Gil Scott Heron once sung that “home is where the heart is.” For Jerry Lee Lewis, home was Phillips Recording Studios, Memphis. Situated at 639 Madison Avenue, that was where the man they called “The Killer” recorded the best music of his career. Phillips Recording Studios was  Jerry Lee Lewis’ spiritual home. Part of the reason for this, was Jerry’s relationship with Sam Phillips.

Jerry Lee Lewis first met Sam Phillips in December 1956. He was just twenty-one, and a month earlier, had travelled all the way from Ferriday, Louisiana to Memphis, Tennessee. When Jerry arrived in Memphis, Sam Phillips was Florida. However, producer and engineer Jack Clement had Jerry record a version of Ray Price’s Crazy Arms and a Jerry Lee Lewis original, End of The Road. This was the start of Jerry Lee Lewis’ career at Sun Records.

A month later, Jerry made the return trip to Memphis, and started what was, the first of many, recording sessions. Jerry wasn’t just a solo artist, but a session player. He played on tracks by Billy Lee Riley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. However, a year later, in 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis made his breakthrough.

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On was recorded in February 1957, and released as a single in May 1957. It reached number three in the US Billboard 100 charts and number one in the US R&B charts. This transformed The Killer’s career. Suddenly, he was rock ’n’ roll royalty, and rubbing shoulders with Elvis. This success continued.

Then in November 1957, Jerry released Great Balls Of Fire, which featured in the 1957 movie Jamboree. It sold one million copies within the first five days of its release. Eventually, Great Balls Of Fire sold in excess of five million copies. However, still, Jerry Lee Lewis had his critics.

America’s moral guardians chastised Jerry Lee Lewis, for lyrics they deemed crude, suggestive and had sexual undertones. His performances some commentators suggested, were lewd. Ironically, Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t entirely comfortable with the lyrics he was singing. 

Unknown to many people, Jerry Lee Lewis was a devout Christian. His faith was important to him. When he cut songs like A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Jerry Lee Lewis had a crisis of confidence. However, music was now his career. He had made his choice back in 1956. Since then, his life had changed beyond recognition. He was hero worshipped, by the first generation of teenagers. That was, until controversy entered his life.

May 1958 will forever be etched in Jerry Lee Lewis’ memory. So will the name Ray Berry. He enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame during Jerry’s 1958 British tour. Ray Berry made a disturbing discovery. Jerry’s third wife, Myra Gale Brown, it transpired, was only thirteen when they married. Myra was Jerry’s first cousin, once removed. Straight away, Jerry Lee Lewis’ management set about firefighting the situation, but only made the situation worse.

Jerry’s management claimed that Myra was fifteen when the marriage took place. So did Jerry and Myra. This didn’t placate a horrified public. After all, a world famous rock ’n’ roller had married a minor. It was essentially, career suicide.

Soon, Jerry Lee Lewis’ British tour was cancelled. He’d only played three dates. When he got back home, Jerry Lee Lewis incurred the wrath of the American music industry. He was blacklisted from American radio, and was no longer a familiar face on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Jerry’s fans turned their back on their former idol.

Right up until 1963, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded for Sun Records. He continued to released records. They failed to sell. So Sun tried releasing Jerry’s singles as The Hawk. Radio stations quickly realised who The Hawk was, and dropped the singles from their roster. For Jerry, his career had hit the buffers.

Once, Jerry could command $10,000 per night. Not any more. He was lucky to be picking up $250 per night, in some of the less salubrious nightspots. It seemed that the party was over for Jerry Lee Lewis.

That proved not be the case. Just like many other American musicians and singers, Europe allowed Jerry the opportunity to rebuild his tattered reputation. Gradually, Jerry’s popularity grew. He found favour with British and European audiences. This resulted in Jerry Lee Lewis heading to Hamburg in 1964. 

When Jerry arrived in Hamburg, his destination was The Star Club. This was the club where a few years earlier,The Beatles learnt their trade. On 5th April 1964, Jerry accompanied by The Nashville Teens made their Star Club debut. This concert was recorded and became a legendary live album, Live at the Star Club, Hamburg.

