Jerry Lee Lewis, rock 'n' roll pioneer, dies

Jerry Lee Lewis, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dies

(New York) One of the last great pioneers of rock and roll, American musician Jerry Lee Lewis, has died at the age of 87, his agent told AFP on Friday.

Posted at 13:12

Maggy DONALDSON with Manon BILLING in Paris
France Media Agency

Associated for eternity with the song big balls of fireKnown for his strong stage presence and dynamic piano style, Louisiana rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis has died of natural causes, the same source said.

The last survivor of a generation of groundbreaking artists including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Lewis died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, his representative Zach Farnum said in a statement.

Of all the rock rebels to emerge in the 1950s, few captured the lure and danger of the new genre more unforgettable than the Louisiana-born pianist who called himself “The Killer.”


Jerry Lee Lewis in May 1958

Tender ballads should be left for the elderly. Lewis, on the other hand, thought only of lust and satisfaction, with its lewd tenor and demanding asides from him, its violent tempos and cheeky glissandi, its cocky grin and crazy blonde hair. They were a one-man band that had fans screaming and keyboards cursing, their stage performance so combustible that during a set of Whole Lotta Shakin “Goin” On in 1957 in The Steve Allen ShowChairs were thrown at him like buckets of water over a brazier.

“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there was no real rock ‘n’ roll until Jerry Lee Lewis kicked in the door,” a Lewis fan once commented. That admirer was Jerry Lee Lewis.

But in his private life, he was furious in a way that could have ended his career today, and almost did then.

For a brief period in 1958, he was a candidate to replace Presley as rock’s leading hitmaker after Elvis was called up for the army. But while Lewis is on tour in England, the press learns three damaging things: he’s married to Myra Gale Brown, 13 (maybe even 12), she’s his cousin, and he’s still married to his previous wife. . His tour is cancelled, he is blacklisted from radio and his income plummets overnight to practically nothing.

“I probably would have rearranged my life a little bit differently, but I never hid anything from people,” Lewis told the magazine. Wall Street Journal in 2014 when asked about the marriage. “I went on with my life as usual. »

Over the next several decades, Lewis battled drug and alcohol abuse, legal litigation, and physical illness. Two of his many marriages ended with the early death of his wife. Brown herself divorced him in the early 1970s, later claiming physical and mental cruelty that nearly drove her to suicide.


Jerry Lee Lewis in March 1975

“If I was still married to Jerry, I’d probably be dead by now,” she told the magazine. People in 1989.

Lewis reinvented himself as a country artist in the 1960s, and the music industry eventually forgave him, long after he stopped making hits. He has won three Grammy Awards and has recorded with some of the biggest stars in the industry. In 2006, Lewis released last man standing, with Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, BB King and George Jones. In 2010, Lewis tapped Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw and others for the album. bad old man.

Within The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & RollFirst published in 1975, he recalls how he convinced animators to give him a second chance.

“This time I said, ‘Listen, man, let’s get together and put an end to this: a peace treaty, you know,'” he explains. Lewis always played the old hits on stage, but on the radio he sang country.

Lewis was married seven times and was rarely far from trouble or death. His fourth wife, Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool in 1982 while she was filing for divorce. His fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, 23 years his junior, died of an apparent drug overdose in 1983. A year later, Lewis married Kerrie McCarver, then 21. She filed for divorce in 1986, accusing him of physical violence and infidelity. He counterattacked, but both moves were eventually abandoned. They finally divorced in 2005 after several years of separation. The couple had a son, Jerry Lee III.

“He is ready to go,” his wife Judith said shortly before his death, according to a statement.

Friend and rival of king Elvis Presley himself, Jerry Lee Lewis had influenced a whole generation of musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, who said of him in 1995: “He doesn’t play rock’n’roll, he’s rock’n’roll.” »

He was as famous for his successes as for the dramas and scandals that marked his existence.

“There was rockabilly, there was Elvis. But real rock’n’roll didn’t exist before Jerry Lee Lewis came on the scene,” declared the man with blond curls who spoke of himself to his biographer in his thick southern accent.

“When people think of me, I wish it wasn’t because of my wives, although I had some, nor because of the villas and the money I had or spent. I would like to be remembered only for my music,” she said. Pure performer, he didn’t write his songs.

mortgaged farm

Born on September 29, 1935 to a poor family in Ferriday, Louisiana, he discovered the piano at age 9 and his parents mortgaged the family farm to pay for his instrument.

Raised in a Pentecostal family, he was sent to a Christian institution in Texas to become a pastor, but was fired, according to him, “for playing My god is real with boogie-woogie sauce”, which he already dominates brilliantly.

In 1956 he left for Memphis, Tennessee, the mecca of new American music, and was one of the first to sign with the famous record label Sun Records. His encounter that same year with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins led to a legendary recording session known as the Million dollar quartet.

In 1957, his first title, Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ onalready bears the mark of his disheveled style.

While rock is still in its infancy, crowds flock to see him ferociously pounding on the keyboard with his fingers, elbows or feet, his hair swinging furiously to the frenetic beat as he sends his stool flying in a wild dance move. . .

“If I go to hell, I’m going to play the piano”, this eternal rebel liked to say, provocative to the point of setting fire to his piano at the end of a concert, reinforcing his fame as a “bad boy” of rock. .

Some months later, big balls of firewhich will also be the title of a docu-drama about his life in 1989, propelling him to the top of sales and making him one of the most adored stars of the moment.

scandal and boycott

He is ready to conquer Europe when the press discovers that his third wife, Myra Gale Brown, is his 13-year-old first cousin.

The news sparked a scandal in Britain, and American radio stations decided to boycott the singer, who fell from grace for half a dozen years before resurfacing, ditching rock for country music.

The next two decades were marked by his divorce from Myra, the brutal deaths of his 3-year-old (drowning) and 19-year-old (car accident), and his fourth (found dead in his piano-shaped swimming pool). ) and fifth (overdose, according to the police) handcuffs.

Fantasy and sometimes violent, alcohol and drugs have caused him serious health problems and many other problems with the police. In 1976, he was arrested in the middle of the night, drunk and armed, after breaking down the gate of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Memphis.

But the legend does not decline, on the contrary, and he is one of the first musicians inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (museum and pantheon of rock, in Cleveland, Ohio), when it was created in 1986.

In 2006, he recorded a critically acclaimed new album, last man standingwith the Stones, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, then bad old man in 2010, with Eric Clapton and Springsteen.

He spent some of his later years at his ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi, with his seventh wife, and was still performing as of early 2019. But, following a minor stroke in May of that year, he canceled concerts.

Jerry Lee Lewis Great Quotes

  • September 29, 1935: born in Ferriday, Louisiana, in the southern United States.
  • 1956: Participates in a legendary recording with three legends of rock and country in Memphis (Tennessee), Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
  • 1957: Records “Whole lotta shakin goin on”, which together with “Great balls of fire”, makes him one of the great stars of the moment.
  • 1958: the press discovers his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin. It is the scandal. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1970.
  • 1968: Returns to the front of the stage with country music records.
  • 1986: included in the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”, this rock museum in Cleveland (Ohio), since its creation.

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