JERRY LEE LEWIS-WHO’S GONNA PLAY THIS OLD PIANO…THINK ABOUT IT DARLIN’ AND SOMETIMES A MEMORY AIN’T ENOUGH.

JERRY LEE LEWIS-WHO’S GONNA PLAY THIS OLD PIANO…THINK ABOUT IT DARLIN’ AND SOMETIMES A MEMORY AIN’T ENOUGH.

As 1972 drew to a close, Jerry Lee Lewis was back where he belonged, at the top. It had taken four years since he began his latest comeback. However, Jerry Lee Lewis had been here before. 

In 1964, six years after he committed career suicide, Jerry was on the comeback trail. He was still seeking redemption. Persona non gratis in his home country, Jerry Lee Lewis was trying to rebuild his tattered reputation in Europe. So, in 1964, Jerry and The Nashville Teens had agreed to appear at The Star Club, Hamburg. That night, Jerry powered his way through thirteen tracks. It was a peerless performance, which was recorded for posterity. 

Later in 1964, that legendary concert was released as Live at the Star Club, Hamburg. Released to critical acclaim, Live at the Star Club, Hamburg was a tantalising reminder of of what the man they called The Killer, was capable of. However, to many Americans, Jerry Lee Lewis was still persona non gratis. They never could and never would forgive him. Despite this, Mercury Records decided to take a chance on Jerry Lee Lewis, and signed him in 1974.

For the next fourteen years, Jerry Lee Lewis released albums on the main Mercury label and their Smash Records’ imprint. This included some of the best music of his career. Jerry enjoying the opportunity to showcase his versatility, released albums of rock ’n’ roll, gospel and country music. However, it was country music that helped Jerry become the comeback King.

In 1968, Jerry had enjoyed two hit singles, Me and Bobby McGhee and Chantilly Lace. They were Jerry’s first singles to reach the US Billboard 100 charts. This lead to Jerry signing a new, and improved contract with Mercury Records. Four years later, and Jerry’s comeback was complete. 

He released Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’) in 1972. By then, Jerry Lee Lewis was one of country music’s biggest names. However, country music demanded consistency and discipline. This proved problematic.

On a break from the recording of Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’), Jerry headed to London on 25th February 1972. That’s where he recorded The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists. It was a mixture of rock and blues. Released in January 1973, this didn’t go down well with the country music establishment. That’s despite becoming the biggest selling album of Jerry Lee Lewis’ career. So, Jerry, not for the first time, had to redeem himself.

Later in 1973, redemption came in the shape of Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. With its lush, string drenched arrangements  Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough was one of Jerry Lee Lewis’ finest country albums. Jerry, who seemed to have nine lives, had redeemed himself yet again. It seemed whatever happened, he came back stronger. Jerry Lee Lewis, despite his faults, was one of the most talented and versatile singers of his generation. That’s apparent on Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’) and Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough,which were released as a two-on-one by BGO Records on 23rd February 2015. These two albums mark the redemption and comeback of Jerry Lee Lewis, whose career began in December 1956.

That’s when Jerry Lee Lewis first met Sam Phillips. 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.

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. 

Having signed to Mercury Records in 1964, that was his home until 1978. During that period, Jerry released albums on Mercury Records, and their Smash Records’ imprint. This included some of the best music of his career. Whether it was rock ’n’ roll, gospel or country, Jerry was like a man reborn Mercury Records was the perfect showcase for his talent and versatility. 

By 1968, Jerry’s fortunes were improving. He had enjoyed two hit singles, Me and Bobby McGhee and Chantilly Lace. They were Jerry’s first singles to reach the US Billboard 100 charts. Ironically, this was the tenth anniversary of the scandal that engulfed Jerry’s career. However, for Jerry that was the past. In the here and now, Jerry was just about to sign g a new, and improved contract with Mercury Records. It seemed Mercury Records were putting their faith in The Killer. This paid off.

Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’).

Four years later, and Jerry’s comeback was complete, when  he released Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’) in late 1972. By then, Jerry Lee Lewis was one of country music’s biggest names. This had been the case since 1968. Still executives at Mercury Records were nervous. They never knew what The Killer might do next. However, earlier in 1972, Jerry Lee Lewis was enjoying his fourth year at the top of country music.

