keep your eyes on him, because if you take your eyes off of him he’ll throw you a curve.” He’ll be doing a song and he’ll just stop right on a dime, and say, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

KB:     The very first time I saw Jerry live was at Pine Knob, just outside of Pontiac, Michigan. I clearly recall him saying “Now, if Mr. Kenneth Lovelace will put down his guitar and pick up the fiddle . . . ” Do you always get that much notice?

KL:      Yeah, he’s always recognized me on the stage like that, saying things like “Play your fiddle, Mr. Lovelace.” We did that festival in Toronto, Canada back in ‘69. And Jerry got my guitar and was doing “Mystery Train.”

Kenny Lovelace and Jerry Lee Lewis, Toronto 1969
Kenny Lovelace and Jerry Lee Lewis, Toronto, 1969

KB:     I felt that was one of that film’s best moments. How did you feel about Jerry playing your guitar?

KL:      It was great, I was glad to see Jerry do it. He said, “Of course, you’ve got to get on the fiddle, Kenny.” He said, “Kenny’s the only rock’n’roll, blues, and country & western fiddle player in the world.” (Laughs.) He said, “He can get it, get it, get it, and then get it again.”

KB:     “Musically speaking.”

KL:      Musically speaking. It’s really been a joy being with Jerry, we’re like brothers really. We have a good rapport with each other and I love Jerry. He’s been good to me and he’s a great heart.

KB:     Was it any different recording country music with Jerry Kennedy than it was doing that first hit session with Eddie Kilroy?

KL:      It was kind of the same. Jerry Kennedy knew Jerry Lee real well and knew how to record Jerry. Of course most of those country hits were done by Jerry Kennedy, until Jerry Lee left for another label. Then Eddie produced some on Elektra – now Eddie is a good producer and he also worked good with Jerry and Jerry worked well with both of them. They had a good rapport with each other.

KB:     What was the process for selecting songs and getting the sound in the studio like?

KL:      Well, pretty much they’d send songs to Jerry, who was in Memphis at the time, and he’d listen to ‘em. One time we came into Mercury Records during the early days, and some of the writers would come up. Back then, you didn’t do too many demos, the songwriters themselves would come right out. As a matter of fact, one morning Kris Kristofferson walked across a field and Jerry Kennedy said, “I think I’ve got a song you’re going to like, Jerry.” He said, “Oh yeah, really?” “Yes, I’ve got a writer coming here about ten o’clock.” So, we were waiting and it was about 10 after 10 and here comes this guy walking across the little grass field there with his guitar, and it was Kris Kristofferson. He did, “Once More With Feeling.”

KB:     Another part of Jerry’s show during that time was his sister Linda Gail. Was she forced into the situation or did Mercury Records want her?

KL:      I think Linda pretty much did it on her own. Of course Jerry was a big factor in it. But Linda was singing long before that and did some duets with Jerry and stuff.

KB:     Did you play on her sessions at Smash/Mercury as well? KL:      Oh yeah.

KB:     Was that process entirely different?

KL:      What Linda did was a little different from what Jerry did, but kind of similar in a way sometimes.

KB:     I was watching a show called Pop Goes The Country and Jerry Lee paid you the greatest compliment. He said, “Kenny’s the only musician I’ve ever known that they haven’t stopped tape on.”

KL:      That’s right. (Chuckles.) Back then they never did stop a track on me for making a mistake.

KB:     Is that what you’re most proud of, your professionalism?

KL:      Oh yeah, it made me feel real proud. I got to know those Nashville musicians real well and they’re talented guys, real easy to work with. These guys played on a lot of records – Pete Drake, Pig Robbins, Pete Wade, Bob Moore, Buddy Harman – with guys like that, you want to hang in there, you know? So, I did and I really loved playing with these guys.

KB:     What do think was the absolute best line-up of the Memphis Beats?

KL:      Gosh, we’ve had so many good bands. At one time we had three horns so we could work Vegas. We had a saxophone, trumpet, and a slide trombone.

KB:     You had Bill Taylor in the band at one time.

KL:      Yeah, Bill Taylor, Russ Carlton, Mike – can’t think of his last name, Bill Strom playing the organ, and Charlie Olney on steel, and back at that time we had Eddie DeBruhl on bass, myself on guitar and fiddle, and Morris Tarrant was on drums.

KB:     Tarrant was a pretty good show drummer, wasn’t he?

