Jerry Lee Lewis
By: Franklin Bruno | Categories: HiLo Heroes

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The last man standing of Sun Records’ early roster has been known to set himself among even loftier company. “Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and JERRY LEE LEWIS [born 1935]…. That’s your only four fuckin’ stylists that ever lived.” A typically outsized boast, but there’s something to it. His monomaniacal singing and gliss-happy church-meets-cathouse piano-pounding make him the personification of the priapic, parent-scaring side of rock-and-roll. (Little Richard is his main competition, with one difference; Lewis is as sexually ambiguous as a codpiece.) After his early hits and disastrous 1959 tour on which the press got wind of his marriage to 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown, the Ferriday Flyer spent years in the wilderness before rebranding himself, at least in the studio, as a country balladeer in the ’60s and ’70s. Live, he was (and is) happiest churning anything from “In the Mood” to “Me and Bobby McGee” to any number of Hank standards into demented rockabilly, often sacrificing the tune, the beat, and his backing bands to the imperatives of his own performance. The great paradox of his career is how long an approach that has barely changed over five decades could manage to conjure the sound of perpetual revolution.

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Franklin Bruno is the author of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (Continuum, 33 1/3 series). His current band is The Human Hearts. Twitter: @humanfranklin.