Submitted by Don Graham
The Million Dollar Quartette is reunited in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven as Jerry Lee Lewis joins Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in the great celestial band of brothers. Lewis, the hard livin’, hard rockin’ boogie-woogie piano innovator and bluesy, country, rock ‘n’ roll singer passed away at his home in DeSoto County, Miss., south of Memphis at the age of 87.
Jerry Lee, ” The Killer”, was 21 years old in 1956 when he walked into Sun Studio in Memphis and met with Cowboy Jack Clement. Cowboy said “I was working on something in the studio when the girl out front said there’s a guy out here who says he plays piano like Chet Atkins. I figured i gotta hear that. He sat down at the piano and played “Wildwood Flower” and he did sound like Chet Atkins. I liked it but what could I do with it? I asked him if he sang and he sang a song he’d written called “The End of the Road”, a rock ‘n’ roll thing but then he sang an old Gene Autry cowboy song, “You’re The Only Star In My Blue Heaven ” but didn’t sing it anything like Gene, he did it boogie woogie style. I said that’s it kid, come back Thursday and I’ll get some musicians and we’ll cut something. So he came in and we cut “Crazy Arms “. I played it for Sam Phillips the next morning and he said I can sell that.”
The timing was perfect cause Sun Records had sold Elvis Presley’s contract to RCA Records and badly needed a new star to fill out the stable that included Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
The Sun release of “Crazy Arms” sold 300,000 copies and his 1957 hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was the Lewis ticket to worldwide fame. This was followed by major hits, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Breathless”, and “High School Confidential”. But then his marriage to Myra Gale Brown, his 13-year-old cousin once removed cast a dark shadow on his rising star. He had been warned ahead of his British tour in May 1958 that he shouldn’t take his new wife to the U.K., but he didn’t listen. The British got wind of his marriage to his child bride and the tour was cancelled. Within weeks of the cancellation the rising star was appearing for $250 in bars and clubs instead of the $10,000 shows he was doing before the scandal. Radio stations dropped him from rotation and he was ostracized.
Lewis eventually made the transition into country music and had hits with songs like “Another Place, Another Time” and “What Made Milwaukee Famous ( Has Made a Loser Out Of Me). This revived his career and throughout the late 60s and the 70s he regularly topped the charts. During his seven-decade career, Lewis had 30 songs reach the Top 10 on the Country Charts with #1 hits like “To Make Love Sweeter for You”, “There Must Be More to Love Than This”, “Would You Take Another Chance on Me”, and “Me and Bobby McGee”.
Jerry Lee earned a dozen gold records in rock and country, won four Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and two Grammy Hall of Fame Awards. Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and his pioneering contribution to the genre was recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022 on October 16 just 12 days before he passed. Unable to attend in person due to health issues the award was accepted on his behalf by friend and fellow Hall Member, Kris Kristofferson, who hand delivered the Hall medal to Jerry Lee’s bedside.
Rest In Peace somehow doesn’t fit with Jerry Lee Lewis. he’s probably lighting pianos on fire somewhere in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven!
Wherever you are Jerry Lee, Thanks for the music and memories. You taught us all how to rock.