KL:      Yeah, he was. We called him “Tarp,” he worked with Jerry for a long time; he was with Jerry when I joined up.

KB:     Do you have more fun playing with the smaller band now, or did you like it better when you had the horn sections, vocalists, and Mack Vickery hanging around?

KL:      I liked it like that back then, but now it seems like I like it the way I’ve got it. We’ve got the B-3 organ, drums, bass, and myself on guitar, and Jerry of course on piano. We’ve got a good full sound and it seems like its working out good. Of course, I like the bands we had back then too, don’t get me wrong. I loved the horns back then and Jerry likes a lot of Dixieland, so he loved to have those horns too.

KB:     I always felt that you and Joel Schumacher worked well together.

KL:      Yeah, me and Joel did work good together for about nine years I guess. Of course James [Burton] played with us on and off for quite a few years, and me and James worked up a lot of twin stuff on stage with Jerry. James is a great guitarist and I’ve really enjoyed playing with him.

KB:     I’ve read that Jerry considers his band and the people around him to be family.

KL:      Oh yeah, absolutely. He feels that way about all of us guys. He takes care of us and is just really a great guy at heart. He’s like a brother to me and I love him a lot. Jerry’s a great guy and he came back, facing impossible odds, to have all those number one records, man. After that, it was smooth sailing.

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KB:     Was it difficult for you guys to come up with enough material for all the albums Smash/Mercury wanted?

KL:      Not really. Jerry Kennedy, he produced it – the mogul thing there – they came up with all those songs and it all turned out good.

KB:     At the peak of his country comeback, what was Jerry’s career like?

KL:      It was great, man. We went out and played to packed houses all over the world.

KB:     Is there a feeling a hot act has that you can describe to somebody else.

KL:      Yeah, Jerry just had that electricity. He could just walk out on that stage and immediately he’s got the attention of his fans. He just works the crowd – he knows what to do and when to do it. If he sees ‘em slacking off a little bit, he’ll do something to bring them back in. He’s that type of entertainer. He demands their full attention and they give it to him and they’ll lay in there and rock’n’roll with him. He’ll do a slow song and get melancholy for a little but – but he won’t get too melancholy. He’ll pick ‘em up and go into rock’n’roll.

KB:     What do you suppose happened in country music that Jerry’s music can’t get played anymore?

KL:      There’s just something that happened Ken, where I think different producers came into Nashville, and these young artists started coming in and doing different type stuff. I was really sad to see it happen because you could really relate to those songs we were doing back in that era. Jerry, Conway Twitty – those guys made powerful records and I miss that. I know it’s a new era and everything, but I miss what we did. Country don’t sound like country anymore.

KB:     I had grown up outside of Detroit as a rock kid, and the only reason I listened to country music was because Jerry Lee played it. Through Jerry Lee, I developed a taste for country music.

KL:      Jerry started a lot of people heading from rock to the country field.

KB:     Does Jerry take a certain amount of pride for bringing a different audience to country music?

KL:      Oh, I think so. I think it makes him feel good to know that he’s widened it out. I think it makes him feel real good.

KB:     Of the over four dozen country hits he scored, which ones does he still perform?

KL:      He does “Another Place, Another Time,” “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous,” “Over The Rainbow,” he does “Thirty-Nine & Holding” a lot, and he still does “You Win Again.” He mixes it up. One show he might not do all the country hits, but he does some and just mixes it up.

KB:     You guys have done an awful lot of traveling. How did you survive that?

KL:      Back then we were doing that. Of course we’re not doing that now, but back then we were all young and it didn’t bother us that bad. We’d go out for 25 -26 days, come home and rest for a few days, and then go out and hit it again. Working all those clubs out through Texas, Arizona, and all over the place. We could do it then, of course we’ve slowed down a whole lot now, but Jerry still wants to work.

KB:     Tell me about the solo album you cut.

KL:      That was a few years ago. I cut a thing called Twenty Years Overnight. But at the time I never could get anybody on it. I did it through the fan club and it’s finally progressed throughout the years.

KB:     Did you do much session work besides your work with Jerry?

KL:      Well playing with Jerry kind of eliminated session work with a lot of other people. I did some with the Oak Ridge Boys. I did the fiddle intro on “Ozark Mountain Jamboree.” I love all those guys. Old Bill, William Golden, I played on two or three tracks with him down in Muscle Shoals.

KB:     After all the touring and sessions you’ve done with Jerry Lee, does it feel odd to play with anybody else?

