It's Jerry Lee's 67th Birthday

By Patrick Wall - - Posted Sept. 29, 2002
           As you are all probably aware, Jerry Lee was born 67 years ago today. No artist of his era has had as interesting a catalog of diverse musical styles than Jerry Lee Lewis. Most amazingly, he has the ability to interpret any songa and make it his own.
           When most people think of JLL, they think "Great balls of fire". However, there is much much more to JLL than "GBOF". However, most people will start off via this route - a greatest hits collection of "GBOF", "Shakin' ", "Breathless", and 'soundalikes' such as "Big blon baby" to fill in. However, when you want more of early JLL, you will eventually end up buying the box sets. Once you get into the rest of Sun JLL, his country career and his experiments with soul, you will notice just how versatile JLL is.
           JLL is a master of country, soul, rock 'n' roll and swing but perhaps the 2 most important styles he does are blues and gospel. These certainly seem to be the things he enjoys doing best as his recordings of them are so enthusiastic. The feeling of blues and gospel is carried across into his country songs as well of course and it is hard to draw the line of what style any JLL record is. Take "Lord what's left for me to do" for example - this mixes blues, gospel and country styles all at once.
           JLL was born in Ferriday Louisiana on this day in 1935. He grew up listening to gospel and Jimmie Rodgers records. When he started singing and playing piano, he had no obvious role models - so JLL is certainly telling the truth when he says that he came up with a lot of his style himself (JLL was 8 years old in 1943 when he started playing piano - Moon Mullican was yet 3 years away from recording in his own right). Later on, Moon Mullican became JLL's biggest influence on singing while playing piano. Lewis seemed to have an endless knowledge of western swing, honky tonk and other oldtime country styles - he was deeply influenced by Hank Williams, Red Foley, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, early Eddy Arnold and of course Rodgers and Mullican. The styles of all these artists basically permeated JLL's soul and he created his own distinct style out of all these. Country music and hillbilly blues was JLL's biggest influence because it was his role model.
           Besides oldtime country and hillbilly blues, JLL had many other influences. He heard black blues on radio and at Haney's Big House. Songs like "Big legged woman", "Milkcow blues" and "Matchbox blues" all show how effortlessly JLL can mix black blues stanzas with ones from the records of Moon and Jimmie at will here. You can see that original songs like "Hello hello baby" were influenced by records as diverse as Johnny Temple's "Louise Louise blues" and Jimmie Rodgers' "TB Blues". For better or for worse, JLL also was deeply familiar with his contemporaries. Songs from many of them were printed on his mind and JLL's reasons for doing them vary from respect to contempt to just plain hearing them so many times.
           A master vocalist and pianist, JLL also is a decent guitarist and is when he wants a very good songwriter. While the currently in vogue country artists of his era are George Jones and Merle Haggard, JLL has more feeling in his style than any of them and knows more musical genres and artists than the others seem to.
           At the moment, JLL has lost none of his greatness. He still can excel in the right environment. While his current band may not be one of his best and sound monotonous and block out the important things in a JLL show (i.e. JLL himself), JLL is above the law and when he sings his country and blues where the band stay back his vocals and piano ring through as good as ever (sounding older but not defeated).
           JLL remains one of the greatest, most under-rated talents in American music. The list of unsung heroes in American music, and especially country music, is amazing - and needs to be remedied. Included to the foremost of these are JLL, Moon Mullican, Merrill Moore, Delbert McClinton.
           Sincerely, Patrick.

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