My Mother didn’t like Jerry Lee Lewis.
This was quite remarkable; and a fairly strong condemnation of Jerry Lee. I believe in all my life I never heard her say a bad word about another person.
She asked me once what Mr. Lewis meant by a “Whole Lot of Shaking Going On.”
I was 11 years old for goodness sakes! I didn’t have a clue. But I told her I thought it was like when Leon tied me inside that tow sack and slung me around and around a dozen times before flinging me as far as he could across the backyard.
Jerry Lee held no redeeming graces in my Mom’s eyes. She thought he played the Devil’s music. And she worried about Leon and his friends being led “astray” by such nonsense.
Leon was in high school in those days. And I got to observe him pretty closely year in and year out. The fact is he didn’t need much “leading.” Leon could get “astray” all by himself!
I was not much into music of any kind at the time. But I sure liked every song Jerry Lee sang. They all seemed to jump off the record at you. And I didn’t see any harm in words like, “…we got chicken in the barn, whose barn, what barn, my barn...come on over baby, we got the bull by the horns...we ain’t fakin’, whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on...”
It didn’t make any more, or less, sense than Elvis singing, “I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree.”
It just had a faster beat and way more rhythm than most any other songs being played at the time. Jerry Lee Lewis, in spite of Mother’s warning, gradually became one of my favorites. He could sing like nobody I’d ever heard before and he absolutely beat the living daylights out of that old piano.
And Mom really didn’t seem to mind about me. She was way more worried about Leon. And rightly so!
Listen, I was a pre-teenager when Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison were “ripping it up” down at Sun Records in Memphis. We rated the music in those days, not the man. We didn’t know or care about their personal life, who they married, where they went to church, who they ran around with…
For goodness sakes, People magazine hadn’t even been invented in 1957!
I was a junior in high school when I read a billboard tacked to a telephone pole that proclaimed Jerry Lee Lewis was going to perform a “one night only extravaganza” at a club over in Big Sandy. This was too good to be true!
I’ve got to be careful here not to name any names or incriminate any of my friends. But me and Buddy Wiggleton and Bobby Brewer rode over to Big Sandy to scope this thing out. It looked more like a West Tennessee beer joint than a “club.” As a matter of fact, “honky-tonk” might have been overrating it.
We were definitely too young to go in, but we quickly discovered the two dollar cover charge trumped the legality of a couple of years. I eased inside to get my first glimpse of Jerry Lee…when a beer bottle flew across the room and crashed into a far wall.
Mother’s warning about Jerry Lee leaped to mind—and he wasn’t even there! The flying beer bottle was a protest because the house band was the regular old crew. They waited till everyone paid before announcing that Jerry Lee didn’t make it.
But the owner himself assured the disappointed crowd that Jerry Lee would definitely be there NEXT Saturday night! Bobby drove us all back over. We paid again. Jerry Lee didn’t show again.
I have spent half a century wondering if Jerry Lee Lewis let us down…or if the enterprising night club owner was simply borrowing Jerry Lee’s name to pack his place on the weekends.
I have also spent that same half century listening to all kinds of Jerry Lee Lewis music. He once said he was the greatest entertainer of all time. And what’s that famous Dizzy Dean line, “It ain’t bragging, if you can do it!”
How many other performers are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame AND the Country Music Hall of Fame!
He might just have been as good as he always said he was.
Jerry Lee Lewis certainly did it his way. And I am thankful for him and his music. Both have been entwined in my life since childhood. And, who knows, his uninhibited, piano burning, “Flip, Flop and Fly” attitude might have touched the wild side in each one of us.
Just don’t ever tell my Mother I said that…