KL:      Yeah, really it does, because I’m so used to playing with Jerry. I don’t usually play with anybody but Jerry, except maybe to do a recording.

KB:     Phoebe told me that Jerry Lee has been back in the studio cutting a new album, which is very exciting for us fans. What can you tell me about this new project?

KL:      Well, I think it’s going to be a great CD. He cut some older songs like Willie Nelson’s “Got A Few More Years On You Baby,” and he did one of Kris Kristofferson’s, Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.” [These tracks eventually comprised the all-star duet laden Last Man Standing CD.)

KB:     Where was it recorded?

KL:      Over at Phillips Recording in Memphis. We spent a lot of time with Roland Janes over there. He’s a great guy.

KB:     Did you get Roland in to play guitar or was he just engineering?

KL:      No, he was just engineering. He took care of everything for us. They had another engineer there, but he helped him out. Roland has been there a long time and I enjoyed visiting with him myself. He comes up with funny jokes, little one-liners. He’s great man.

KB:     What label will the disc be on?

KL:      I don’t know. The people out of California are the ones that are going to make that decision I guess. Shangri La Entertainment are the ones doing it. They do movies and we did a couple of songs for ‘em last year that was supposed to be in a soundtrack. Maybe that’ll be this year.  I don’t know. They’re really excited about it, but I really don’t know how they’re going to market it at this point.

KB:     What are your plans?

KL:      Well, I write a lot and I try to pitch a song now and then. It’s hard now, this new music coming out, you have to write in that vein. I don’t get completely in that vein, I just try to put some of my style into it and update it a little. Of course, I’m still going out with Jerry.

KB:     How many shows are you working a year?

KL:      Maybe 50, whatever Jerry wants to work.

KB:     Why do you suppose the media gets the wrong idea about Jerry Lee?

KL:      Well, I think it’s just because Jerry tells it like it is. I remember he used to tell the media and all them, “I don’t know what you’re going to say about me, just make sure you spell my name right.” (Laughs.)

KB:     How has country music changed your life?

KL:      Aw man, it really changed my life from the time I was five years old until now. I really think I would have been a sad guy if I hadn’t of done what I’ve done. Because I loved it so much, it’s really changed my life completely. I love all kinds of music – country, blues, rock’n’roll, and even easy listening music. It just made me have a happier life.

Many thanks to Phoebe Lewis for setting up the interview and to Kenneth Lovelace for his generous input.

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Ken Burke has been writing about rock’n’roll, rockabilly, blues and country music since 1985. A former stand-up comedian, disc jockey, and singer-songwriter, the current contributing editor of Blue Suede News is the author of Country Music Changed My Life – Tales of Tough Times and Triumphs from Country’s Legends, (Acappella, 2004), and The Blue Moon Boys – The Story of Elvis Presley’s Band (Acappella, 2006) with Dan Griffin. 

Copyright Ken Burke 2015.

Albums of the Day: Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records – The Collected Works & Sun Essentials

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FREAKS ALBUMS OF THE DAY FOR TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, JERRY LEE LEWIS’ 80th BIRTHDAY!

Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis At Sun Records: The Collected Works (to be released on October 30, 2015 by Bear Family Records)

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THE MOTHERLODE, COMING IN OCTOBER FROM BEAR FAMILY RECORDS:

Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records The Collected Works:

