JERRY LEE LEWIS-TOGETHER, LIVE AT THE INTERNATIONAL LAS VEGAS, IN LOVING MEMORY:THE JERRY LEE LEWIS GOSPEL ALBUM AND KEEPS ROCKIN.
Jerry Lee Lewis-Together, Live At The International Las Vegas, In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album and Keeps Rockin’.
Jerry Lee Lewis will always be remembered as one of music’s great survivors. He has enjoyed a long and chequered career, that although successful has often proved controversial. So much so, that at one time, Jerry Lee Lewis was a musical pariah.
The Jerry Lee Lewis story began when the twenty-one year old, 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.
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 that 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 Gayle 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. When they failed to sell, 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.
Before the scandal, Jerry had been able to command $10,000 per night. Now bookings were few and far between, and 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.
In 1964, six years after he committed career suicide, Jerry was on the comeback trail. He was still seeking redemption, but was persona non gratis in his home country. Jerry Lee Lewis decided to try 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 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 the period when he was persona non gratis Jerry Lewis continued to record and release singles and albums on the Smash label, which was an imprint of Mercury. The singles never troubled the charts, and only his most loyal fans continued to buy The Killer’s albums. No longer was Jerry Lewis enjoying the success he once had. It looked like his career was over. That was until his comeback in 1968.
By then, Jerry Lewis had reinvented himself as a country singer in 1968, and released Another Place, Another Time, which was billed as his ‘comeback’ album. It featured two top ten country hits. Another Place, Another Time reached number four, and What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me reached number two. The one time musical pariah was now the comeback King.
The comeback continued later in 1968, when Jerry Lee Lewis released She Still Comes Around. It featured another two top five country singles. She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me reached number two in the US Country charts, and when To Make Love Sweeter for You released in November 1968, it reached number one in the US Country charts. It seemed that Jerry Lee Lewis’ comeback was complete.
After reinventing himself in 1968, and transforming his career, Jerry Lee Lewis’ comeback continued in 1969. Still Jerry Lee Lewis found time to records an album with his sister Linda Gail Lewis. That album was Together, which is one of four albums that features on a two CD set released by BGO Records. These albums are Together, Live At The International Las Vegas, In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album and Keeps Rockin’. The period that these four albums cover, 1969 to 1978, and saw Jerry Lee Lewis’ career take another unexpected turn. This latest chapter in the Jerry Lee Lewis’ story began in 1969.
Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t the only singer in the Lewis family. His younger sister Linda Gail Lewis, who was only twenty-one, had followed in The Killer’s footsteps. She had been signed by Smash, and had released her debut solo album The Sides Of Linda Gail Lewis. It had failed to trouble the charts, which disappointed not just Linda Gail Lewis but executives at the Smash label. Soon, though, they had hatched a plan to give Linda Gail Lewis’ career a boost.
A decision was made that Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis record an album together. Given Jerry Lee Lewis had just made a successful comeback, this would give Linda Gail Lewis’ career the type of boost most young singers could dream of. With the two Lewis siblings in agreement, work began on what would become Together.
Fortunately, Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis had already recorded together, and could use some of these songs. However, it soon became apparent that they didn’t have enough for an album.
Eventually, a shortlist of eleven songs were chosen. This included songs that had already been recorded, plus some songs that would be recorded in Nashville. These songs had been chosen especially so that they would suit Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis’ voices.
This included Lee Fikes’ Milwaukee Here I Come; Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber’s Jackson; Buck Owens’ Crying Time and Nat Stuckey’s Sweet Thang. They were joined by Penny Jay’s Don’t Le Me Cross Over; David Lazar, Larry Ehrlich, Paul Clayton and Tom Six’s Gotta Travel On; Fred Rose’s We Live In Different Worlds; Donald Murray’s Earth Up Above and Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven. Linda Gail Lewis wrote the two other songs on Together. She penned Don’t Take It Out On Me with Kenny Lovelace, who was a member of Jerry Lee Lewis’ band. The pair also wrote Secret Places with Cecil J. Harrelson. Some of these songs were recorded in Nashville with producer Jerry Kennedy.
