Photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis
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Keeping up with The Killer: My interview with Jerry Lee Lewis

At a stage and age where he could watch Turner Classic Movies in his pajamas all day, Jerry Lee Lewis keeps on killing it.

He’ll release a new album and biography Oct. 28. Rock & Roll Time welcomed a collaboration with living legends from Keith Richards to Neil Young to cover lost legends from Johnny Cash to Jimmie Rodgers. It was recorded, in part, at Memphis’ House of Blues Recording Studio.

For the biography, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, Lewis collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning author/the guy who makes me gut-laugh or ugly-cry every month with his Southern Living column, Rick Bragg. The book will recount Bragg’s recent series of interviews with Lewis.

“I told the truth whatever I was asked. I remembered it all,” Lewis commented.

The new a

The new album cover, set where it all began: Memphis’ Sun Studiophoto courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

I recently sat down with Lewis to discuss rock ‘n’ roll, his favorite genre, and how it feels to be the “Last Man Standing”:

Q: Memphis just celebrated the “60th Anniversary of Rock-n-Roll,” referencing the 1954 release of Elvis Presley’s versions of “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” How did that release, or Elvis’ early success, affect you?

A: Well, it gave me hope that someone else was recording the type of music I wanted to play and perform. Memphis was the birthplace of rock-and-roll. That was where it started and where I wanted to record.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

1950s Jerry Lee photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

Q: I’ve read that you used to play some of the old honky-tonks on Memphis’ Brooks Road.

A: I would show up in a lot of Memphis bars and play. The Vapors was a supper club, real nice and plush; honky-tonks like Hernando’s Hideaway.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

Playing in the 1980s photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

Q: You’ve recorded in different genres over the course of your career. What’s your favorite Jerry Lee “period?”

A: The Sun [Records] days. It was all fresh — it was a new thing. With three to four musicians; no high-tech stuff — just a four-track tape machine and GO. With Jack Clement doing the recording.

With another MDQ alum

Half-Million Dollar Quartet photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

Q: To what extent does being the “last man standing” motivate you to keep performing and recording?

A: [It’s] the love of playing. I love to perform for my fans; I love their enthusiasm to see me play. As long as the fans want to hear me, I’ll come out and play.

Beale Street Music Festival, Memphis, TN photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

Seeing Jerry Lee Lewis play Beale Street Music Festival is one of my 100 Things To Do in Memphis Before You Die. Of the festival, Lewis told me, “If they want me again, I’ll probably go back. I’ve done it 11 years in a row.” This photo shows him at the 2013 festival. photo courtesy of Jerry Lee Lewis

Q: What music do you like to listen to?

A: Gene Autry, Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, Al Jolson.

Q: Any favorite books or movies?

A: Turner Classic Movies: horror and Westerns. Early Gunsmoke. [Actors] James Cagney and Mickey Rooney.

Q: If you didn’t see it, in the December 2013 issue of The Oxford American, Norbert Putnam wrote an article about working with Elvis. In the article, he recalled your boisterous visits to Graceland and reflected: “I couldn’t help but wonder if Jerry Lee had been correct in his assessment of Presley’s career. Elvis had changed. The records now featured a big orchestral Las Vegas sound, and the vocal did showcase a more Dean Martin style of crooning . . . I began to wonder if Jerry Lee wasn’t the only true and honest friend the King had. The only one willing to shout out the truth, no matter the risk.”

Did Norbert get it right?

A: Norbert was right on, more or less. [People] had to understand [Elvis] was recording songs for movies. Elvis never changed — the system changed.

cafe

There are no Memphis concert dates on his schedule at the moment, but Jerry Lee Lewis’ Cafe & Honky Tonk on Beale Street hosts live music nightly. Check the schedule before you go . . . lucky you if Jason James is performing.

What’s your favorite Jerry Lee “period?” Tell us in the comments section below.

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

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    Mrs jerry Lee (Judith ) Lewis

    Loved the, article and pictures. Jerry Lee and I thank you. All the best. Jerry Lee and Judith Lewis

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    Brian O'Connell

    Hello! I have been a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis from the minute I heard ‘WLOS’ back in the Fifties. When I bought a ’45′ single, I knew that both sides would be well worth hearing!I saw Jerry Lee many times in concert here in the UK and have always bought his records. I look forward to reading the new book later this year!

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    tom creaser

    my favorite jerry lee period is probably the Mid 1960′s…he had tons of great songs ..”country songs for city folks” was amazing..his voice at this time was the best,his piano playing and shows were wild and unmatched…”the greatest live show on earth” albums are classics…I dont Jerry realizes what a legend he is and the influence he’s made on music ..

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    Steve Marinucci

    Love both his Sun stuff and the country period, too. He was really an underrated country artist. Songs like “She Just Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye” were classic country.

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    Nicola

    Mostly the early days, but all of Jerry’s music. His music has always been a part of my journey in life and we are blessed to have a talented artist such as Jerry Lee – walk this earth..

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    BRENDA "CASEY" KING

    WELL MY TIME GOES BACK WITH JERRY BEFORE HE MARRIED CARRIE. I WAS THERE WHEN HIS SON JR. WAS KILLED, PAPA LEWIS PASSED. HE HAD A REPUTATION OF BEING MEAN, THIS WAS NOT SO. HE WAS ALWAYS HONEST AND UP FRONT WITH ME. WE TALKED ALL THE TIME. AFTER I MARRIED THINGS WERE THOUGH FOR MY HUSBAND AND I FOR A WHILE, JERRY WOULD HELP US, HE REALLY HAS THE KINDEST HEART. I WISH NOW THAT WE COULD JUST SIT IN THAT BACK ROOM AT THE OLD VAPORS SUPPER CLUB ON BROOKS AND JUST TALK, LIKE WE USE TO DO. WE KNEW THAT THERE WAS NOTHING WE COULD NOT TALK ABOUT, THERE WERE ALOT OF SECRETS LOL–I LOVE JERRY LEE,AND I WAS BLESSED THAT HE WAS A BIG PART OF MY LIFE EARLY 70′S-80′S. I HOPE HE SEES THIS FOR I REALLY WANT HIM TO KNOW THAT I ENJOYED ALL THE TRAVEL, I SAW THE WORLD AND THAT IS SOMETHING ALOT OF PEOPLE CAN NOT SAY, AND I SAW IT THRU JERRY LEE LEWIS EYES. THANK YOU JERRY FOR A WONDERFUL TIME IN MY LIFE. PLEASE TELL LINDA GAIL, LEE JR, I SAID HELL0.

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