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Jerry Lee Lewis Biography

Updated on February 11, 2015

Early Years

Jerry Lee Lewis (aka "The Killer") is know for hit songs like "Whole Lotta Shaking Goin On" and "Great Ball of Fire."

Lewis was born on Sept. 29, 1935 to Elmo and Mamie Lewis in Ferriday, Louisiana. Inspired by blues, gospel and the country sounds of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, Jerry Lee showed interest in music at an early age. His parents noticed his gift of music and purchased his first piano at the age of nine. Lewis would sneak out the house with his cousins to hear the sounds of R&B at Haney's Big House, the local juke joint. This establishment, would feature performances by various upcoming Delta Bluesmen such as B.B. King. Jerry Lee was thirteen when he had his first public appearance at a local Ford dealership. His mother had different plans for him; She had young Jerry Lee enrolled in a bible college in Texas. However, when Lewis played a secular version of "My God is Real," he was expelled. Lewis was married at age of seventeen and this marriage lasted several months; his second marriage produced one child and it would last 4 years.

In 1955, Lewis auditioned for a few record labels in Nashville, Tennessee and was unsuccessful; he returned home to play small clubs in Louisiana and Mississippi. A short time later in November 1956, Lewis decided to audition with Sam Philips's Sun Studio in Memphis,Tennessee. To finance the trip, he and his father shared the expenses for the audition there. When Jerry Lee auditioned, the resulting demo "Crazy Arms" became Lewis' first single.

Professional Career

Beginning in December 1956, Jerry Lee became a solo artist and session musician there at Sun Records. On December 4,1956 during a Carl Perkins' recording session, Elvis Presley paid a visit to the Sun Studio. Elvis was now with RCA records and he was just stopping by. As a result, with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee already in house, the four had an informal gathering & recording session. Because of the gathering, Sam Phillips names the four musicians “the Million Dollar Quartet.” In 1957 Jerry Lee secretly re-married for a third time to the daughter of his cousin Myra Gale Brown. Later in the spring of 1958, while on tour in England, the press found out about his marriage to Brown. Once it was reveled Lewis had married his thirteen-year-old cousin, the English tour was cut short and the fallout from the news of his marriage almost ended his career. Jerry Lee and Myra had one son who died at age three. The couple stayed together until they divorced in 1970.

1960's & 70's

Despite being blacklisted by many radio stations, things starting getting better by 1960. Lewis recorded a Ray Charles's song called "What's I Say." When it was released in 1961, it made it into the top 40 on the pop, country, and R&B charts. In 1963 Lewis' contract with Sun records ended. He signed with a subsidiary of Mercury, Smash Records; during his time there, he recorded quite a few rock and roll recordings, but his career was at a stand still. During the mid 1960s Jerry Lee's career begun to recover a bit in Europe. He toured in Germany and produced the live album "Live at the star Club." Lewis made a comeback as a country singer in 1968; his hit single "Another Place, Another Time" was a top ten hit and it set the stage for a number of other country hits. Lewis remarried in October 1971. The marriage produced one child and ended two years later. Later that same year, Lewis' son from his second marriage died in a car wreck. The combination of tragedies took their toll on Jerry Lee and he begun drinking excessively. Jerry Lee's successes continued through the 70's and he was able to re-energize his rock and roll career with hits such as the 1972 release "Chantilly Lace" and the 1977 release of "Middle Age Crazy."

1980's and 90's

Later in 1979, Lewis signed with Elektra and had his last country hit with "Thirty-Nine and Holding." Jerry Lee's excessive drinking was causing him some serious health problems, almost killing him in 1981, but he overcame and continued performing. In 1986 he joined Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash to record the album "Class of 55." Later in 1989, a motion picture based on Jerry Lee's life called Great Balls of Fire was released. The movie focused on his early career and his marriage to Myra. In 1998, Jerry Lee toured with Chuck Berry and Little Richard in Europe.

2000's and Beyond

The critically acclaimed album Last Man Standing was released in September 2006. The album featured duets with many well known rock & roll stars such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. The album did well in four different categories. Later in 2007 a DVD called Last Man Standing Live was released that featured concert footage. Lastly, "Mean old Man" was released in 2010; this album included duets with artist such as Eric Clapton, John Fogerty and Merle Haggard.

Jerry Lee Lewis is a pioneering Rockabilly and Rock and Roll artist; regardless of what you may think of him or his personal life, he is a world class pianist. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and the The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008. Also, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Recording Academy in February 2005. Whether singing country, rock or the blues, he is still Jerry Lee.