Joining Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis to record the rest of Together, was a band that featured some of Nashville’s top session players. With Jerry Kennedy taking charge of production, recording of Together began on ‘13th’ June 1969. The Lewis’ siblings proved a potent partnership, as they recorded country classics, familiar songs and new songs. Linda Gail Lewis proved the perfect foil for her elder brother, with their voices blending together seamlessly. Although she had only released one album, Linda Gail Lewis was already an experienced singer and that shines through on Together.
When critics heard Together, the album was well received and received praise and plaudits. Especially songs like Don’t Take It Out On Me, the cover of Crying Time, Secret Places and We Live In Two Different Worlds. While a rousing version of Roll Over Beethoven closed Together, it wasn’t the highlight of the album. That was the cover of Don’t Let Me Cross Over. It stood head and shoulders above the rest of the songs on Together.
Executives at Smash realised this, and Don’t Let Me Cross Over was released as a single. It reached number nine on the US Country charts in 1969, giving Linda Gail Lewis her first hit single. For her brother, this was just the latest hit single since his comeback began in 1968. When Together was released, the album was billed as Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis. It reached number eight in the US Country charts, and gave Linda Gail Lewis’ career another boost. For Jerry Lee Lewis, his comeback continued apace.
Live At The International Las Vegas,
By 1970, Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the biggest names in country music. It was a far cry from when he was playing dive bars for $250. That was in the past, and somewhere Jerry Lee Lewis had no wish to revisit. Now he was appearing on television shows, festivals and was playing at some of the top venues in America. This included the International Hotel in Las Vegas.
Jerry Lee Lewis had been invited to play at the International Hotel in 1970. This was where Jerry Lee Lewis had watched Elvis Presley play a year earlier in 1969. The King had headed to Columbus, Ohio, to personally invite The Killer see him play live at the International Hotel. That night, Kenny Lovelace introduced Jerry Lee Lewis to the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. This was very different the reception he would’ve received a decade earlier. A year later, in 1970, The Killer and The King would both play at the International Hotel.
When Jerry Lee Lewis returned to play at the International Hotel both he was playing in the lounge, which held around 2,500 people. Meanwhile, Elvis Presley was playing in the main room in front of 3,000. However, only Jerry Lee Lewis was recording his show, which would be released as Live At The International Las Vegas.
As he took to the stage at The International, The Killer’s band featured drummer Morris Tarrant, bassist Eddie DeBruhl, guitarists Buck Hutcheson and Kenny Lovelace who also played fiddle. Ned Davis played steel guitar while Jerry Lee Lewis sat behind the piano. Soon, Jerry Lee Lewis began working their way through a selection country classics.
This began with a rueful version of She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye, which gave way to an uplifting cover of Hank Williams’ Jambalaya. Then on She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me, Jerry Lee Lewis delivers a worldweary vocal, before following this up with Drinking Champagne and a cover of the Bob Willis classic San Antonio Rose. By then, The Killer, who was by then a veteran performer, has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. What better time to cover Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein’s Once More with Feeling. Jerry Lee Lewis breathes life and meaning into the lyrics, in what’s the highlight of the set so far.
Soon, he’s joined by Linda Gail Lewis and the pair duet on When You Wore a Tulip (And I Wore a Big Red Rose) and then Take These Chains from My Heart. It’s another of the highlights of the set, with Linda Gail Lewis proving the perfect foil for her elder brother. When she leaves the stage, Jerry Lee Lewis delivers a jaunty cover of Tom T. Hall’s The Ballad of Forty Dollars. This leaves just Flip, Flop and Fly, which started life as a jump blues, which was originally recorded by Big Joe Turner and later, Elvis Presley. The Killer’s version is powered along by his piano, as he rolls back the years. Suddenly, The Killer of old is back, before he exits stage left.
When Live At The International Las Vegas was released in 1970, it won over critics. The album was a tantalising reminder of just how good a live performer Jerry Lee Lewis was. He put his three decades of experience to good use that night in Vegas, and was the star of the two shows that took place at The International.
Buoyed by the critical acclaim Live At The International Las Vegas received, the album was released in 1970 and reached number five in the US Country charts. Live At The International Las Vegas also reached 149 in the US Billboard 200. This was par for the course for Jerry Lee Lewis, who was much more popular in country music circles. However, this was about to change.
