In the Spotlight with Jerry Lee Lewis
Courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis
A rousing rendition of “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” rumbles out from underneath the rolling piano keys played by Jerry Lee Lewis. Just before the conclusion of the August 24th concert, he finds himself surrounded on stage by the likes of Toby Keith, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Waylon Payne, and Lee Ann Womack, all of whom have gathered to salute the living legend as part of a tribute hosted by Nashville’s independent music series, Skyville Live.
“That was some of the finest music I had heard in my entire life,” Lewis, with his distinct southern drawl, comments on the covers performed by the evening’s stellar line-up. “It meant a lot to me for them to put so much into my songs.”
Ranging from early rock ‘n roll standards and rockabilly classics such as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Lewis Boogie,” to country music staples including “What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”, the depth and span of Lewis’ catalogue took center stage and clinched a week of events honoring the musician in a city where his musical influence still lingers like an ever-present shadow. Hours prior to the star-studded event, Nashville honored rock ‘n roll’s first great wild man by proclaiming ‘Jerry Lee Lewis Day’ and re-naming the street intersection where the concert took place from ‘Inverness Avenue’ to ‘Jerry Lee Lewis Lane’.
Commenting on the matter, top Nashville songwriter and independent music publisher, Roger Murrah, maintains, “I’ve always thought that Jerry Lee Lewis was one of country music’s most authentic stylists. No one could ever top his unique interpretation of a ballad, such as the late great Mickey Newberry’s ‘She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye’ or Hank Williams’ haunting ‘You Win Again’.”
Despite the widespread support and unyielding attention received over the past few weeks, even the seemingly invincible Lewis has yet to win over one major player in the Nashville music scene—that is, the industry gatekeeper at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I just don’t understand why I’m not in it,” Lewis ponders on his lack of presence from the cultural institution, an issue made glaringly obvious with each passing year. “I’ve done my fair share of hard work,” he adds. “My music should speak for itself. I’m 82, but still busy! I go out to record in Memphis from time to time. We’ve got a few gigs we might be doing, but I haven’t decided yet.”
With the recent airing of Country Music Television's series, Sun Records, however, Lewis' reputation as a most daring musical pioneer is underscored in what may be the most pronounced forum yet.
In response to the episodes, which see the lives of Presley, Cash, Carl Perkins, Lewis, and Lewis' cousin, Jimmy Swaggert, intertwine and culminate in their now-famous 'Million Dollar Quartet' recording session, the singer exclaims, “I’ve seen ‘em all! My son, Jerry Lee Lewis III, and I watched [the show] every Thursday! I think Christian and Jonah [Lees],” the twin brothers cast to play Lee and Swaggert respectively, “did a great job getting me and Jimmy right. Proud to consider them honorary Lewis’s.”
In a quiet moment between the recent flurry of tributes, Lewis captures some time to reflect on what has helped guide him to this point in his career of seven decades.
“I’m very fortunate for the God-given talent I have and the people I’ve been blessed to work with,” he says, before hitting a somber note. “Y’know we just lost Fats [Domino]...it’s never easy when one of my friends passes. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. It’s just me and [Little] Richard now.
"Well," the nostalgia lasts but a moment as he looks again toward the future, “I’ve got some shows coming up in November out in LA, and then a few gigs after the first of the year. I’m always recording, so I hope to be putting another album out sooner rather than later.”
Credits: Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis III, Jonah Lees, Christian Lees, Beth McIntosh, Danielle Anton
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