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Guide Profile: Jerry Lee Lewis


Jerry Lee Lewis

The Killer in his prime.


Jerry Lee Lewis


September 29, 1935 (Ferriday, LA)


Rock and roll, rockabilly, boogie-woogie, honky-tonk, country, gospel


Vocals, piano

#1 Hits:

R&B: "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On" Country: "Great Balls Of Fire," "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On," "To Make Love Sweeter For You," "There Must Be More To Love Than This," "Chantilly Lace," "Me And Bobby McGee," "Think About It Darlin'," "Would You Take Another Chance On Me"

Top 10 Hits:

Pop: "Great Balls Of Fire," "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On," "Breathless" R&B: "Great Balls Of Fire," "Breathless," "High School Confidential," "You Win Again" Country: "Breathless," "High School Confidential," "You Win Again," "Another Place, Another Time," "She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left Of Me)," "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me)," "Don't Let Me Cross Over," "Invitation To Your Party," "One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)," thirteen more

Top 10 Albums:

Country: Another Place Another Time, Jerry Lee Lewis Sings The Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits, Vol. 1, Jerry Lee Lewis Sings The Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits, Vol. 2, Original Golden Hits - Volume 1, Original Golden Hits - Volume 2, Live At The International, Las Vegas, She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye, Together, The Best Of Jerry Lee Lewis, There Must Be More To Love Than This, Would You Take Another Chance On Me?, The "Killer" Rocks On, four more


Jerry Lee Lewis has been known to place himself in the musical pantheon in this fashion: "There's only ever been four stylists: Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Al Jolson, and Jimmie Rodgers." And while that's an oversimplification of 20th-century American music, in essence his boast is correct. Many early rockers relied on songwriters for their material; it was, after all, the way the business was structured. But the man known as "The Killer" could take ANY song and make it his own, and unlike Elvis, his nearest peer in terms of interpretive ability, he didn't need musicians, arrangers, or producers to help him do it.

By now, the Southern Gothic tragicomedy of Lewis' life is well-known: the hillbilly thrown out of church for mixing boogie-woogie with sacred music, the wildman who routinely set his own piano on fire and played it until it burned to the ground, the reckless loudmouth bastard who married his fourteen-year-old cousin, setting off a scandal that badly damaged (but did not ultimately ruin) his career.

And yet, such stories tend to miss the essential point of Lewis' appeal. Here was a man, in his most potent form on his classic Sun Studios sides from the Fifties, who could easily synthesize country, R&B, hillbilly music, gospel, and blues into a style all his own, not just vocally but musically, and set it against the backdrop of works which had (much more often than not) already been recorded by others.

This is where the "stylist" part comes in: of his contemporaries, only Elvis' vision of America was bigger. The King got his crown by playing nice, however; The Killer simply asserted his right to remake gods in his image, as if pop culture were a party he'd noisily crashed. (All this as he struggled, arguably more than any other rock artist, with the dichotomy of the sacred and the secular.) Jerry Lee Lewis accomplished his greatest feats out of naked arrogance more than love of his audience or even music itself. But results are what count.

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