Even at age 73, as evidenced by his recently televised all-star tribute concert “Last Man Standing”, Jerry Lee Lewis to this day takes no prisoners when he sits down at the piano and lets it all rip. A true survivor of a life filled with triumph, violence, and tragedy, his private life has also been full tilt boogie.
The title of his tribute concert, “Last Man Standing”, is a reference to his participation in the legendary 1956 “Million Dollar Quartet” recording session at Sun Records, where he jammed with Elvis, Johnny Cash, and rockabilly giant Carl Perkins. Of this mighty foursome, Jerry Lee Lewis prides himself on truly being “the Last Man Standing.”
In fact, upon receiving news of Elvis’s death, “The Killer” said, “I’m glad. Just another one outta the way. What the sh*t did Elvis do except take dope I couldn’t get a-hold of?”
Additional reasons why they call him “The Killer”:
In 1957-8, after having four smash chart hits in a row, Jerry Lee’s career came to a sudden end after he married his thirteen-year-old cousin and daughter of his bass player. After ten years of decline, “The Killer” then miraculously rose from the show biz grave full-blown as a country western music superstar. At his 1973 Grand Ole Opry debut, he announced, “Let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen. I am a rock-‘n-rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm-‘n-blues mothaf**ker.”
In 1958, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry appeared together in “Alan Freed’s Big Beat Show.” The two legends argued about who would close the show, and Freed decided to put Berry on last. Not to be outdone, at his set’s “Great Balls of Fire” finale, “The Killer” dumped a Coke bottle full of gasoline on his piano and set it aflame, pre-dating The Who’s onstage mayhem and pyrotechnics by ten years.
In 1976, Memphis police arrested Jerry Lee after he showed up drunk and disorderly at 3 am at the gates of Graceland waving around a loaded gun and demanding to see Elvis.
Also in 1976, while celebrating his 41st birthday, “The Killer” was “playing around” with a loaded gun and “accidentally” shot his bass player in the chest. Lewis later said that he didn’t realize that the gun was loaded.
In 1982, his fourth wife drowned in his swimming pool. In 1983, his fifth wife died from a drug overdose not long after their wedding day.
But, no matter the man’s history and serious flaws, there’s no denying that the nickname “Killer” best applies to the genius in his powerful vocals and piano playing.
“Jerry Lee Lewis, Last Man Standing”, Alexis Pedridis, Guardian, URL: (http://arts.guardian.co.uk/filmandmusic/story/0,,1960510,00.html)
“Once more with feeling”, Edna Gunderson, USA Today, URL: (http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2006-09-25-jerry-lee-lewis-sidebar_x.htm)