The Jerry Lee I've Known
For Over 38 Years

June 30, 2002 - By Graham Knight -
           "Whenever the name Jerry Lee Lewis is mentioned, many people's immediate reaction is to think of him as that crazy, controversial singer who married his 13-year-old cousin or as the guy who was arrested waving a gun at the gates of Graceland.
           Others will immediately think of Jerry as the singer who recorded for Sam Phillip's Sun Records and had million sellers with Whole Lotta Shakin' and Great Balls of Fire.
           Even more will recall his many court appearances and the fights with the IRS, which cumulated in his multi-million dollar bankruptcy.
           Jerry Lee is certainly controversial but I have known him since 1962 and there is another side to his character, which never gets in the press. Knowing that many readers were not even born when I first met Jerry, I have decided to write a series of articles for Fire-Ball Mail about the Jerry I know and to recall some of the events I attended.
           I first met Jerry at Newcastle in 1962 when he was on the opening night of a comeback tour after the 1958 debacle when he got all the bad publicity about his "child bride". That night in 1962 was an important one for Jerry and came just a few days after the tragic death of his son Steve Allen. Many expected the tour to be cancelled but Jerry arrived on time and did the tour.
           I was nineteen then and a real Jerry fan. I quickly deduced that Cecil Harrelson was his road manager and, being an electronics engineer, helped him connect a green American amplifier that they had carried all the way from the States. I reset it for our higher voltage and the first show eventually started half an hour late. Needless to say Jerry was a great success and, through Cecil, I got to meet Jerry for the first time. Jerry was kindness itself and interested that I had travelled from the North of Scotland to see him.
           Since then I have met Jerry on hundreds of occasions in Europe and in America. In future issues I will detail some of the events I attended like the opening night of "Catch My Soul" in Los Angeles, the "Rock Across the Channel" boat trip to France, the "London Sessions" or simply hanging out with Jerry at his home in Memphis.
           Back in the 60's I went to most of the UK shows and got to know him pretty well. Terry Adams and I often stayed in the same hotel and sometimes I would drive Jerry to the theatre in the "mini" car that I had back then. Jerry always thought the mini was fun and were amazed at how fast it could go.
           It was in 1966 that I first Wim at Bradford when Jerry was doing two shows a night for a week at Guisley and Bradford. I remember Wim being a bit surprised that Terry and I knew Jerry well enough to sit down and have dinner with him in the hotel and actually drove him to the gig.
           In the sixties Jerry was working more than 300 days a year and often did two shows a night. But despite all this work he was very easy going and not at all the crazed madman that the press makes him out to be. Back then he occasionally had just a sip of whisky, didn't ever take pills, or fool around with ladies. But he did love to smoke the Cuban cigars, which were readily available in the England but were banned in America.
           Later on I would get letters from Jerry asking me to mail him Cuban cigars and I would send them to his home which at that time was at 5042 East Shore Drive, Memphis. My friend Terry Adams would get letters asking him to send over leather boots made by Annello and David in London.
           In 1968 I flew to Los Angeles to see Jerry perform in a rock version of Shakespeare's Othello. By this time Jerry had been off the Sun label for five years and despite a prodigious output he had failed to get a hit on his new label Mercury and his contract was not going to be renewed. Cecil was talking about trying to get RCA interested.
           The opening night of the Rock Othello was a great success and I remember Burt Bacharach, Andy Williams, Sal Mineo, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Tom Jones all queuing up, trying to get inside the dressing room to congratulate Jerry.
           The critics loved the show and it was about to go to New York when Jerry had an unexpected country hit with "Another Place Another Time". This led to Smash renewing his recording contract. Jerry never got to do Shakespeare on Broadway but he had great success throughout the seventies.
           When I visited the states in the 70's Jerry was flying high, had chart success, and even had his own plane, two pilots and a road crew of 17 people. Just as I had driven him to shows in England Jerry invited me fly to shows on his plane and I was lucky enough to stay at his house in Memphis.
           I remember one time flying back from Raleigh and arriving at Memphis at 3am. Despite the late hour Jerry jumped into a Corvette and nearly scared me to death by driving at great speed under his plane - just missing the wing. Jerry of course knew there was a little clearance but I didn't!
           Then we would go to Hernando's nightclub and eventually get back to East Shore Drive as the kids were going to school. Then I would check the itinerary and discover that Jerry was doing a show in Waco that day and he hadn't even been to bed yet. No wonder Jerry's been known to take a few pills now and again!
           Even in those heady days of big money shows in the seventies, I could already see signs of the financial problems that were to cause Jerry such difficulty in the 80's and 90's.
           When Jerry did eventually go into bankruptcy in the eighties, he owed the IRS and sundry creditors millions. His defence was that he didn't understand how to handle business. This didn't surprise me.
           I remember times when we would stay up to all hours in Jerry's "Den" at the Memphis house. This was the place where he drank whisky till the early hours and harangued anyone daft enough to answer his early morning telephone calls. This was also the place where he kept all his contracts and bills. There were always plenty of outstanding bills!
           This small room had a shelf full of hatboxes, each of which was filled with a particular year's performance contracts. One night he opened a box and showed me the contents. As someone who by this time was a self-employed businessman, I was amazed at the way Jerry conducted his business.
           Most of the contracts were simple one sheet affairs that stipulated a time and place for a performance. There was usually an advance fee of a thousand dollars and often they would pick a balance on the night of the show. Jerry's road manager would collect this money and then write on the contract the amount paid to each band member, record seller, aircraft pilot, gopher etc. It was a very simple way of doing business and took no account of travel or hotel expenses. No wonder Jerry ended up in a real financial mess.
           Some of the contracts were ridiculous. Shows that Jerry did for 3,000 dollars were televised and are still being sold on video today. None of the contracts I saw ever mentioned anything extra for TV rights.
           Over the last 38 years I have seen hundreds of Jerry Lee Lewis shows and I am quite certain that he is the greatest entertainer in the World.
           I have seen Jerry Lee perform when he has been stone cold sober, absolutely drunk, strung out on pills, and very, very ill - but I have never seen him give a bad show. And I have also never seen the same show twice. Each performance is a unique event.
           I do remember some really great times with other Jerry - the Jerry the press never sees. Whenever I read some of these reports that Jerry is unreliable, I always doubt them. Are they really writing about the same person that I have known for so long? The person who, in the old days, would drive me to search for old Sun records at the late Tom Philip's shop in Memphis and who I knew would definitely come back and pick me up when the shop closed.
           These days Jerry has been married to the same person for more than a decade and he is still the greatest entertainer in the world.
           Back in 1956 Jerry was laying the foundations of his career in the tiny Sun studio at 706 Union Avenue - 44 years later Jerry is still doing the "greatest live show on earth" and is playing to fans all over the world.
           No one can play the piano or excite an audience like Jerry Lee. He was rocking when I first met him in 1962 and he is still rocking today".

I've seen Jerry do everything from "Ubangi Stomp" to Jimmy Rodger's "T.B. Blues", to playing Iago in a rock n'roll version of Shakespeare's Othello. In that play some of Jerry's lines could have been directed to Mr Jandrow, "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed. - Iago, Othello (1602-4) act 3.
PS: I know that Jerry Lee ain't no angel - but very few of us are. The website I run for Kyle Esplin at has over 170 different stories about Jerry Lee. Some detail arrests, marriages, deaths etc so it does cover all the aspects of the man who is still greatest Rock n' Roll entertainer in the World - always has been and always will.

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