We’ve been looking back at pop history on WMMCM, the days when the lines between country, rock, and R&B were blissfully blurred. But today we’re not just ambling down Memory Lane — instead, we’re going to blast our way into the past on a rocket:
Jerry Lee Lewis, out of Louisiana and all of 22 years old. Can you imagine what “Great Balls of Fire” did to the grownups’ nerves in 1957? He’s shouting more than singing on this American Bandstand performance, and he doesn’t even really try to get up there on the “Mine, mine, mine” part, but nobody cares, least of all him. And nobody’s ever captured that same piano-murdering vibe, though many have attempted it. It’s just so unlikely that anybody would treat a piano that way, and it’s never been believable when anybody else has tried it. But for Jerry Lee, it just came naturally.
Which was, of course, the problem. He was a huge star in 1957, and dropped off the edge of the world in 1958, when people were understandably kind of horrified to discover that he had married his 13-year-old cousin — and also that she was his third wife. Lee has been married six times; twice widowed and four times divorced. But you can kind of tell even from a two-minute clip that this was a man who was destined to lead a complicated life.
So what did Jerry Lee do when it seemed like rock fans would have no more of him? After a few years of obscurity, he declared himself a country act (this has happened just a time or two since). Which was logical enough; he was out of small-town Louisiana and went to Bible college in Texas, so this was a man with the same country roots, maybe even more so, as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
Country fans were willing to give him a shot, and Lewis became a successful artist again, with hits like “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.”
You wouldn’t think the Killer would be such a solid balladeer, but it suits him, just like the twang suited Cash and Perkins. He wears it well.