We had already sort of figured this was the way it was going to go, but in 1979 it was official when he released Rockin’ My Life Away.
The life of showman extraordinaire Jerry Lee Lewis — rockin’ was a good way to put it, but there was more, lots more — came to an end last week, Friday, Oct. 28, when he passed away, age 87, at his home in DeSoto County, Miss.
Services were this past Saturday afternoon at the Hernando Funeral Home in his hometown of Ferriday. Cousin and fellow singer/piano player Jimmy Swaggart spoke, and a boots-on-the-ground old friend in Ferriday told me that at one point during the 40-minute service, with Swaggart speaking, there was laughter after one story and not a dry eye in the house after the next.
“Swaggart’s still got it,” my friend said. Cousins Jerry Lee and Mickey Gilley, who passed away in May, had it too.
Of course, my Grandmama Ruth had all Swaggart’s gospel records, which I loved and listened to on a record player setup the size of a deep freezer in her West Monroe living room.
She didn’t listen to any Jerry Lee — but I did. (At least I don’t think she did. I’m told she took a swig of Pabst Blue Ribbon now and then, and I never saw that either. She had ‘it’ too.)
Jerry Lee Lewis, the last living member of the Million Dollar Quartet — add Carl Perkins, Elvis, and some guy named Johnny Cash — a member of both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame, he was the supreme showman and, according to another guy named Elton John, the best rock ’n’ roll piano player. “I can’t play that fast,” he told Rolling Stone in 2007.
His heyday shows in the 1950s-’80s were before all the lights and pyrotechnics, yet every friend I’ve talked to who saw him live — I sadly did not, have seen only the mind-bending recordings — said he was world-class as a performer. Just Jerry Lee back by Kenny Lovelace and the Memphis Beats. All you needed.
With a tip of the cap to a man who has brought many of us so much joy, we offer The Top 10 Jerry Lee Lewis Songs, According To Me, and you’re welcome to disagree because he was very good and there is a lot of fields to plow here:
10. Pink Cadillac, with Bruce Springsteen: Even though it’s not a Jerry Lee Original, it makes the Top 10 because it’s an older Killer and he’s still got it.
9. Whole Lotta Shakin’: A standard. He had to have gotten tired of playing this.
8 Who’s Gonna Play This Ol’ Piano: “… after the Killer’s gone …” I guess nobody. Hurts me.
7. She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye: “…Baby’s packed up all her things and she’s left me …”
6. What Made Milwaukee Famous, Has Made A Loser Out Of Me: “It’s late and she is waiting/and I know I should go home/but every time I start to leave/they play another song…” Schlitz Problems.
5. Another Place, Another Time: “One by one, they’re turning out the lights/I been feedin’ that ol’ jukebox, just to hold you tight …” I wonder if I was the only pre-teen spinning all these albums back in the day? Not sure I even know what the lyrics meant then …
4. One More Time With Feelin’: “Something good got lost along the way …” Kris Kristofferson wrote it so, this was a case of game recognizing game.
3. Who Will The Next Fool Be: “After all is said and done, you wouldn’t be satisfied with anyone …” Hard to even imagine anyone trying to cover these and coming close to Jerry Lee’s performance.
2. Great Balls of Fire: “… you rattle my brain …” I think this was No. 96 on Rolling Stone’s all-time rock songs.
1. Think About It Darlin’: I like the Jerry Lee ballads better than the fast ones and this one’s the best. It’s on the Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano album from 1972 and was produced by Shreveport music wizard Jerry Kennedy, as so many of these were. Every one of the Jerry Kennedy/Jerry Lee Lewis ballads is a masterpiece, expressive and dynamic, just like the Killer. Hope to meet him one day, another place, another time.
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