As you would assume, I am indeed working on my Jerry Lee Lewis remembrance/obit. There’s a couple of documents I’m trying to get my hands on for it, which apparently do not exist on the innarnuts anywhere. In fact, one of them I know for sure is in the sole and exclusive possession of our former manager, who as far as I know is the only guy who has a copy of the thing. Unfortunately, Mike isn’t at all web-savvy, so I doubt he has the means to scan it and send it over to me, or would know how even if he did. We’ll see about that, I suppose. More coming, as and when…
Update! YES!!! Got ’em both, I can hardly believe it. Okay, folks, stay tuned, this is gonna be good.
Updated update! Okay, here we go. Somewhat atypically for these rock and roll-icon obits of mine, I did NOT ever get to meet or hang out with Jerry Lee Lewis, to my great disappointment. We DID have a show scheduled with him once, at the legendary Tramps in NYC. To wit:
What showed up in lieu of The Killer that night was a doctor’s note (those with older eyes can click here to embiggen):
Mind, now, this was the selfsame Dr Nick who was widely despised among fans of the King as the Man Who Killed Elvis, the guy who for years had signed off on whatever self-prescribed drugs Elvis was of a mind to indulge in that particular evening. He’s also the real-life personage from whence The Simpsons‘ Dr Nick Rivera got his name:
The character design of Dr. Nick is based somewhat on Gábor Csupó, of Klasky Csupo studios, who was originally from Hungary—the animators mistakenly believed Hank Azaria was impersonating Gabor, when in fact the voice was actually a bad imitation of Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy.
His name came from George Nichopoulos, nicknamed Dr. Nick, Elvis Presley‘s personal physician who was indicted on 14 counts of over-prescribing drugs to Presley and several other patients in the years following Presley’s death. While Nichopoulos was acquitted of those charges, his medical license was revoked by the Tennessee medical authorities in 1993.
And there you have it. When that fateful note from Dr Nick finally did show up at Tramps instead of Jerry Lee it scared me half to death, because Terry Dunne, the owner and founder of Tramp’s, asked me right away if we’d be willing to go on and take the whole show anyhow, three sets instead of the agreed-upon two. I mean, who wouldn’t be scared, right? The joint was packed with people who had paid top buck to see Jerry Lee Lewis, only to learn they’d be getting a full night of the lowly if up-and-coming Belmont Playboys in his stead? My God, I thought, these people are gonna KILL us!
To the contrary, it all went quite well; we were warmly received, the dreaded mass stampede for the exits when it was announced that Lewis wouldn’t be appearing never happened, and we did a good show despite the jacked-up Fear Factor.
No, I never did get to meet the Killer, but he still wound up being one of my biggest personal influences nonetheless. That came about the night of a different show a few years later, when the BPs were to play at the old Park Elevator in CLT, situated in the century-old, decaying and decrepit Park Elevator building, before it burned up, was refurbished, and turned into condos like all the other old buildings around here.
So naturally, I conceived the brilliant notion that hey, wouldn’t it be just the most awesome thing ever if I rode the bike onto the stage when we went on? My friend Joe was also there on his hotrod Evo Sporty, and was quite eager to join me in risking my fool neck to ride his Harley out onto the stage through that tiny, low door also. So low was said portal, in fact, that I had to yank my apehangers back and down to even get through it; the damned bars were way too tall to go in as they were.
But no matter; such a minor obstacle could never be sufficient to deter a dedicated Jerry Lee wannabe like myself. Right before we were to do our dirty deed, I asked one of the proprietors of the Park Elevator, Tim Blong, if he thought the stage would be able to support all that weight without collapsing into rubble and killing us all. He shrugged eloquently, muttered, “Dunno, man, maybe?” and grinned. Joe turned to me with a slightly troubled look on his mug, as if to ask, “Well, we doin’ this or what?”
Which was when I asked myself what would come to be the eternal question for me regarding any outrageous, dangerous, or just plain stupid stunt I was thinking about attempting to pull off: What Would Jerry Lee Do?
The answer, of course, was always the same, being eminently obvious given the Killer’s hard-won reputation for bold, daredevil antics. We fired up the scoots, rode through that tiny door with our heads ducked way down low, put the bikes on the kickstands one on each side of the stage, and the show went on, as it always and forever must. A few fun facts about the Killer:
The last survivor of a generation of groundbreaking performers that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Lewis died at his Mississippi home, south of Memphis, Tennessee, representative Zach Farnum said in a release. The news came two days after the publication of an erroneous TMZ report of his death, later retracted.