As The Killer set about recording what would become Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’), it was decided that he should stick to the same formula as previous albums. This made sense, as Jerry Lee Lewis was enjoying one of the most successful periods of his career. Partly, this was down to the judicious choice of material on Jerry’s albums. 

This included one of Jerry’s former number one country hits, Think About It Darlin.’ It had never featured on one of Jerry’s albums. This was one of two tracks penned by Bill Rice and Jerry Foster, who also contributed The Mercy Of A Letter. Doodle Owens and Dallas Frazier cowrote She’s Reachin’ For My Mind and We Both Know Which One Of Us Was Wrong. Other tracks included Ray Griff’s Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano, Harlan Howard’s Too Many Rivers, Jerry Chesnut’s No More Hanging On and Woodrow Webb’s No Traffic Out Of Abilene. The Billy Joe Shaver and Danny Finley composition Bottom Dollar, was joined by two tracks that Jerry Lee Lewis cowrote.

Jerry’s cowrote Wall Around Heaven with Carmen Holland and Cecil Harrelson. He also penned Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow with Cecil Harrelson. Two of these eleven tracks would provide the title to Jerry’s new album.

 It seemed one song wasn’t enough for The Killer’s latest album. So, two became one, and Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) became the title of Jerry’s latest country album, which were recorded on 14th January 1972 and on 19th July 1972.

When recording of Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) began at Mercury Custom Recording Studio Nashville, Tennessee, Jerry was accompanied by a crack band of musicians. They had ten tracks to record. No Traffic Out Of Abilene had already been recorded. However, this wasn’t going to take long. Accompanying Jerry were some of Nashville’s finest musicians and backing vocalists. 

The rhythm section featured Buddy Harman, bassist Bob Moore and guitarists Chip Young, Dale Sellers, Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, Pete Wade and Ray Edenton. Augmenting the rhythm section was Pete Drake on pedal steel. They were joined by organist  Bill Strom trombonist Wayne Butler, trumpeter Bob Phillips and clarinetist Bob Sefsik. Adding backing vocals were Carol Montgomery, Delores Dinning Edgin, Hurshel Wiginton, Joe Babcock, Millie Kirkham, Ricky Page and Trish Williams. Producing Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’), was Jerry Kennedy. However, the star of the show was Jerry Lee Lewis, the man they called The Killer. Eventually, after the two sessions, Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) was completed. It was ready for release in 1973.

When Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) was released later in January 1973, it was well received by critics. No wonder. What was a who’s who of songwriters provided material for Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’). Then with some of Nashville’s best musicians and backing vocalists accompanying Jerry, he cut the eleven tracks. So, it’s no surprise that Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) was well received by most critics. However, other critics noticed that Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) wasn’t strictly a country album in the purest sense. Sometimes, it took detours via other musical genres, heading in the direction of popular country and gospel. Despite, or because of this, Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) climbed the country charts all the way to number three. Still, The Killer was one of the hottest properties in country music.

No wonder. Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) features The Killer at his best. That’s the case from Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano, where a  maudlin Jerry produces a barnstorming performance. With cooing harmonies, Dixieland horns and flamboyant flourishes of the piano for company, it’s obvious “the killer ain’t through yet.” A similar song is the hook-laden and irresistible Bottom Dollar. This fusion of Nashville and New Orleans is one of Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’)’s highlights.

She’s Reachin’ For My Mind and is the first of two songs penned by Doodle Owens and Dallas Frazier, features a heartfelt, soul-baring vocal from Jerry. Their other contribution,  We Both Know Which One Of Us Was Wrong, sees Jerry produces one of his best performances on piano, as he delivers a rueful, vocal. Then on Too Many Rivers, The Killer delivers a vocal that’s needy, hopeful and emotive. With harmonies, lush string and a weeping pedal steel for company, Jerry seems born to sing country music.

