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Jerry Lee Lewis is a piano-playing rock 'n roll pioneer famous for his high energy stage presence and controversial life.
Watch a short video about Jerry Lee Lewis and the road he took to musical fame.
Jerry Lee Lewis describes recording with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash at Sun Studios.
Johnny Cash wrote one of his most well-known songs, "The Man in Black" to explain just why he always dresses in black.
On February 11, 1968 Johnny Cash recorded a live show at Folsom Prison in California offering the inmates the concert of a lifetime.
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Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana. He began playing the piano at age 9, copying the styles of preachers and black musicians. He signed with Sun Records and became a rockabilly star. In 1958, Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin causing a record boycott but Lewis continued performing and made a comeback. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
With his innovative and flamboyant piano playing and catchy uptempo songs, Jerry Lee Lewis emerged as one of rock music's early showman in the 1950s. He was born in the small community of Ferriday, Louisiana, where his musical talents became apparent early on. He taught himself to play piano and sang in church growing up. On the radio, Lewis listened to such shows as Grand Ole Opry and The Louisiana Hayride. Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Al Jolson were some of his early influences.
When he was 10 years old, Lewis got a piano of his very own. His father mortgaged the family farm to buy the instrument. He gave his first public performance at the age of 14. Lewis wowed the crowd gathered for the opening of a local car dealership with his piano prowess. With little formal education, he basically gave up on school around this time to focus on music. Lewis did, however, briefly attend a Bible college in Texas.
Lewis eventually ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he found work as a studio musician for Sun Studios. In 1956, he recorded his first single, a cover of Ray Price's "Crazy Arms," which did well locally. Lewis also worked on some recording sessions with Carl Perkins. While working at Sun, he and Perkins jammed with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. This session by the "Million Dollar Quartet" was recorded at the time, but it was not released until much later.
In 1957, Lewis became a star with his unique piano-driven sound. "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" became a hit on the pop, country and R&B charts. By this time, Lewis had also developed some of his famous stage antics, such as playing standing up and even lighting the occasional piano on fire. He had such energy and enthusiasm in his performances that he earned the nickname "The Killer" for the way he knocked out his audiences.
Lewis appeared to be on a roll. His next single, "Great Balls of Fire," proved to be another big hit in December 1957. The following March, Lewis struck again with "Breathless," which made into the Top 10 of the pop charts. Behind the scenes, however, some of Lewis's life choices would soon put a tamper on his career.
Lewis already had two brief marriages under his belt when he decided to marry his cousin Myra Gale Brown in 1957. On their marriage license, Brown stated she was 20 years old, but she was really only 13 at the time. News of his underage bride broke as Lewis started a tour of the United Kingdom in 1958, creating such an outcry that the tour was quickly cancelled. Even when Lewis returned to the States, he found that he got a less-than-warm welcome home.
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