Live at the Star Club, Hamburg.

For Jerry Lee Lewis, he found redemption that night in Hamburg. The Killer was the comeback King. He made his way through thirteen tracks. It’s a truly flawless performance, where Jerry and The Nashville Teens power their way through Down The Line, You Win Again, High School Confidential, Your Cheatin’ Heart, and Great Balls of Fire. Jerry combines raw power, passion, aggression and six years of frustration. It’s a cathartic performance, where The Killer struts his way through the set, and in the process, lays down his marker, saying I’m back. 

Released in 1964 to widespread critical acclaim, Live at the Star Club, Hamburg ,marked the Jerry Lee Lewis’ comeback. Not long after this, Jerry signed to Mercury Records.

Six years after the music industry turned its back on Jerry, one of music’s original outlaws and rabble rousers was back. What’s more, he was about to embark upon one of the most fruitful periods of his career. 

Between 1964 and 1978, Jerry was signed to Mercury Records, and released albums on the main Mercury label and their Smash Records’ imprint. This included some of the best music of his career. Rock ’n’ roll, country and gospel, Jerry showcased his talent and versatility. However, while Mercury Records was home, Jerry still missed the familiar surroundings of Phillips Recording Studios, 39 Madison Avenue, Memphis.

The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings.

That was where Jerry Lee Lewis recorded the best music of his career. Jerry knew this. Sam Phillips made this happen. During the seventies, Jerry Lee Lewis continued to return Phillips Recording Studios. The only difference was that there was another Phillips in the producer’s chair

This time, it was Knox Phillips, Sam’s son. In the late seventies, Phillips Recording Studios was a home from home for Jerry Lee Lewis. So much so, that day or night when Jerry phoned Knox, Knox made his way to the Phillips Recording Studios. No wonder. Knox knew magic was about to take place.

For the last ten years or so, Jerry’s voice had taken centre-stage on his recordings for Mercury. The piano was remained in the background, playing a supporting role. After all, this was Jerry’s country period. During this period, Jerry was on a  roll. Commercial success and critical acclaim were familiar friends. However, nothing lasts forever. 

Nobody knew this better than better. Latterly, the music Jerry was making at Mercury was neither exciting nor innovative. That seemed to be the Mercury formula. It was inoffensive music. Jerry however, didn’t do inoffensive. 

Jerry wasn’t being challenged. He still had to get his kicks. Rather than head down Route 66, Jerry headed to Phillips Recording Studios and turned the clock back.

At Phillips Recording Studios, Jerry returned to the days of A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls Of Fire. His piano took centre-stage. Jerry pounded and punished the piano. So much so, that it assailed you. Then there’s Jerry worldweary, lived-in vocals. Accompanied by legendary session drummer Jim Keltner, magic happened during these nocturnal sessions, where Jerry did things his way.

It wasn’t a case of all work and no play for Jerry. Midway through a nocturnal session, Jerry would call the session. Jerry, Knox and the band would head to downtown Memphis, and hangout at the local strip club. Having flirted with the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, Jerry and his crew returned to Phillips Recording Studios.

Back at Phillips Recording Studios, Knox would run the tapes and Jerry and the band would play some more. When the session were finished, Knox Phillips would listen back to what he’d recorded.

Knox listened to the tapes. He also let a few people hear them. They all came to one conclusion, Jerry had to release these songs. After, all this Know kept saying, was classic Jerry Lee Lewis. However, Jerry didn’t want to release these recordings. 

Over thirty years have passed since these recordings were made at Phillips Recording Studios. Now, somewhat belatedly, The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings have been released by Ace Records. At last, music lovers can hear Jerry Lee Lewis play with the reckless abandon that made him a musical legend on The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings.

