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Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis

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Jerry Lee Lewis, "The Killer," was every mother's worst nightmare. Jerry Lee was a slick southern rock and roller who introduced his fiery brand of piano and singing to the world in the 50's. His brand of music and showmanship transcended all genres, allowing his songs to stay fresh to any audience. As a young boy Jerry Lee Lewis (born September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana) shared piano lessons with his two cousins, Texas singer Mickey Gilley and televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. By the age of 14, Jerry Lee was ready for the big time. His mother didn't want his piano skills to go to waste, so she enrolled him in a Bible college in Waxahatchie, Texas, just south of Dallas. Rumor is he was kicked out school after ripping through an inappropriate "boogie" version of "My God Is Real." When Jerry Lee Lewis was 21 he showed up at the door of Sun Records in Memphis. Sun label chief, Sam Phillips, was away on vacation, but his assistant, Jack Clement, went ahead and teamed Jerry Lee with guitarist Roland Janes and drummer J.M. Van Eaton. There wasn't much point in having a bassist because of Jerry Lee's strong left hand on the piano. This lineup would be the core of Jerry Lee's recording band for almost the entire seven years he was with Sun Records. Realizing that Jerry Lee could be the next Elvis, Sam Phillips threw big money at the promotion of Jerry Lee's single, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." And it worked. The single went to #1 on both the country and R&B charts, and just missed going to #1 on the pop charts. Jerry Lee's reputation as a performer was also on the rise, and setting his piano on fire didn't hurt. Things came crashing down when Jerry Lee married his 13-year old cousin. The British press destroyed him, and the ripple effect nearly devastated his career. His asking price for a show plummeted from $10,000 to $250, and gigs became harder to get. He pressed on, though, and by the late 60's and early 70's Jerry Lee churned out a number of country hits while on the Smash Records label. Personal problems continued to plague Jerry Lee (failed marriages, alcohol and pill additions, I.R.S. issues) his legacy as one of the architects of modern music only grew stronger. Jerry Lee Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
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