To the uninitiated, the biography of Jerry Lee Lewis in 2022 read like a list of rock tropes so basic you can't believe they all happened to one man.
Born to a poor Louisiana family that included a lot of famous Southerners (including cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart), Jerry Lee's parents mortgaged their farm to buy him a piano and hoped he would honor the Lord in song. What they got instead was a firebrand, whose boogie-woogie sensibilities galvanized and scandalized the record-buying public. His white-hot success on the pop charts would dry up with a wedding to a 13-year-old cousin, but his performing flame wouldn't be extinguished for decades; he transitioned successfully to country music and was still a concert draw into the 21st century. Just this week, before he passed away at 87 years of age on October 28, his death was falsely reported by several outlets. It seemed nothing could kill this man.
With his death, the early concept of rock music - those handsome, devilish white boys synthesizing the sound of Black-originated blues and soul with country and folk traditions - etches a little deeper into history and further away from memory. His onetime Sun label mates (Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins) who'd showed up for a fabled 1956 session at the Memphis studio, have long been gone. Such is the inexorable march of time. Yet how lucky we are that his records survive and thrive. Those early singles - "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" perhaps spring to mind most quickly - were played for children of my generation as a primer on good ol' American pop music, with nary a thought to the raw sexuality and danger that lurked with every pump of the ivories and those vocal gesticulations. (Feel what happens when he does that "M-m-m-m-m...feels good.")
It's an obvious choice, but a record like 1964's Live At The Star-Club provides an insight into how nothing but God Himself could stop the Killer on the loose. That year - with Elvis in cinematic purgatory, Perkins' chart fortunes fading and Cash stuck deeper in a rut of pills - it would be Lewis' opportunity to define rock music against the British Invasion. Stephen Thomas Erlewine might've said it best in his review for Allmusic: "Compared to this, thrash metal sounds tame, the Stooges sound constrained, hardcore punk seems neutered, and the Sex Pistols sound like wimps."
There isn't much more to say that the music can't articulate better. Keep his music flame alive...it feels good.