Over the following decades, Lewis struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, litigation, and physical ailments. Two of his many marriages ended in the early death of his wife. Brown herself divorced him in the early 1970s and later claimed physical and mental abuse that nearly drove her to suicide.
“If I was still married to Jerry, I’d probably be dead by now,” she said. People magazine in 1989.
In the 1960s, Lewis established himself as a country artist, and the music industry eventually forgave him long after he stopped producing hits. He won three Grammys and recorded with some of the biggest stars in the industry. In 2006, Lewis came out of Last Man Standing, featuring Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, BB King and George Jones. In 2010, Lewis enlisted Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw, and more for the album. Angry old man.
U The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, first published in 1975, he recalled how he convinced disc jockeys to give him a second chance.
“This time I said, ‘Look, man, let’s get together and draw the line on this — a peace treaty, you know,'” he explained. Lewis was still playing old hits on stage, but he was singing country on the radio.
Between 1967 and 1970, Lewis had a streak of top 10 country hits, and they hardly let up. Performed table songs such as What made Milwaukee famous (made me a loser)equal recognition of the eyes She still comes and a cover of the classic ballad of abandonment, She even woke me up to say goodbye. It remained popular in Europe, and the 1964 album Live in Star Club, Hamburg, widely regarded as one of the greatest concert recordings ever made.
The performance in 1973 proved more troublesome: Lewis sang for the Grand Ole Opry and broke two long-standing rules – no profanity and no country songs.
“I sing rock ‘n’ roll, country and western, rhythm and blues—–,” he told the audience.
Lewis married seven times and was rarely far from trouble or death. His fourth wife, Jarren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool in 1982 during a divorce. His fifth wife, Sean Stevens, who was 23 years his junior, died of an apparent drug overdose in 1983. Within a year, Lewis married Carrie McCarver, then 21 years old. She filed for divorce in 1986, accusing him of physical violence and infidelity. He countersued, but both motions were ultimately dismissed. They finally divorced in 2005 after several years of separation. The couple had one child, Jerry Lee III.
Another son from a previous marriage, 3-year-old Steve Allen Lewis, drowned in a swimming pool in 1962, and son Jerry Lee Jr. died in a car accident at age 19 in 1973. Lewis also had two daughters, Phoebe and Laurie Lee, and is survived by his wife, Judith.
His finances were also chaotic. Lewis made millions, but he liked the cash and ended up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IRS. When he began hosting tourists in 1994 at his longtime residence near Nesbitt, Mississippi, with its piano-shaped swimming pool, he installed 900 phone numbers that fans could call and receive a recorded message for $2.75 a minute.
The son of one-time bootlegger Elmo Lewis and cousin of TV preacher Jimmy Swaggart and country star Mickey Gilley, Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana. He first learned to play the guitar as a child, but found the instrument too cramped and longed for an instrument that only the wealthy in his town could afford, the piano. His life changed when one day his father drove up in a truck and gave him a piano made of dark wood.
“My eyes almost fell out of my head,” Lewis recalled Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, written by Rick Bragg and published in 2014.
He immediately took up the piano and began sneaking into Black Juke bands and soaking up everything from gospel to boogie-woogie. Conflicted early between secular and sacred music, he dropped out of school at 16 and planned to become a preacher while playing the piano. Lewis briefly attended the Southwestern Assemblies of God University Fundamentalist Bible College in Waxahachie, Texas, but was reportedly expelled for playing the “wrong” music.
Big fireballsa sexualized view of biblical imagery that Lewis initially refused to record and Whole Lotta Shakin’ were his most enduring songs and compositions. Lewis had only a handful of other pop hits, incl High school confidential information and suffocating but they were enough to secure his place as the architect of rock and roll.
“No group, whether it’s (the Beatles), Dylan or the Stones, has ever improved Whole Lotta Shakin’ for my money,” John Lennon would say Rolling Stone in 1970.
A veteran of a road career under 20 years old, Lewis went to Memphis in 1956 and appeared at Sun Records, the musical birthplace of Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Ordered by company founder Sam Phillips to go learn rock ‘n’ roll, Lewis returned and quickly ran Whole Lotta Shakin’ one take.
“I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” he said later. “Sam Phillips thought it would be too risky and it didn’t work out. If it’s risky, I’m sorry.’
In 1986, he was inducted into the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Elvis, Chuck Berry and others, and joined the Country Hall of Fame this year. The Killer has not only outlived his contemporaries, but has also seen his life and music periodically introduced to younger fans, including in a 1989 biopic Big fireballs, starring Dennis Quaid and a 2022 documentary by Ethan Cohen Trouble is in the mind. Broadway musical of 2010. Million Dollar Quartet was inspired by a recording session involving Lewis, Elvis, Perkins and Cash.
He won a Grammy in 1987 for Best Spoken Word Recording for an interview album, and he won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2005. next year, Whole Lotta Shakin’ was selected for the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, whose board praised the “propulsive boogie piano that was perfectly complemented by the driving drumming of J. M. Van Eaton. The listeners of the recording, like Lewis himself, found it difficult to stay seated during the performance.”
A Bible school classmate, Perry Green, recalled meeting Lewis years later and asking if he still played the devil’s music.
“Yes, I am,” Lewis replied. “But you know it’s amazing, the same music they kicked me out of school for is the same music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I’m playing for the devil and they’re not.”
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