18-CD boxed set (28 x 28 x 7 cms ) with 2 hardcover clothbound books (300 total pages) in a clothbound slipcase, 623 tracks, total playing time: approx. 23 hours and 30 minutes. • This is it! …… No, really, THIS IS IT! • The story began at Sun Records almost 60 years ago. Now EVERY surviving song and EVERY surviving take that Jerry Lee Lewis recorded for Sun is here. All other sets are obsolete! • Years of painstaking comparisons and tape vault research! • 18 generously full CDs, 623 tracks … more than 100 previously unheard versions! • All mono versions! All stereo versions! All original Sun era overdubs! • Two comprehensive hardbound books: one with the discography and commentary, and another of photos, many of them previously unpublished! These 18 CDs place you in the studio as Jerry Lee Lewis records one epochal session after another for Sun Records between 1956 and 1963. In the history of recorded music, no one created such an incredible and indelible body of work in such a short time. Jerry Lee spanned the breadth of American music: gospel, R&B, blues, country, pop, and of course rock ‘n‘ roll. Incredibly, he only recorded one LP during the course of his career at Sun. Another LP mixed some older and some newer recordings, and that was it before Sun was sold. The floodgates opened after the sale in 1969. There have been countless Jerry Lee Lewis anthologies since then—more than anyone could possibly tabulate—many of them drawing on the incredible wealth of unissued songs. But now you can get rid of them all. This is the guaranteed ultimate Jerry Lee Lewis on Sun listening experience. You can hear recordings created in the studio. Some were done in one take. If that’s all it needed, that’s all it took. Some were painstakingly recorded and re-recorded through days and sometimes weeks. It’s all here. Every complete take, every incomplete take, every piece of chatter. It took two years of analysis to compare all the sources, but now it’s done. And it took years of research to find rare and published photos, and date them properly. Producers: Andrew McRae & Pierre Pennone Valeriy ‘Valerik’ Orlov & Willem Moerdijk Mastering: Christian Zwarg Cover Illustration: Reinhard Kleist Layout Mychael Gerstenberger This is the sort of project that only Bear Family delivers. Truly the last word on truly the first name in rock ‘n‘ roll. Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.

Read more and pre-order at the Bear Family website.

But if the 18-CD/2 book monolith is out of your price range, might I recommend,…

Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Essentials (2005, Charly)

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This deluxe 4-CD set distils the cream of Lewis’ peerless recordings made for Sun Records between 1956 and 1963 when he was at his creative peak. These 128 cuts from ‘The Killer’ changed the face of both Rock ‘n’ Roll and Country Music.

Each of the set’s four themed discs has been meticulously compiled and sequenced, each one being split into two contrasting musical genres to provide listening variety.

Discs one and two both feature a selection of scorching Rock ‘n’ Roll sides contrasted with country classics, whilst disc three concentrates on Lewis’ country side and includes, both rockers and ballads. The final disc comprises R&B standards and a pot pourri of other musical styles.

The set’s 36-page, illustrated booklet contains a detailed biography of Lewis’ career to date along with an illuminating track-by-track commentary from compiler Clive Anderson.

This set is an essential purchase for anyone seeking a comprehensive overview of Lewis’ historic years at Sun.

Buy from Charly (UK)

Buy from Amazon

How Can The Killer Save Souls?

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By Gary Pig Gold

Originally published at Lost In The Grooves,  republished here by permission of the author.

Where: Sun Record Company, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
When: October, 1957
Why: recording “Great Balls Of Fire”
Who: Jerry Lee Lewis (pumping piano)
Sam C. Phillips (producer extraordinaire)
J. W. Brown (bass, Jerry Lee’s father-in-law)
Billy Lee Riley (guitar)
J. M. Van Eaton (drums)