That’s apparent on a Wall Around Heaven, where country and gospel collide head on. Jerry’s worldweary vocal seems tailor-made for this Cecil Harrelson and Carmen Holland composition. Especially with cooing harmonies, fiddles and washes of peddle steel accompanying Jerry. No More Hanging On picks up where Wall Around Heaven left off. As Jerry delivers a vocal tinged with hurt and heartbreak, it’s as if he’s lived, loved and survived the lyrics.

Think Abount It Darlin’ has an early seventies country sound. Swathes of lush string accompany Jerry as his vocal veers between heartfelt and hopeful to needy. No Traffic Out Of Abilene sees a continuation of the early seventies country sound. Having said that, for many people, No Traffic Out Of Abilene was one of the highlights of Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’). No wonder. It oozes quality.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow provides the perfect showcase for The Killer’s piano playing. Jerry takes centre-stage, and is augmented by his crack band of session players and harmonies. This allows you hear that still, piano player extraordinaire, Jerry Lee Lewis at his best. After this, a heartbroken Jerry closes Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) with The Mercy Of A Letter, another tale of love lost.

After Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano…(Think About It Darlin’) was well received by critics, and reached number three on the country charts Jerry remained one of the biggest names in country music. Still, however, executives at Mercury Records remained nervous. Jerry was  something of a loose cannon. He lived life to the full, and sometimes, his private life was far from that. That wasn’t what Mercury Records wanted.

The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists.

On 25th February 1972, during some downtime, Jerry headed to London. He was on a break from the recording of Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’). So with time on his hands, Jerry headed to London and recorded The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists.

When executives at Mercury Records heard The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists, they realised that it was an album of rock and blues. This didn’t please them. They wanted Jerry to consistently release albums of quality country music. By releasing an album of raucous rock and blues, this would complicate matters. Despite this, The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists was released after Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’).

Released later in 1973, Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’), didn’t go down well with the country music establishment. That’s despite becoming the biggest selling album of Jerry Lee Lewis’ career, reaching number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US Country charts. Despite the success of The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists, Mercury Records weren’t happy. So, Jerry, not for the first time, had to redeem himself.

Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough.

By the summer of 1973, Jerry was offered the chance to redeem himself, by recording his next country album Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. However, there was a problem. 

Jerry Kennedy, who had produced The Killer since 1967, had had enough of Jerry’s volatility. It was getting that producing Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t fun any more. Dealing with Jerry’s increasingly erratic behaviour was tough. So, Jerry Kennedy decided to produce other acts on Mercury Records’ country roster. The responsibility of producing Jerry passed to Stan Kesler, who Mercury hoped, would prove to be the perfect foil for The Killer.

For Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough, eleven tracks were chosen. Producer Stan Kesler penned Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough and cowrote I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone with Bill Taylor. He also cowrote Think I Need To Pray with Cecil Harrelson. Mama’s Hands was a Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston composition, while George Jones, Earl Montgomery and Billy Sherril penned What My Woman Can’t Do. Other tracks included Billy Joe Shaver’s She’s Ride Me Down Easy, Leon Russell’s My Cricket and Me, Mack Vickery’ Honky Tonk Wine, Ray Griff’s  Mornin’ After Baby Let me Down and Paul Craft’s Keep Me From Blowing Away. These tracks became  Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough.

With Stan Kesler producing Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough, recording began at Mercury Custom Recording Studio during the summer of 1973. Just like Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’), Jerry was accompanied by some of the best musicians and backing vocalists in Nashville. This included some of those who’d featured on Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’). Despite the new producer, Jerry and his band worked quickly, and before long, it seemed Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough was completed.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The vocals on  Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough weren’t right. So, they had to be recorded and over-dubbbed. Rather than return to Mercury Custom Recording Studio, over-dubbing took place at Sam Phillips Jr’s Phillips Studios, in Memphis. It was a case of second time lucky. Freed from the shackles of Nashville, The Killer rerecorded the vocals. Now Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough was ready for release.

It wasn’t until 1974, that Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough was released. Before its released, critical opinion was divided. Some hailed Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough a progressive country album. Others weren’t convinced by Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. Despite this, when Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough was released, it reached number seven on the US Country charts. Jerry Lee Lewis was still one of country music’s hottest property, thanks to Stan Kesler, with a little help from Sam Phillips Jr.

