JERRY LEE LEWIS
In November 1956 he moved in with a cousin, J. W. Brown, in Memphis. They started a band together, with Jerry as singer. They sold a copy of their first song, “Crazy Arms”, to the legendary Sam Phillips, president of Sun Records. Phillips had become famous because of his discovery of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Phillips liked the song, and Jerry Lee Lewis began to establish his name in Memphis in late 1956.
In January 1957, he recorded a new song, the self-penned “End of the Road.” It was unusual in that singers did not write their own songs at that time. Jerry was fresh in other ways, too. He not only wrote some of his own songs, he played piano. Other rock singer of that era played guitar, such as Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, etc. The piano wasn’t considered a rock and roll instrument – Jerry Lee Lewis changed all that.
Jerry Lee Lewis got his big break in April 1957, when he went to New York and appeared on “The Steve Allen Show” (1956) with the “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”. A couple of #1 hits would soon follow — “Great Balls of Fire” (which became his signature song), “Breathless” and “High School Confidential”. Many people predicted that Jerry Lee would be bigger than the King of Rock-n-Roll – Elvis Presley.
In late 1957 the audiences at one of his shows stormed the stage when he set a piano on fire. Chuck Berry was supposed to have ended the evening’s show, but he refused to go on, wisely understanding that he could never top what Jerry just did.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra had one son, Steve Allen Lewis, who drowned at age three. The couple divorced in 1970, after 13 years of bad treatment in the press. However, Jerry’s career was not completely finished. In 1968 he made his great comeback, as a country singer. During the next few years, he performed more and more rock ‘n’ roll.
He married a fourth time in October 1971 but the marriage ended two years later, after producing one child. That same year, Jerry’s son from his first marriage died in an auto accident. The combination of divorce, personal tragedies and his career stagnation contributed to his turning to the bottle, and for the next 15 years Jerry had a severe drinking problem. His drinking also contributed to a rash of health problems, and he almost died of a ruptured stomach in 1981. People thought that The Killer was finished. But he wasn’t.
Jerry Lee Lewis puts on brilliant concerts even today, in his 70’s, and with his wild life behind him. He divorced his sixth wife in the summer of 2005, after over 20 years of marriage. He is still a wild man – and he is still on fire!