So there are these three little boys, cousins, getting piano lessons together. Their names are Mickey, Jimmy, and Jerry Lee. Two went to Bible college, two played honky tonk piano, and two got in trouble for their relationships with women. Can you figure out how that math works?
Jerry Lee Lewis was a boy genius on the piano. When yet a fourth cousin showed him how to play R&B, little Jerry Lee started creating his own sound. As the son of a strict mother who wanted him to be a good boy, Jerry Lee was sent off to Bible college in Texas. He did not last long, as you might guess if you know that his nickname is 'Killer.'
While his cousin Jimmy Swaggart was at Bible college (aha!), Jerry Lee was wandering to Memphis, where he stopped in at Sun Studios to see about a recording contract. He had already made the rounds of Nashville without success, but an assistant to Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun, gave Jerry Lee a chance. His first single, 'Crazy Arms,' got him repeated return invitations to Sun. One day, when Lewis was playing piano at a Carl Perkins session, Elvis Presley showed up, making for one of the most talked-about recording sessions of all time.
Now that Jerry Lee was a hit, his other cousin, Mickey Gilley (aha!), started putting his piano lessons to good use as well. With two boogie piano players and an evangelist in the family, what could go wrong? Well, lots.
Jerry Lee Lewis recorded 'Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On' in 1957, and the record topped both the country and the R&B charts, an unusual feat even before computers picked the playlists. The song reached #3 pop, and Jerry Lee got his first gold record. Not needing a bass player because he played such a strong left-hand part on the piano, Jerry Lee went one step farther on his next single, 'Great Balls of Fire': the song had no bass, no guitar, just drums and crazy old Jerry Lee, who liked to stand up and pound on the piano, to the delight of the people who shelled out for tickets.
'Breathless' reached the Top Ten as well, and then Jerry Lee messed up. While we didn't bat an eye when R. Kelly married 15-year-old Aaliyah, it was a far different matter in the South in the 1950s when Jerry Lee married his first cousin, 13-year-old Myra Brown.
Jerry Lee was touring England when the news broke; the tour ended immediately, and venues boycotted Jerry Lee. It was three years before he squeaked into the Top 40 again. To his credit, he stayed married to Myra for 13 years, but he has enough divorces under his belt to rival Elizabeth Taylor.
Sheer determination led Jerry Lee to accept gigs in small bars, and he finally got the country radio stations to play some of his recordings. He became a country star, with only one song, his 1972 version of 'Me and Bobby McGee,' spending a week at #40 pop.
Regardless of his unusual wild past, Jerry Lee Lewis has never given less than his all on stage, or on his recordings, and if you have tickets to see him, you are going to witness a legendary show by one of a handful of true legends from the birth of rock and roll.
And as far as we know, Mickey Gilley did not misbehave with women the way his cousins did.
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