Jerry Lee Lewis: H-E-L-L.
Sam C. Phillips: I don’t believe it.
J. W. Brown: Great Godamighty, great balls of fire!
Billy Lee Riley: THAT’S RIGHT!
JLL: That’s it, that’s it. That’s it!
SCP: I don’t believe it.
JLL: It says, it says MAKE MERRY with the joy of God, only! But when it comes to worldly music, rock ‘n’ roll –
BLR: ROCK IT OUT!
JLL: — anything like that, you have done brought yourself into the world, and you’re in the world, and you hadn’t come from out of the world, and you’re still a sinner. You’re a sinner – and unless you be saved — and borned again — and be made as a little child and walk before God — and be holy, and brother, I mean you got to be so pure! And no sin shall enter there: No sin! For it says, no sin! It don’t say just a little bit, it says, NO SIN SHALL ENTER THERE — brother, not one little bit! You got to walk and talk with God to go to Heaven. You’ve got to be so good.
BLR: Hallelujah!
SCP: All right.
BLR: You’re right.
SCP: Now look, Jerry. Religious conviction doesn’t mean anything resembling extremism. All right. You mean to tell me that you’re gonna take the Bible, that you’re gonna take God’s word, and that you’re gonna revolutionize the whole universe? Now listen! Jesus Christ was sent here by God Almighty.
JLL: Right.
SCP: Did He convict, did He save, all of the people in the world?
JLL: No, but he tried to.
SCP: He sure did. NOW, WAIT JUST A MINUTE. Jesus Christ came into this world. He tolerated man. He didn’t preach from one pulpit. He went around, and did good.
JLL: That’s right! He preached everywhere!
SCP: Everywhere!
JLL: He preached on land!
SCP: Everywhere! That’s right! That’s right!
JLL: He preached on the water!
SCP: That’s right, that’s exactly right! Now –
JLL: And then He done everything! He healed!
SCP: Now, now – here’s — here’s the difference –
JLL: Are you followin’ those that heal? Like Jesus Christ did?
SCP: What do you mean, I, I, what –
JLL: Well, it’s happening every day!
SCP: What do you mean?
JLL: The blind had eyes opened.
SCP: Jerry –
JLL: The lame are made to walk.
SCP: Jesus Christ –
JLL: The crippled are made to walk.
SCP: Jesus Christ, in my opinion, is just as real today –
J. M. Van Eaton: Let’s cut it.
SCP: — as He was when He came into this world.
JLL: Right, right, you’re so right you don’t know what you’re sayin’.
SCP: Now, then! I will say, I will say more so –
JMV: It’s very commercial…
BLR: Let’s cut it.
SCP: You see, you see –
JVE: We’ll cut it ourselves!
SCP: No, we’ll be with you in a minute.
JWB: It’ll sell. It’s very commercial.
SCP: But look. Now, listen. I’m tellin’ you outta my heart. And I have studied the Bible, a little bit –
JLL: Well, I have too.
SCP: And I have studied it through and through and through and through and Jerry, Jerry, when you, listen, when you think that you can’t, can’t do good, if you’re a rock ‘n’ roll exponent –
JLL: You can do good, Mr. Phillips, don’t get me wrong –
SCP: Now wait a minute, wait a minute, now when I say do good –
JLL: YOU CAN HAVE A KIND HEART!
SCP: I don’t mean, I don’t mean just –
JLL: You can help people!
SCP: YOU CAN SAVE SOULS!
JLL: No – NO! No, no!
SCP: Yes!
JLL: How can the, how can the Devil save souls? What are you talkin’ about?
SCP: Listen, listen –
JLL: Man, I got the Devil in me! If I didn’t have I’d be a Christian!
SCP: Well, you may have him –
JLL: JESUS! Heal this man! He cast the Devil out, the Devil says, Where can I go? He says, Can I go into this swine? He says, Yeah, go into him. Didn’t he go into him?
SCP: Jerry. The point I’m tryin’ to make is – if you believe what you’re sayin’ — you got no alternative whatsoever – out of – LISTEN! – out of –
JLL: Mr. Phillips! I don’t care, it ain’t what you believe, it’s what’s written in the Bible!
SCP: Well, wait a minute, what you believe –
JLL: It’s what’s there, Mr. Phillips.
SCP: No, no.
JLL: It ain’t what you believe, it’s just what I –
SCP: No, by gosh, if it’s not what you believe, then how do you interpret the Bible!
BLR: Man alive –
SCP: Huh? How do you interpret the Bible if it’s not what you believe?!!

For the answer to these and so many other musical questions of the ages, where can you turn but to Charly Records’s utterly essential 4-disc Jerry Lee Lewis: Sun Essentials,  or, if you’ve got the scratch, the upcoming monolith 18 disc set that is being released by Bear Family, both available wherever real rock ‘n’ roll is still sold.

Garypiggold.com

Jerry Lee, Stephen Foster and the American Canon of Song

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By Steve Butts

Jerry Lee Lewis’s long career has never been short on hyperbole. Lewis has perennially referred to himself as one of the “four stylists”, “Y’know, son, there’s only been four of us: Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis. That’s your only goddam four stylists that ever lived.”

When he recorded his loose and extemporaneous, late night Knox Phillips (son of the legendary Sam Phillips) Sessions during the late 70′s, he touched upon the next most logical addition to that list…the music of Stephen Foster.

“Jerry Lee was always my favourite artist,” says Knox Phillips. “…Sun was always about differentness, and so am I.

“One thing I took from my dad was that producing a record means creating a situation where a genius can play with reckless abandon. Like Dan Penn always says, I’ll go out on a limb, and if it breaks, that’s OK with me. Jerry Lee hadn’t captured that reckless abandon for a long time before this.”

In this “recklessly abandoned” reading of “Beautiful Dreamer”, in what superficially appears to be an almost mockingly maudlin recitation of Foster’s near penniless death at 37 (His worn leather wallet contained a scrap of paper that simply said, “Dear friends and gentle hearts”, along with 38 cents in Civil War scrip and three pennies.), Jerry Lee rectifies that misperception when he begins to sing–and that is when you realize that Jerry Lee Lewis recording Stephen Foster, even if he appears unfamiliar with the song’s lyrics and morphs the improvised reading into a bizarre, brief recitation on race and then detours into improvised riffs on a couple of other of Foster’s timeless numbers (Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair and Camptown Races), fits him just like a glove.

