regular-article-logo Thursday, 28 September 2023

American rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis dies at 87

Like Chuck Berry’s guitar, Lewis’ piano was essential in shaping rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s

Reuters New York Published 29.10.22, 01:19 AM
Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jerry Lee Lewis. File picture

American rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, who was torn between his Bible-thumping upbringing and his desire to make hell-raising rock ‘n’ roll with hits such as Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, has died at the age of 87.

Lewis passed away at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, with his wife, Judith, by his side, a statement from his publicist said. He had been ill in recent years and suffered a stroke in 2019.


Like Chuck Berry’s guitar, Lewis’ piano was essential in shaping rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s. He was part of the dazzling Sun Records talent pool in Memphis, Tennessee, that included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. Lewis outlived them all.

He was one of the first performers inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was so influential that when John Lennon met him backstage in Los Angeles, the Beatle dropped to his knees and kissed Lewis’ feet.

Lewis filled his albums not only with ground-breaking rock but with gospel, country and rhythm and blues such as Me and Bobby McGee and To Make Love Sweeter for You as he endured a life often filled with alcohol, drugs and tragedy.

His music was sometimes overshadowed by scandals — including his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra in 1957.

In his prime, he performed with daring, originality and a lewd wild-man stage demeanour that thrilled his young fans as much as it agitated their parents.

Lewis would kick away his piano bench and bang the keyboard with his foot while his long wavy blond hair flopped in his face.

According to legend, Lewis was once so upset that Chuck Berry had been chosen to close a show over him that he finished his set with a move that was hard to top — setting the piano on fire and walking off.

“I’m a rompin’, stompin’, piano-playing son of a bitch,” Lewis once told Time magazine in his Louisiana drawl. “A mean son of a bitch. But a great son of a bitch.”

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