In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album.
On ‘11th’ December 1970, many Americans could’ve been forgiven for thinking that it was April Fool’s Day. One of the lead items on the news was that Jerry Lee Lewis had decided to turn his back on rock music, and had cancelled all future shows. Jerry Lee Lewis was now going to concentrate on gospel music. While this shocked many Americans, the rest of the statement left them reeling. The Killer had: “vowed never to set foot inside a nightclub again.” He also promised to never look at another woman, pop another pill or drink again. To call this a Damascene conversion was an understatement. Meanwhile, Americans wondered what had got into The Killer?
It turned out that Jerry’s third wife, Myra Gayle Brown, who was also his cousin once removed, had filed for a divorce. This was a huge blow to Jerry Lee Lewis, who it seemed was suffering a crisis of confidence.
He had returned to his faith, which during the early years of his career, he kept quiet about. Being a devout Christian didn’t go with his hard living reputation in the late-fifties. Things had changed since then, and now he was much more open about his faith. So much so, that he recorded In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album.
To record his first gospel album, Jerry Lee Lewis headed to Nashville, where he and his sister Linda Gail Lewis would produce that eventually became In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album. Linda Gail Lewis had also penned In Loving Memories, Gather ‘Round Children and I Know That Jesus Will Be There with Cecil Harrelson. They joined songs like The Lily of the Valley, The Old Rugged Cross, I’ll Fly Away and If We Never Meet Again/I’ll Meet You in the Morning. These songs saw Jerry Lee Lewis joined by band of top session players.
Once In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album was complete, it was delivered to Mercury Records for release in 1971. Executives at Mercury Records knew that a gospel album, even one by The Killer was going to be a hard sell. As a result, it wasn’t top of their priorities when it came to releases.
When critics heard In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album, they were impressed by what was The Killer’s first gospel album. It was unlike many of the gospel albums being released in 1971, and combined gospel and country music. In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album was a gospel album recorded in Nashville, and was very different to Jerry Lee Lewis’ recent albums.
In a way, Jerry Lee Lewis was returning to one of his first musical loves…gospel music, and combining this with his new musical love…country music on In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album. The two genres combined well, especially on the three songs his sister contributed In Loving Memories, Gather ‘Round Children and I Know That Jesus Will Be There, where her vocal steals the show. Along with songs like In Loving Memories, He Looked Beyond My Fault and Too Much to Gain to Lose, Jerry Lee Lewis’ had managed to reinvent himself as a gospel singer.
By the time that In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album was released in 1971, Jerry’s estranged wife Myra Gayle Brown had made her feelings clear about her ex-husband’s Damascene conversion. “It won’t last. He’s only doing this to get me back.”
That was what executives at Mercury Records were also hoping. Jerry Lee Lewis’ decision to reinvent himself as a clean living, gospel singer, had cost Mercury Records one of the biggest names and hottest properties in country music to gospel music.
When In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album was released in 1971, it failed to even trouble the US Billboard 200, and stalled at eighteen in the US Country charts. It was Jerry Lee Lewis’ least successful album since Soul My Way in 1967. For executives at Mercury Records this was a huge disappointment. However, Jerry Lewis was happy with his first album as a gospel singer. This was how he saw the future.
By 1978, Jerry Lee Lewis was no longer the clean living, gospel singer he had been in 1971. He hadn’t been for several years. The hard living, Killer was back. His sales were declining, and no longer did Jerry Lee Lewis’ albums and singles reach the upper reaches of the country charts. To make matters worse, Jerry Lee Lewis’ behaviour had become unpredictable over the last few years. In many ways, Jerry Lee Lewis was longer seen as one of the assets on Mercury Records’ balance sheet. For some of the executives at Mercury Records, they were relieved that Jerry Lee Lewis only owed the company one more album. After that, they could cut him loose and wash their hands of the veteran singer.
For what Jerry Lee Lewis knew was potentially his Mercury Records swan-song, he decided to return to rock ’n’ roll. This came as a surprise to many within Mercury Records.