“The Killer” finds a wonderfully raspy late night voice in these sessions. He sounds like he himself is “The Beautiful Dreamer” waxing reflective upon his life, feeling entirely comfortable of his lineage within the great American song tradition. Knowing that folklore has it that this was believed to be Foster’s last finished song completed just before his untimely death makes this performance seem all the more fitting. For all of his braggadocio, Jerry Lewis is perennially aware that hell awaits and death’s door remains open for him.

Beautiful dreamer, will wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all passed away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Jerry Lee Lewis is one of our last living musical connections to the pre-recorded era. His musical style, in his view entirely his own, would not be out of place in the late 19th century just like it we will remain prescient for the foreseeable future. With all of this in mind, why didn’t the parties involved, Jerry Lee Lewis, his management and any future producer see that this casually recorded version of a Foster song was a missing piece of the larger American musical canon.

As Lewis nears the end of his life, it grows increasingly unlikely that he will ever perform a recording comprised solely of Foster songs. Hopefully, the inspiration will grab him and he will record another spare, largely unadorned performance of these great songs (sans the narration) and not leave this unfinished business lost on “life’s raging seas”.

Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings was released by Ace Records in 2014.

Steve Butts is used book and media buyer at Schuler Books in Lansing, Mi who loves books, music and baseball. Freaks unite! You can follow Steve @steveb5477

Album of the Day: Jerry Lee Lewis, She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye (1970, Smash Records)

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FREAKS ALBUM OF THE DAY FOR MONDAY, AUGUST 28:

Jerry Lee Lewis, She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye (1970, Smash Records)

Track Listing:

A1 Once More With Feeling 2:24
A2 Workin’ Man Blues 2:52
A3 Waiting For A Train 1:58
A4 Brown-Eyed Handsome Man 2:08
A5 My Only Claim To Fame 2:13
A6 Since I Met You Baby 2:45
B1 She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye 2:44
B2 Wine Me Up 2:21
B3 When The Grass Grows Over Me 2:41
B4 You Went Out Of Your Way (To Walk On Me) 1:54
B5 Echoes 2:27

AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine [5/5]

Jerry Lee Lewis turned to pure country in 1968, releasing two killer albums (no pun intended) in a row with Another Place Another Time and She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me), which brought him the elusive success he so desired, so he and Smash cemented his reputation as a country crooner by releasing several albums in 1969 that were explicitly collections of covers of classic country albums. So, it wasn’t until early 1970 that he unveiled a record of primarily new songs with She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye. He was riding high on his new hits — so successful that new collections of his Sun singles made it to the country Top Ten — and took that as encouragement to do whatever he damn well pleased on this new record. So, he cut pure rock & roll (a thundering cover of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”), inserted his name in every other song (in every verse on “Since I Met You Baby,” where he manages to find a place to say his full name), laughed and leered, growled and crooned, pounding and gliding down the keyboard in equal measure. These are the fieriest, loosest performances he’s given since leaving Sun (not counting, of course, the then-unreleased Star Club live recording), which jolts the hardcore country of Another Place and She Still Comes Around to a different stratosphere. Those were spectacular pure country records by any measure, but this is a spectacular pure Jerry Lee country record, where he’s the center of every cut, every performance, and the record is tremendously addictive for it. Another stellar Smash platter from the Killer.

Buy from Amazon 

Watch: Jerry Lee’s 1987 Playboy Interview

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By Ted Cogswell

Jerry Lee being interviewed for Playboy in 1987.  It starts off fairly lightweight, but goes into some interesting directions.  He says when asked to compare himself and Elvis, “we considered ourselves both kings of rock ‘n’ roll, so to speak, in our own ways,… I done what I wanted to do, and he wanted to do the things I did,  but he was scared to.”  When asked.  “Is sex worth getting married for? ” He quickly replies, “No.”  Then there’s a long pause, “Let me think about that,….”  He ends up talking  about his marriage to Myra, John Lennon kissing his feet, and the tragic deaths of his sons. You can tel it was edited for television, I would have liked to see more of it.