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    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @platinumOwl4 - Thank you for the feedback and nice to hear from you again :)

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 

      6 years ago

      Hello Coolmon2009, Again you have penned an excellent articl on the killer. He, Little Richard, and Fats Domino are three greatest rock and roll piano players in my book. When they start to play you know it is them, their styles are extremly distictive. You uncover little known fact about artist. I have an opportunity to visite he killer's hometown. It's a small wonder he married his cousin in a town where the majority of the people are related. Thanks for this marvelous article.

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Kenneth Avery - Thanks I wish you much success in your writings too and once again its nice to meet you :)

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Coolmon2009,

      that is cool. No worries. Just a thought that I wanted to share. You are an exceptional talent. A talen that I respect. And admire. Keep up the great work.

      Your fan, follower, and friend, KENNETH

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @kenneth avery - Thanks for the kind words and yes I agree with you; Jerry Lee has a lot of God given talent. When I watched the young Jerry Lee perform "Whole Lotta Shaking going on" in the video, it gave me chills to watch this man perform with such passion and emotion. I understand why his mother wanted him to go into the ministry.In reference to writing an article on J.D. Salinger, I will think on it. For now I am kinda tied up with other articles-in-progress both at hub-pages and on my blogsite too. I have to do my usual preliminary analysis before I can make a decision, but once again I will consider it. Thanks for your comments, the follow and its nice to meet you.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      12/27

      Coolmon2009....GREAT, GREAT read! Voted UP and all the way. Loved JLL, The Killer! Always will. What talent he had. JLL is living proof that GOD DOES EXIST for no mortal could endow another with such a musical soul. Would you consider doing a biography of J.D. Salinger, one of my favorite writers? I loved Catcher In The Rye. And honestly, I LOVED THIS HUB and YOUR writing. You are very talented as well. I invite you to check out my hubs if you need a good laugh. And I urge you to become one of my followers so I can keep in close touch with you. Love your bio works, Elvis, Killer, and more! Happy New Year and I will look for you. Sincerely and with Highest Regards, Kenneth Avery, from Hamilton, a town in northwest Alabama that looks like the sweet little town, Mayberry, on the Andy Griffith Show. Peace and Success to you.

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Darkmetaly - Thank you :)

    • Darkmetaly profile image

      Daníel Guðmundsson 

      6 years ago from Iceland Höfn í Hornafirði.

      Nice to meet you to

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Darkmetaly - I know what you mean, the saying "They don't make music like they use to" is so true. This guy despite his faults was passionate about his music and performances. Thanks for your feedback on this article and it is nice to meet you.

    • Darkmetaly profile image

      Daníel Guðmundsson 

      6 years ago from Iceland Höfn í Hornafirði.

      very nice he is a wonderful musician they don´t make music like this no more witch is a real shame because old musicians like Jerry always seem to put more effort in to there music. that is one of the reasons why I can't stand mainstream music. to me it just sound like they don't put any effort into there music. anyway great hub.

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Nell Rose - Yes you are correct, he wasn't welcome in the UK for a few years, but he made a come back in the mid 1960s. Thanks for your comments :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @prasetio30 - He was interesting to say the least. Thanks for your comments and its nice to hear from you again :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Eiddwen - Thanks for your feedback and I hope you have a good day too :)

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very inspiring hub. I am glad to know about Jerry Lewis from this hub. I love all the biography, pictures and the video as well. Good job, my friend. Thanks for writing and share with us. Rated up!

      Prasetio

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and thank you so much for sharing.

      Very very interesting and a vote up without a doubt.

      Take care and enjoy yor day.

      Eddy.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, I remember reading that when married I believe he was banned from Britain because of it, but he was an entertaining singer, bit before my time, but I do love jigging along to his records! usually around my kitchen when they have the rock and roll hour on, fascinating man, cheers nell

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @PWalker281 - Sounds like it was an interesting Oprah interview, wish I could have seen it. Once again, thanks for your feedback on my article.

    • profile image

      PWalker281 

      7 years ago

      Yes, Coolmon, societal values and mores change over time. Marrying cousins was acceptable in the last century, and women marrying at 13 was considered normal when human lifespan was a lot shorter than it is today. I thought it interesting that this woman who married so young turned out to be fairly well adjusted, based on what I saw of her in the interview.

    • Coolmon2009 profile imageAUTHOR

      Coolmon2009 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @PWalker281 - Not to make excuses for Jerry Lee, back in those days in the southern United States, it was somewhat acceptable to marry a second or third cousin and to marry young. I personally would not go for that type of marriage, but it happens. Thanks for your comments on my article and its nice to hear from you as always :)

    • profile image

      PWalker281 

      7 years ago

      I remember when Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year-old cousin. It was hugely controversial, and I remember my parents talking about it. The cousin, Myra Brown, now a grown woman, appeared on Oprah, I think it was, a few years ago. She didn't appear to be scarred by having married so young.

      Thanks for shedding light on this rock and roll icon! Rated up and interesting.

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