Jerry Lee Lewis (born September 29, 1935) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and pianist, often known by his nickname, The Killer. He has been described as “rock & roll’s first great wild man.”
A pioneer of rock and roll and rockabilly music, Lewis made his first recordings in 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis. “Crazy Arms” sold 300,000 copies in the South, but it was his 1957 hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” that shot Lewis to fame worldwide. He followed this with “Great Balls of Fire”, “Breathless” and “High School Confidential”. However, Lewis’s rock and roll career faltered in the wake of his marriage to Myra Gale Brown, his 13-year-old cousin.
He had minimal success in the charts following the scandal, and his popularity quickly eroded. In the early 1960s, he did not have much chart success, with few exceptions, such as a cover of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”. His live performances at this time were increasingly wild and energetic. His 1964 live album Live at the Star Club, Hamburg is regarded by music journalists and fans as one of the wildest and greatest live rock albums ever. In 1968, Lewis made a transition into country music and had hits with songs such as “Another Place, Another Time”. This reignited his career, and throughout the late 1960s and 1970s he regularly topped the country-western charts; throughout his seven-decade career, Lewis has had 30 songs reach the top 10 on the “Billboard Country and Western Chart”. His No. 1 country hits included “To Make Love Sweeter for You”, “There Must Be More to Love Than This”, “Would You Take Another Chance on Me”, and “Me and Bobby McGee”.
Lewis’s successes continued throughout the decade and he embraced his rock and roll past with songs such as a cover of the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and Mack Vickery’s “Rockin’ My Life Away”. In the 21st century Lewis continues to tour around the world and still releases new albums. His album Last Man Standing is his best selling to date, with over a million copies sold worldwide. This was followed by Mean Old Man, which has received some of the best sales of Lewis’s career.
Lewis has a dozen gold records in both rock and country. He won several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. In 1989, his life was chronicled in the movie Great Balls of Fire, starring Dennis Quaid. In 2003, Rolling Stone listed his box set All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology number 242 on their list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2004, they ranked him number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Lewis is the last surviving member of Sun Records’ Million Dollar Quartet and the Class of ’55 album, which also included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley.
Music critic Robert Christgau has said of Lewis: “His drive, his timing, his offhand vocal power, his unmistakable boogie-plus piano, and his absolute confidence in the face of the void make Jerry Lee the quintessential rock and roller.”