And a bonus video, Jerry Lee on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1989, where he has some choice words for cousin Jimmy Swaggart in the wake of the Reverend’s 1988 sex scandal.  In the Playboy interview, he offers an elaborate explanation of what happened when he infamously showed up at Graceland with a gun. In this interview, he denies it ever happened at all.

 

Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost And Found – Welcome To Killer Country

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The following is excerpted from ‘Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found’ by Joe Bonomo, published by Continuum in 2009, released in paperback by Bloomsbury in 2011, and also available for Kindle. Buy from Amazon. This is the third of three excerpts we’ve published  for Jerry Lee Lewis Week with permission of the author.  With today’s post, the story picks up in 1968. 

***

But for now Jerry Lee was sky-high glad, and not only from pharmaceuticals. He was back on the charts, Cashbox was lauding him and his commercial resurgence, his concert paydays were fat and regular. In mid-August he ducked into Columbia Studio to record three new tracks, and in October/November a dozen more. Another single and album were quickly sketched out by Smash executives. As it would turn out, Another Time, Another Place had provided the essential blueprint for the next half-decade’s worth of albums for Jerry Lee. Between one-night stands, extended tours, awards shows, and increasing television appearances (including the Joey Bishop Show, This Is Tom Jones, The Monkees’ 33 1/3 Special, and the Mike Douglas Show), Smash pumped Killer Country into the market. On September 28 came “She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me)” and on December 28, “To Make Love Sweeter For You.” On February 8, 1969 She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me) debuted on the Country album charts, eventually rising to 12 (it peaked at 149 on the Pop charts). “To Make Love Sweeter For You” would become Jerry Lee’s first number one single since “Great Balls Of Fire” in 1958, with “She Still Comes Around” peaking at number two. Jerry Lee Lewis was now absurdly bankable. In September, he inked a fresh four-year contract with Mercury.

Short of moving to Nashville, he embraced the Music City formula and audience it served. “I’d like to think that we were recording stuff they wanted to hear and buy,” Jerry Kennedy says. “I think that the songs were that good. Timing probably had a lot to do with it, but we just couldn’t do anything wrong for a while. His audience was just hungry for some Jerry Lee Lewis country product.” When Another Place, Another Time finally hit a quarter million in sales, the Chicago office noticed. “They called me and asked me to check on what pop stations were playing it, because it couldn’t be selling that many country. And it was not playing on pop anywhere. It was all country radio that was doing the job.” It could have been a dicey move on Jerry Lee’s part. “You can’t fake country people out,” songwriter Harlan Howard once said. “If you say something they won’t understand, they won’t listen again. That’s the beauty of country songs, they don’t mystify you.” Kennedy felt no skepticism on the part of the country audience toward Jerry Lee. “He sounded so much at home it sounded like that’s where he’d been all his life,” he says.

With its evocative photo of a despondent Killer in a decrepit hotel room, She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me) was another confident blend of honky-tonk and tear-in-beer ballads. “Jerry was one of the easiest people I ever worked with,” says Kennedy, who’s worked with plenty on both sides of the studio console, from the Statler Brothers and Kris Kristofferson to Elvis and Bob Dylan. “I’ve heard a lot of stories of how he butted head with other people, but we always got along great. I didn’t spend a lot of time socializing with him. He would come to town, come into my office, and we’d listen to songs, and then we’d go into the studio and record. And then he would go home. Man, he was such a quick study. He learned ‘She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye’  and did that cut of it after hearing the song one time. He really is a genius.”

Standouts this time around included the title song, “To Make Love Sweeter For You,” and “Today I Started Loving You Again” (another Merle Haggard tune, confirming now the tradition that Jerry Lee was mining), each song ably showcasing Jerry Lee’s newly acquired expressive depth. Provided essentially by the same players on Another Place, Another Time, the musicianship was accomplished and wholly supportive of Jerry Lee’s interpretations. He rocked the piano a bit harder this time around with “Let’s Talk About Us,” a rereading of his long-forgotten Sun single from 1959, and “Louisiana Man,” though the arrangements were more buttoned-up than the Real Wild Child would’ve submitted to a decade or so earlier.