That becomes apparent when you hear the opening track, Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. With lush strings and a weeping pedal steel for company, Jerry’s wistful vocal combines elements of country and gospel. This continues on Ride Me Down Easy, a jaunty, piano lead track. Accompanied by cooing harmonies, fiddles and flamboyant flourishes of his piano Jerry sets the bar high. Jerry doesn’t let his standards don’t drop on melancholy reading of George Jones’ Mama’s Hands. Swathes of strings and the weeping pedal steel allow Jerry to breath life and meaning into this country standard. 

What My Woman Can’t Do is another song made famous by George Jones. For many people, George’s version is the definitive version. Jerry seems to struggle with the lyrics. Rather than making them his own, he vamps, padding out the lyrics. This proves an opportunity lost, as everything was in place for The Killer to claim the song as his own. That’s not the case with My Ticket And Me.

It’s a very different track. On My Ticket And Me, where Jerry delivers a heartfelt, rueful vocal. Remembering better times, The Killer accompanied by the lushest of strings, lays bare his soul and his broken heart. There’s another change of tack on I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone. It becomes a jaunty track with hooks aplenty. The quality continues on the driving Honky Tonk Wine, where Jerry and his trusty piano, are accompanied by harmonies. They seem to drive each other to greater heights, on this Mack Vickery song.

Stylistically, Falling To The Bottom and I Think I Need To Pray are similar. On both tracks, Jerry delivers despairing vocals. The way he delivers: “drowning in a sea of mistakes and falling to the bottom,” it’s as if Jerry can empathise with this sentiment. After the despair, Jerry experiences on Falling To The Bottom and I Think I Need To Pray, Jerry experiences heartbreak on The Morning After Baby Let Me Down. Just like so many times before, The Killer delivers the lyrics like he’s lived them. That’s also the case on Keep Me From Blowing Away, where the despair returns and threatens to overwhelm Jerry Lee Lewis.

With its lush, string drenched arrangements the Stan Kesler produced Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough divided the opinion of The Killer’s fans. Some loved Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough, calling it one of his finest albums. Others saw Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough as one of Jerry Lee Lewis’ weakest albums for Mercury Records. Despite this, Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough still reached number seven on the US Country charts. Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough had failed to match the success of Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’) and The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists. For Mercury, this was a worrying time.

Part of the problem was The Killer’s increasingly erratic behaviour. He was living life to the full. This didn’t please Mercury Records. They were looking for artists who could consistently release albums of country music. Jerry by 1974, Mercury Records felt, wasn’t able to do that. That’s despite having been one of country music’s hottest properties.

Now new artists were enjoying the commercial success The Killer had enjoyed. Ironically, this included Jerry’s cousin Mickey Gilley. he and Charlie Rich were about to replace The Killer as Kings of country. That’s despite Jerry Kennedy replacing Stan Kesler as The Killer’s producer. He hadn’t been able to tame Jerry Lee Lewis. However, forty-one years later and Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough is now perceived as one of the most overlooked  albums in Jerry Lee Lewis’ discography.

Forty-one years after its release it’s time to rediscover Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. While it’s an album that divided opinion upon its release, it’s well worth rediscovering the string drenched sound of Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. Especially when it’s paired with Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’).

On 23rd February 2015, BGO Records released Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’) and Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough as a two-on-one. These two albums are a reminder of Jerry Lee Lewis’ reinvention as a country singer. For four years, The Killer was one of country music’s hottest properties. This was still the case when Jerry Lee Lewis released Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano… (Think About It Darlin’) in 1973. However, after the release of The Session Recorded In London With Great Guest Artists, The Killer required redemption.

Sadly, redemption wasn’t forthcoming with Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough. Jerry Lee Lewis, the man who seemed to have nine lives, looked down and out. That proved not to be the case. Following Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough, Jerry Kennedy and Jerry Lee Lewis were reunited and The Killer, one of the most talented and versatile singers of his generation, began his latest comeback.

JERRY LEE LEWIS-WHO’S GONNA PLAY THIS OLD PIANO…THINK ABOUT IT DARLIN’ AND SOMETIMES A MEMORY AIN’T ENOUGH.

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