Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
New York Times Bestseller
The greatest Southern storyteller of our time, New York Times bestselling author Rick Bragg, tracks down the greatest rock and roller of all time, Jerry Lee Lewis—and gets his own story, from the source, for the very first time.
A monumental figure on the American landscape, Jerry Lee Lewis spent his childhood raising hell in Ferriday, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi; galvanized the world with hit records like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” that gave rock and roll its devil’s edge; caused riots and boycotts with his incendiary performances; nearly scuttled his career by marrying his thirteen-year-old second cousin—his third wife of seven; ran a decades-long marathon of drugs, drinking, and women; nearly met his maker, twice; suffered the deaths of two sons and two wives, and the indignity of an IRS raid that left him with nothing but the broken-down piano he started with; performed with everyone from Elvis Presley to Keith Richards to Bruce Springsteen to Kid Rock—and survived it all to be hailed as “one of the most creative and important figures in American popular culture and a paradigm of the Southern experience.”
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story is the Killer’s life as he lived it, and as he shared it over two years with our greatest bard of Southern life: Rick Bragg. Rich with Lewis’s own words, framed by Bragg’s richly atmospheric narrative, , this is the last great untold rock-and-roll story, come to life on the page.
somehow preempt any coming disaster or at least get through his shows and return safely to America, where the story might be, if not contained, at least spread out a little more, in the way a firecracker does less damage on a driveway than it does under a tin can. There was no hope that the British would understand, or accept. The British were not built that way, and their own rock-and-roll revolution was at the time merely in the grumbling stage. Though the young people of the British Isles
it landed on it—the only sound, at times, in that little spacecraft on that cold, distant orb. He would look at the moon sometimes, especially on the nights when it was big and full, and grin about that. Some of the old people at home in Louisiana said we never went to the moon, that they made all that stuff up, but he knows that we did, and that the astronauts heard a little boogie when they got there. In early ’70, he did The Johnny Cash Show; he was gracious to his host, and Johnny treated
how there’s really that much wrong with you,” and let him go. Looking back, Jerry Lee has little inclination to second-guess his cousin. “I think he was . . . he was right. He was right in what he was doing and what he thought and what he thinks.” But what was wrong with Jerry Lee could not be cured with a few days of clean living. On the twenty-eighth of June, 1981, after a show in Chattanooga, he complained that his stomach was on fire. But he felt better by morning, and the next day he was
of those rare times when being unknown saved a performer. Green did not know about any ban, about all the stations and sponsors lined up against him, and Jud did not volunteer. Why open the door on a mean dog when it’s only going to bite you? “Jerry Lee,” Jud said, “come on in here.” This part, Jerry Lee remembers exquisitely. “I took my bubblegum out and stuck it on the top of the piano, and I laid my Mickey Mouse funny book down, and I did my thing.” He played “Shakin’” all the way through,
branches of trees [with] the richest and most luxurious festoons.” The result was “an impenetrable curtain, variegated and spangled with all possible gradations of color from the splendid orange to the enlivening green down to the purple and blue and interspersed with bright red and russet brown.” Dunbar saw endless oak trees, red and black, along with ash, pecan, hickory, elm, and persimmon; the soil was “black marl mixed with sand,” the riverbanks “clothed in rich canebreak.” The forest along