One of the most significant and probably the biggest crossover to country artists, Jerry Lee Lewis is a pioneer of rock and roll who truly deserves the term ‘immortal’.
As well as the distinction of being, unusually for such a linguistic epithet, not dead, Jerry Lee continues into his 80’s to be a hard-living, fire and brimstone breathing, booze fumes inhaling, piano bashing, mad-as-a-fucking-hatter, working musician.
Celebrate him when you can, because in the true sense of the word, there will never be another like him.
Nick Tosches’s book, which is written in a fantastic, classy, almost poetic style, focusses on the part of the story of the part you most want to hear.
The early days, dirt poor raised in a stereotypical cousin marrying, rural, ain’t got much learning, back of beyond, Louisiana township, through to adult maturation at age 14 – his father-in-law (well, one of them, he had 7), being his cousin.
In addition to also, his bass player, which in some ways is even more worryingly incestuous.
As everyone knows, it all went bartlett-shaped for JLL when he came to tour Britain with his 13 year old bride, Myra. Despite a plea for the defence that she was in fact 15 – a lie – the UK press went ballistic at its sanctimonious best.
Jerry Lee was baffled and couldn’t comprehend the problem, since, as he said, it was all legal and above board, he and Myra having jumped the broomstick at a local Courthouse when they was out picking up some ice-cream.
As it turned out, it wasn’t legal, not because of Myra’s age, but as a result of ol’ Jerry not bothering to sort out the little matter of divorce from his previous wife.
Who, incidentally was wife number two and as it transpired, he’d never actually bothered to sort out the divorce thing with her either.
‘Hell Fire’ takes us through Jerry Lee’s early Sam Phillips campaign on Sun, sing-alongs around the piano with Elvis and Johnny Cash, heated taped arguments about religion and some great, great songs.
JLL continues to this day to feel himself a failure since he never became a preacher, like his first cousin, the equally tortured Jimmy Swaggart, and there are some nailed-on quotes which go some way toward understanding a genuinely wild man of rock who will never be truly understood and of whom history hasn’t yet realised, is a genius.
A mad, wife-beating, hypocritical, addicted, self serving genius perhaps, but nevertheless, that’s what he is.