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Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock and Roll Singer, Pianist, and One of the Legendary Founders of Rock and Roll
Sometimes there are famous singers and musicians who have lived a long and long life but over time they are not given enough credit for their contribution to music. One such person is Jerry Lee Lewis himself.
Jerry Lee was born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1935. His parents were Elmo and Mamie Lewis. Despite being poor, they supported his musical endeavors and sang his rock and roll songs. He also took a loan from their farm to buy her a piano.
In 1956 Jerry Lee went to Memphis, Tennessee to do research for the Sun Record. When Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun heard his recording he knew immediately that he had an artist who had something to sell. Jerry Lee began recording vocals and as a regular on Sun.
One of the things that made Jerry Lee unique was his guitar style. But let me tell you that his uniqueness was about to rise above his solo career. In his mind as he played what he considered to be good Rock and Roll his fingers were burning through the highway of the piano keyboard with more jumpin’, jiving, boogie-woogie, snap popping rhythmic Rock and Roll than anyone had ever heard. This was proven when he rose to fame in 1957 with his two big hits ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire.’
The first person on television to give Jerry Lee his big break was Steve Allen and once he appeared on Steve’s show history was made. “Too Much Shakin’ Goin'” was played on radio stations coast to coast in the states and around the world. Later Jerry Lee had a new son whom he named Steve Allen Lewis after the TV show that gave him prime time on National TV.
Four months after appearing on Steve Allen’s show, Jerry Lee appeared on another television show that would inspire him on his musical journey. The show was Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. And the song they sang was “Big Balls of Fire.” As sales began to climb into the stratosphere Sun Records had to ship 50,000 records a day.
Both songs were considered sexually suggestive by other adults. The officials of the organization began to say that the song was of the Devil because it caused the youth to riot when they listened to the music. For Jerry Lee, Rock and Roll wasn’t bad but it was just his ticket to the big city, getting a recording contract and buying himself a new car.
In December 1957 he married his third wife Myra Gale Brown who was his first cousin. He decided to hide the wedding from the public.
In May 1958 Jerry Lee went to England to start a British tour. His wife Myra and his sister Frankie accompanied him.
A reporter who was alone at the airport started asking questions and asked a girl who was his sister and said that she was Jerry Lee’s sister. He then asked Myra who she was and although she was doubtful, she finally said that she was Jerry Lee’s wife. Then the reporter started digging deeper and found out that she was not only Jerry Lee’s wife but also his first cousin and she was said to be 15 years old. But the worst was yet to come. Over the next few days it was discovered that his age was incorrect and that he was only 13 years old.
After the scandalous news that he had married his 13-year-old cousin, the English authorities stopped him from traveling and told him to leave. In fairness to Jerry Lee, it was not uncommon at that time for some people in the South to marry young.
When he returned to the United States, Jerry Lee quickly discovered that he had been removed from the list of all his records that were played on the radio. He felt that many radio personalities and musicians have run away from him. Standing next to him was Alan Freed, the broadcast DJ. Even this ended with Alan being pulled from the air due to the payola scandal.
Jerry Lee’s downfall was not pleasant and he felt that the media was biased because all they were talking about now were the dark times of his life. They didn’t seem to focus on his great songs and his contributions to Rock and Roll.
When the British Invasion began in 1964 and the Beatles came to the United States, Rock and Roll took a backseat to the new genre of Pop music.
Jerry Lee was strong and determined not to give up music and in 1968 he decided to return to his roots and write country music. His first single “Somewhere, Another Time” went to Number One on the Country charts. He continued to have international hits and also put out unique piano pieces as he did.
In 1986 he was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Dick Clark says that Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the founders of Rock and Roll and Sam Phillips says that Jerry Lee is a musician.
It is sad that Jerry Lee has faced many problems in his life. But one thing that wasn’t a disaster was his MUSIC. Every award he received was received by someone who had great talent as a singer and pianist. He is a good father to his children and a man who has good reasons to be proud of what he has done in music.
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