The most powerful song on She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me) is “There Stands The Glass,” the Webb Pierce hit from 1953 and one of the all-time classic drinking songs, so controversial at its release that it was banned on some radio stations. It must be that Jerry Lee—who offers one of his strongest vocal performances, control teetering on collapse—felt close to the lyrics. Maybe too close. There stands the glass that will ease all my pain…There stands the glass that will hide all my tears / That will drown all my fears…I’m wondering where you are tonight, wondering if you’re all right. His alcoholism was no longer the forgivable partygoer it had been for years; it was now the spiteful guest that wouldn’t leave, wrecking dusks and dawns alike. In a couple of years, faced with collapsing griefs and guilt, Jerry Lee Lewis would swear off the bottle. But he wouldn’t stay dry for long.

Joe Bonomo‘s books include This Must Be Where My Obsession With Infinity Began (essays), Conversations With Greil Marcus (Literary Conversations Series), AC/DC’s Highway to Hell (33 1/3 Series), Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found, Installations (National Poetry Series), and Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band. He teaches at Northern Illinois University, and appears online at No Such Thing As Was and at @BonomoJoe.

Album of the Day: Jerry Lee Lewis, Old Time Religion: Rare Recordings Of Jerry Lee Lewis In Church Preachin’, Shoutin’ and Singin’ (2011, Bear Family)

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FREAKS ALBUM OF THE DAY FOR SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27:

Jerry Lee Lewis, Old Time Religion: Rare Recordings of Jerry Lee Lewis In Church Preachin’, Shoutin’ and Singin’ (2011, Bear Family)

Track Listing:

01 – Looking For A City
02 – I’m Longing For Home
03 – Life’s Railway To Heaven (Blessed Savior Thou Will Guide Us)
04 – Someone Who Cares
05 – If We Never Meet Again
06 – Down The Sawdust Trail
07 – Peace In The Valley
08 – Precious Memories
09 – The Old Rugged Cross
10 – It Will Be Worth It All
11 – I Know That Jesus Will Be There
12 – I’m In The Glory Land Way
13 – Tomorrow May Mean Goodbye
14 – Amazing Grace
15 – On The Jericho Road
16 – I’ll Fly Away
17 – My God Is Real
18 – What Will My Answer Be
19 – I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone
20 – Keep On The Firing Line

AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine [3.5/5]

One of the key tenets in Jerry Lee Lewis’ mythology is his fiery argument with Sam Phillips about God just prior to recording the master take of “Great Balls of Fire,” so it comes as no surprise that the Killer holds salvation as closely to his heart as he does sin, yet he never recorded a full-blown religious record, which is what makes Bear Family’s Old Time Religion such a find. Released initially as part of the 1986 series of LP box sets called The Killer, these recordings find Jerry Lee at Brother Davis’ Church in Memphis on December 13, 1970, backed by a basic band featuring his son Jerry Lee Jr. on drums, Kenneth Lovelace on guitar and fiddle, Edward DeBruhl on bass, and William “Bill” David Strom on organ. It’s a curious recording — certainly looser than most church records, lively but not as infectious as the Killer at his peak, built on standards but containing no hits. In other words, it’s the kind of album that is impossible to market, which is of course what labels are designed to do, so it sat on the shelf where it aged nicely, a recording more interesting in retrospect than at the time. If Jerry Lee isn’t quite at home here in church, he’s certainly in his element, tossing off hymns with authority, easing his way into spoken testimonials, inserting his name into the lyrics wherever he can, showing no shame in plugging the records they have for sale (he doesn’t need the money, of course, but his sidemen do). All this makes for a religious record whose scale tips slightly toward the sinful over the saintly, but of course that’s why it’s worth hearing.

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Jerry Lee at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival, 1969

1969_toronto_festival_poster

By Ted Cogswell

The Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival was a one day festival at Varsity Stadium on September 13, 1969. It is most remembered today as the occasion of John Lennon’s first solo appearance, which was recorded for the Plastic Ono Band Live Peace In Toronto lp.  D.A. Pennebaker was there to film the whole thing and his documentary of the event, Sweet Toronto, was released in 1971.  The film included performances from Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, as well as Lennon’s entire set with the Plastic Ono Band. Jerry Lee’s entire set went unreleased for many years until 1991 when it was combined with extensive archival footage from throughout his career and released as Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Lewis’ explosive set at Toronto is interwoven with clips from his meteoric rise and fall. These are all offered without narration, leaving the viewer to determine their own conclusions about the filmmakers’ intent.

The Toronto performance is superb. Having spent most of the last couple of years playing for country audiences,  the Killer seems to revel in the opportunity to just let his unabashed rock ‘n’ roll soul run wild and he  has the flower children in attendance wrapped around his finger.