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Music / Jerry Lee Lewis

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"I chew my nails and I twiddle my thumbs
I'm real nervous, but it sure is fun!
C'mon baby, you drive me crazy
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!"
— "Great Balls of Fire"

Jerry Lee Lewis (September 29, 1935 October 28, 2022) was an American Rockabilly music pioneer, as well as a member of the "Million Dollar Quartet" along with fellow Sun Records artists Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Known primarily for such hits as "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", his Signature Style of piano-playing (flamboyant, with a lot of glissando, getting up on the piano, etc.), and the Kissing Cousins scandal (in which his wife was discovered to not only be his first cousin once removed,note  but also just 13 years old—and his divorce from his second wife - of seven - still wasn't final) that almost completely derailed his career. Later on, he reinvented himself as a fairly successful mainstream Country Music artist.

He has his own Biopic, Great Balls of Fire!, where he is portrayed by Dennis Quaid, and appeared in another, Walk the Line, where he is portrayed by Waylon Payne.

Lewis continued to perform regularly until his passing in 2022. He was the last surviving rock star from the pre-Beatles era, and last living member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's inaugural class of 1986.

Not related to the comedian Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lee was born a Lewis, while the comedian was born Joseph Levitch.

Whole Lotta Tropin' Going On:

  • Catchphrase:
    • "Think about it, darlin'"
    • "When you're good, you're good!" (in conversation, not in song)
  • "Days of the Week" Song: "When I Get Paid" mentions Monday through Thursday.
  • Genre Shift: He had a fairly successful Country Music career in the 1960s through 1980s, although even "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" and "Great Balls Of Fire" from his boogie-woogie days were #1 country hits.
  • Hollywood Mid-Life Crisis: "Middle Age Crazy"
  • "I Am" Song: Quite a few, beginning in the '50s with "Lewis Boogie". Also, "Rockin' My Life Away", "Boogie Woogie Country Man", "Honky Tonk Rock 'N' Roll Piano Man".
  • Kill It with Fire: Goodness gracious, great balls of fire, indeed!
    • Set his piano on fire on television.
    • He'd even do this onstage. Lewis would frequently tour with Chuck Berry and they'd alternate who'd open and close the show depending on the night. One night, Lewis lit his piano on fire after playing his encore, and told Berry, "Follow that, motherfucker."
      • There are a number of different versions of what exactly he said to Chuck Berry that night, but they're all fairly insulting.
    • The cover of his 39th album Last Man Standing shows him with, you guessed it, a piano on fire.
  • Large Ham: Oh God yes...
  • Last of His Kind: Little Richard's death in 2020 left him as the last surviving of the 50's rock pioneers, and Don Everly's death the next year left him as the last survivor of the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class.
  • Lyrical Tic: He would often substitute the word "me" in lyrics with "Jerry Lee", i.e. "If you see Corrina, send her on home to Jerry Lee..."
  • Non-Appearing Title: "High School Confidential", the theme song from the 1958 film of that name, notably performed by Lewis on the back of a moving flatbed truck in the opening. Though "high school hop" is sung multiple times in the chorus, the word "confidential" isn't close to being hinted at.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee O-dee"
  • Red Baron: "The Killer Himself"
  • Rockabilly and Rock & Roll: He is seen as one of the pioneers of the genre and one of the essentials who popularized it.
  • Small Reference Pools: Many people know him only for "Great Balls of Fire", particularly because it was featured in Top Gun.
  • Supergroup: The Million Dollar Freaking Quartet!, plus he made two albums with fellow Sun Records alumni: Survivors, with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and Class of 55, with Cash, Perkins and Roy Orbison.