Opening The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings is a cover of Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. It’s a song transformed. Here, Jerry gives the song a late-night, smoky sound. It brings to mind whiskey, cigarettes, wild nights and wilder women. Slowed down, weeping guitars and the rhythm section accompany The Killer. His vocal is carefree, languid and full of character. Soon, a fiddle plays and Jerry confidently pounds his piano. All the time, Jerry oozes confidence and charisma, as he ad-libs and vamps his way through the tracks. He throws in lyrics from his classic tracks. He’s revels in the role of bandleader, directing operations from his piano stool. Meanwhile, producer Knox Phillips enjoys the show, and what a show it is, with The Killer rolling back the years.

Ragged But Right. It could well be the seven times married Killer’s theme tune. A slow, pensive piano and bluesy harmonica accompany Jerry’s rasping vocal. It’s a voice that’s lived a thousand lives. Then there’s a piano masterclass from Jerry, who sounds as if he should playing in a downtown, Nashville dive bar. Mostly though, Ragged But Right features a man at peace with himself, and enjoying what he’s doing.

Room Full Of Roses was a song Jerry heard George Morgan sing growing up. He subsequently recorded it in 1973. Layers of lush strings were added. Not here though. Mostly, it’s just a heartbroken, melancholy Jerry and his trusty piano. Occasionally, guitars weep. Later, Jerry showcases his famed piano playing skills, before delivering a soul baring vocal. Adding the finishing touch, to this reinvention of Room Full Of Roses is a pedal steel.

A medley of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode and Carol explodes into life. Jerry rolls back the years. With the help of a crack band, Jerry returns to his glory days. On Johnny B. Goode elements of rock ’n’ roll and country melt into one. Blistering guitars, pounding piano and a bass that marches the arrangement along join forces. Jerry struts his way through the lyrics. This continues on Carol. By now, his band are a tight, explosive unit. A bluesy harp joins the fun, as The Killer ad-libs his way through this glorious homage to another musical legend, Chuck Berry.

Mack Vickery’s That Kind Of Fool is another track that Jerry is revisiting. This version has a late night, understated sound. It’s just one man and his piano. Mind you that man is Jerry Lee Lewis. As he delivers the lyrics, there’s a sadness and longing in his voice. He longs for the happiness in his domestic life that he’s singing about. Sadly, that’s never happened, with The Killer marrying seven times.

Harbour Lights is a song Jerry recorded in 1976. He decided to recut the song. Driving the arrangement along are the rhythm section and Jerry’s piano. His vocal is confident, full of whoops, hollers and happiness. later, a sultry saxophone is dropped in. This seems to spur Jerry on, as he and his band reach previously unscaled heights.

Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior sees Jerry return to his spiritual side. Gone is the rabble rouser, oozing machismo and bravado. This is no surprise. Musically, Jerry has been able to seamlessly veer between blues, country, rock ’n’ roll and gospel. Here, he fuses country and gospel. For much of the track, it’s just Jerry delivering a heartfelt vocal that’s full of sincerity and hope. His piano playing is equally good. Jerry digs deep, playing with flamboyant flourishes. Meanwhile, a pedal steel and the rhythm section provide the backdrop for Jerry’s needy, pleas.

Jerry delivers another medley that consists of a joyous, piano lead take on Teresa Brewer’s 1950 hit Music! Music! Music! Jerry whoops his way through the lyrics, his throaty vocal making the lyrics come alive Seamlessly, Eddie Heywood’s 1956 hit single Canadian Sunset follows. These two tracks shouldn’t work back-to-back. However, they do. It allows Jerry to showboat. Throwing caution to the wind, flamboyant flourishes of piano are unleashed by Jerry, whose back to his best.

Lovin’ Cajun Style is always credited to producer Huey P. Meaux. However, he bought the song from songwriter Jimmy Donley. Tragically, not long after selling this swamp pop classic, Jimmy committed suicide. Jerry’s version is akin to a tribute to Jimmy. His song becomes an uptempo and joyous showcase for Jerry’s considerable talents. Backed by his crack band, Jerry swaggers his way through Lovin’ Cajun Style, paying tribute to Jimmy Donley, whose gone, but definitely not forgotten. 