Of all the rock rebels to emerge in the 1950s, few captured the new genre’s attraction and danger as unforgettably as the Louisiana-born piano player who called himself “The Killer.”
Tender ballads were best left to the old folks. Lewis was all about lust and gratification, with his leering tenor and demanding asides, violent tempos and brash glissandi, cocky sneer and crazy blond hair. He was a one-man stampede who made the fans scream and the keyboards swear, his live act so combustible that during a 1957 performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” on “The Steve Allen Show,” chairs were thrown at him like buckets of water on an inferno.
“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there was no pure rock ’n ’roll before Jerry Lee Lewis kicked in the door,” a Lewis admirer once observed. That admirer was Jerry Lee Lewis.
Heh. Pure, 24-karat Jerry Lee right there. Nobody ever saw his like before, and we never will again. Y’all might be familiar with the story of the night Lewis rammed his Cadillac into the front gate at Graceland, perhaps. Lewis, drunk as a boiled owl, was hauled off by the gendarmerie hollering at Elvis to come on out like a man so’s they could finally settle who the REAL King Of Rock And Roll was once and for all. More:
Lewis had a run of top 10 country hits between 1967-70, and hardly mellowed at all. He performed drinking songs such as “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”, the roving eye confessions of “She Still Comes Around” and a dry-eyed cover of a classic ballad of abandonment, “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.” He had remained popular in Europe and a 1964 album, “Live at the Star Club, Hamburg,” is widely regarded as one of the greatest concert records.
A 1973 performance proved more troublesome: Lewis sang for the Grand Ole Opry and broke two longstanding rules — no swearing and no non-country songs.
“I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherf—–,” he told the audience.
Lewis married seven times, and was rarely far from 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 an apparent drug overdose in 1983. Within a year, Lewis had married Kerrie McCarver, then 21. She filed for divorce in 1986, accusing him of physical abuse and infidelity. He countersued, but both petitions eventually were dropped. They finally divorced in 2005 after several years of separation. The couple had one child, Jerry Lee III.
Another son by a previous marriage, Steve Allen Lewis, 3, drowned in a swimming pool in 1962, and son Jerry Lee Jr. died in a traffic accident at 19 in 1973. Lewis also had two daughters, Phoebe and Lori Leigh, and is survived by his wife Judith.
His finances were also chaotic. Lewis made millions, but he liked his money in cash and ended up owing 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 900 phone number fans could call for a recorded message at $2.75 a minute.
There’s always more to say about the inimitable Jerry Lee Lewis, and there will always be too. I’m sad he’s gone, at the same time I can hardly believe he didn’t die on us thirty or forty years ago, buck-wild as he was. The Killer grabbed life by the scruff of its neck and lived the ever-lovin’ hell out of it, from start to finish. With that, enjoy a so-called “lost track” recorded back in the year I was born, 1960, that’s long been Number One with a bullet on my own personal Jerry Lee Lewis hit parade, complete with a bit of studio chatter from the Killer himself.
That patter beforehand has actually been bowdlerized somewhere along the way. In the version I had, the track begins with a runner in the control room hollering to the Killer, asking what he wants to eat. Jerry Lee responds, “What am I gon’ eat? I’d like to eat a little pussy if you got some,” followed by an extremely salacious sluuurrp sound and a smacking of the lips. Jerry then laughs that great laugh of his, and yells “STONED!!!” After that is when the “That’ll be the only place you can play it” part included in the vid comes in.
And then the one and only Killer hits that big, fat power-chord—Jerry Lee was the only guy I ever heard of capable of producing power-chords on a piano, which formed the basis of his whole playing style—and we’re off and running. “Birthday Cake” also features probably his best-ever solo, a pounding, pulsating, joyous break that’s a thing of wonder every time I hear it. And I’ve heard it a thousand times.
The great Jerry Lee Lewis was a genuine American original: a rowdy, relentless Southern roughneck who neither knew nor cared one whit about such trivial irrelevancies as giving up, giving in, backing off, or calming the fuck down. He lived the way he played, WTFO and balls to the wall. May the Good Lord bless and keep his indomitable, irrepressible spirit forever.