The Jerry Lee I've Known|
For Over 38 Years
June 30, 2002 - By Graham Knight - firstname.lastname@example.org
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
END OF ARTICLE FROM "Fireball Mail"
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
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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