#729: 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

by Jackie_South on July 31, 2013

George reminded me that it was the tenth anniversary of Sam Phillips‘ death yesterday: record producing genius, founder of Sun Records, breaker of Southern racial taboos. Not bad for a one-time cotton picker from Alabama.

He recorded the first ever rock’n’roll’s first single and gave the world Howlin’ Wolf (who Phillips thought of as his greatest discovery), Roy Orbison and BB King, as well as the Million Dollar Quartet: Elvis, Cash, Perkins and Jerry Lee. Take away every singer and band who owe that lot a debt and there isn’t much left.

Of the Quartet, The Killer is the only one not yet to feature, so today I am putting that right. Instead of Great Balls of Fire, I have gone for the song that first made him a real star. It is already all there: the boogie-woogie piano, the folksy-farm lyrics, the mad hammering away at the keys, the rapid change in tempo, the whooping. Of the four white boys, Jerry Lee sounds the blackest – perhaps unsurprising given his Louisiana hometown was 75% African American.

The video clip shows why too: the brilliant showmanship already there in this early performance, illustrating how important early television was in popularising rock’n’roll. I love the way his tightly-wound curls madly unfurl as he gets into it, the way he can’t sit still until he finally gives up and takes to his feet (watch how the chair leaves shot and then flys forward later on).

His rock’n’roll stardom pretty much lasted a year: twelve months after this record, his marriage to his thirteen year-old cousin wreaked his career, although he managed a successful comeback as a country star a decade later. My mum had a ticket to his cancelled UK tour, and was gutted. Jerry Lee didn’t know what had hit him: the marriage – his third by the age of 22 – was fairly run of the mill in the small towns of northern Louisiana: “I was 14 when I first got married. My wife was too old for me; she was 17.”

Of the quartet, 77 year-old Jerry Lee is the only one left alive. So let’s celebrate the good times…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth August 1, 2013 at 7:48 am

Many thanks, Jackie…


George_East August 1, 2013 at 10:19 am

The Killer is long overdue a appearance. I think he’s been on my top 10 most embarrassing omissions since the first 100 song review. The energy of the man was extraordinary. There is a case to be made for his Live In Hamburg album as one of the top 5 live albums of all time. If you don’t have it, buy it, like the Ramones on speed.


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