For Keeps Rockin’, Jerry Lee Lewis chose eleven songs, ranging from new songs like I’ll Find It Where I Can, to much more familiar songs. This included Blue Suede Shoes, I Hate You, Lucille, The Last Cheater’s Waltz, Sweet Little Sixteen, Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes and somewhat ironically, Before The Night Is Over. These were some of the songs that Jerry Lee Lewis would record in Nashville.
Joining Jerry Lee Lewis, was producer Jerry Kennedy and some of Nashville’s top session players. Even The Jordanaires were drafted in to add backing vocals on Keeps Rockin’, where Jerry Lee Lewis revisits his past. This hadn’t proven successful when he released The Return of Rock in 1965. Jerry Lee Lewis was hoping Keeps Rockin’ would prove more successful.
When critics heard Keeps Rockin’, a worldweary Jerry bowls a curveball on I’ll Find It Where I Can, where he returns to country music. It’s one of the highlights of the album. After that, he revisits his rock ’n’ roll past on a blistering versions of Blue Suede Shoes, Lucille and Sweet Little Sixteen. There’s a return to country music on rueful take on I Hate You, Arkansas Seesaw, The Last Cheater’s Waltz, Wild and Wooly Ways, Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes and a piano driven version of Pee Wee’s Place. Closing Keeps Rockin’ was Before The Night Is Over, where The Killer switches to electric piano and is accompanied by gospel-tinged harmonies. It’s an underrated song, and one that Jerry Lee Lewis knew could spell the end of his time at Mercury Records.
Keeps Rockin’ was released in 1978, but stalled at forty in the US Country charts. This was a far cry from when Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the most successful artists in country music.
After Jerry Lee Lewis reinvented himself as a country singer in 1968, it seemed he could do no wrong between 1968 and 1973. He enjoyed sixteen top ten in the US country charts, while another five albums reached the top twenty.The Killer was one of the hottest properties in country music. Things changed between 1974 and 1978.
No longer was Jerry Lee Lewis as prolific as he had once been. Nor was he enjoying the same success when he released an album. Only Boogie Woogie Country Man in 1975 and Country Class in 1976 reached the top twenty. The rest of The Killer’s albums languished in the lower reaches of the top forty in the country charts. It was changed days for The Killer, and there was no sentiment in music.
After the release of Keeps Rockin’, Mercury Records didn’t renew The Killer’s contract. He had spent a total of fifteen years Mercury Records. This started in 1963, when Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the most successful American musicians. However, everything changed in 1964, when it was discovered that Jerry Lee Lewis’ wife, Myra Gayle Brown, was only thirteen when they married. To make matters worse, she was Jerry Lee Lewis’ first cousin, once removed. The controversy surrounding Myra Gayle Brown lead to Jerry Lee Lewis being cast out into the musical wilderness between 1964 and 1968.
This wilderness years ended in 1968, when Jerry Lee Lewis reinvented himself as a country singer, and for the next five years, enjoyed one of the most successful periods of his career.
Three albums from this period are part of a two CD set recently released by BGO Records. The set starts with Together, which Jerry Lee Lewis and is sister Linda Gail Lewis released in 1970. Later in 1970, they released Live At The International Las Vegas in 1970. After a Damascene conversion, In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album was released in 1971. Completing is Keeps Rockin’ which was released in 1978, and brought to a close the Mercury years
BGO Records’ two CD set is a reminder not just of Jerry Lee Lewis’ country years, but just how versatile an artist he was. Seamlessly, he switched between country, gospel and rock ’n’ roll, as he showcases his considerable skills. However, the period between 1968 and 1978 was a roller coaster ride for The Killer. He went from being one of the hottest properties in country, to turning his back on rock ’n’ roll and embarking on a career as a gospel artist. By 1978, Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was on the slide, but his Mercury Records’ swan-song Keeps Rockin’ is one of the hidden gems in his back-catalogue.
For much of his career, Jerry Lee Lewis was a prolific artist. Especially during the fifteen years he spent at Mercury Records. That was where Jerry Lee Lewis recorded some of the best albums of his long and illustrious career. A number of these albums have been reissued by BGO Records, and are a reminder of Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the pioneers of rock ’n’ roll, turned country singer, who will forever be known as The Killer.
Jerry Lee Lewis-Together, Live At The International Las Vegas, In Loving Memory: The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album and Keeps Rockin’.