Closing The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings is Jerry’s take on Beautiful Dreamer. Just like other cover versions, Jerry reinvents the song. A fiddle plays, as a worldweary Jerry plays piano and delivers a vocal that’s full of pathos and sadness. He ad-libs lyrics, as if spinning a yarn. Jerry comfortably dawns the role of storyteller, during this understated, wistful and beautiful country track.

The ten tracks on The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings are a reminder of Jerry Lee Lewis’ nocturnal visits to Phillips Recording Studios, Memphis, at 639 Madison Avenue. Along with producer Knox Phillips, and a crack band of session players, magic took place. 

At Phillips Recording Studios, Jerry Lee Lewis rolled back the years, to when he vied with Elvis for the title of King of Rock ’n’ Roll. Jerry Lee Lewis could’ve run the King closer. However, that wasn’t to be.  

Ray Berry, a British journalist, following Jerry Lee Lewis’ tour, made a disturbing discovery. Jerry’s third wife, Myra Gale Brown, it transpired, was only thirteen when they married. This meant Jerry Lee Lewis had married a minor. The American public turned their back on Jerry Lee Lewis. So did the music industry. No longer did radio stations play his music. Jerry was blacklisted by American stations. Two years into Jerry’s career, it was all but over. Redemption would take six long years.

Between 1958 and 1964, Jerry Lee Lewis went from earning $10,000 a night to just $250. No longer was Jerry playing top venues. Now it was dive bars. Then Europe came calling.

Europe allowed Jerry the opportunity to rebuild his tattered reputation. Gradually, Jerry’s popularity grew. He found favour with British and European audiences. German audiences especially, appreciated Jerry Lee Lewis’ music. So, it was fitting the redemption of Jerry Lee Lewis took place in Hamburg.

5th April 1964, Jerry accompanied by The Nashville Teens made their Star Club debut. This concert was recorded and released later in 1964, as the legendary live album, Live at the Star Club, Hamburg. Jerry Lee Lewis, the comeback King was back.

By the late seventies, Jerry was enjoying the most successful period of his career. He was now a country singer, and had enjoyed a string of successful albums for Mercury Records, his new musical home. However, Jerry wasn’t happy. That’s why Jerry was making his nocturnal visits to the Phillips Recording Studios.

Night or day, Jerry knew he could phone Know Phillips. He’d make his way down to Phillips Recording Studios and Jerry and his band would play. 

These sessions were laid back affairs. Nothing was planned. Everything was off the cuff. That’s apparent on The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings. Jerry ad-libs and vamps his way through ten songs. He also unleashes a series of piano masterclasses. During these ten tracks, Jerry leads from the front. He’s the bandleader, and encourages his band or crack session players to greater heights. When he jokes about making this a take, his voice is a mixture of menace and joviality. It works though. While Jerry is a hard taskmaster, he gets results. That’s apparent on The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings.

Throughout The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings, The Killer and his band roll back the years. As you listen to the music, you wonder what heights Jerry Lee lewis might have reached, if things had been different? However, Jerry Lee Lewis was always a complex character. He was a walking, talking dichotomy.

He was the rabble rousing, seven times married, Christian. Jerry lived life in the fast lane. He drank, smoke and enjoyed the seedier, wilder side of life. However, on a Sunday, Jerry went to church. This is at odds with the Jerry Lee Lewis who sang A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls Of Fire

The two sides of Jerry Lee Lewis were polar opposites. This makes Jerry Lee Lewis a complex and charismatic character. That’s apparent on The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings. We hear the different sides of The Killer. That means everything from fiery, fragile and fun-loving, to melancholy, menacing and spiritual. Each of these sides shine through, on The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings, which was recently released by Ace Records.

It’s a reminder of a musical legend, Jerry Lee Lewis who for over fifty years, has lived life in the fast lane, drinking, smoking, carousing and making some  timeless music. However, there’s more to Jerry Lee Lewis than wine, women, song and carousing. Since 1956, Jerry Lee Lewis has released timeless music, like that on  The Knox Lewis Sessions-The Unreleased Recordings, where The Killer  rolls back the years, and revisits past glories.












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