Jerry Lee Lewis' 65th birthday party gig was not only the highlight of this year's Fan Club Convention but also the best gig I've ever seen or am likely to see again. Many experienced Killer fans were of the same opinion. Following his July show in London my expectations were fairly low key, but once again the Killer totally blew me away with a fantastic set that surpassed my wildest dreams! My thanks go to Shaun (my RHOF buddy) for persuading me that I could afford two foreign trips in a month, my credit card is in intensive care, not expected to survive however.
It was a moving experience to visit at last the scenic Lewis Ranch in Nesbit Mississippi, about 30 minutes drive south of Memphis. About 500 fans were in attendance on Friday 29th September and it was good to meet up with pals from USA, Scotland, England and the Continent. Phoebe, Kerrie, Kenny Lovelace along with Kay Martin, Elaine Orlando (who together ran the original 50s fan club) and Gary Skala were mingling with the fans. There was a mediocre modern band playing and a BBQ. We managed two tours of Jerry's house, saw some great memorabilia including his classic 58 Harley, Gold discs and the legendary first piano.
In mid afternoon a very tired and pale looking Jerry Lee shuffled out to greet the fans and cut his cake ("Keep yer hands off of it etc!!"). Despite Des and Chick being in their kilts two shy Welshmen in Hawaiian shirts were pictured near JLL in the Memphis paper!
The following day, at the Holiday Inn Select, near Memphis airport the Ferriday Fireball came to meet n greet the fans during the convention, he was very friendly and chatty. After dining during the day and various fan club activities (including a raffle with 3 of the 7 prizes going to the Celtic table!!) the guest of honour arrived to a standing ovation.
Non other than Mr Sam Phillips hisself!!! He looked fine, trim and very fit, his usual bubbly self. Knox and Sally eventually got him to the main table in time for dinner. The band set up on stage, Bob Hall drums, Bill Strom keyboards, B.B. Cunningham bass and smilin' Kenny Lovelace on lead and fiddle! It was a real treat to hear the fiddle again during Kenny's slot on Lonesome Fiddle Man. We heard Slippin N Slidin, Bye Bye Johnny and Scandinavian singer Stephen Ackles also sang.
It was a very emotional moment to hear Mr Phillips introduce Jerry with wonderful heartfelt comments. JLL true to form was late but of course Sam wasn't lost for words either! It was an unbelievable feeling to see the back cover pic of Sun lp 1230 materialising in front of my camera. Their mutual love and respect for each other through the vagaries of life's little ups and downs shone through.
Then the moment that we'd dreamt about on the long flight from Cardiff arrived, at 10pm The Killer clad in black slacks and a dark brown jacket climbed on stage and sat down by a grand piano, heaven was awaiting as we sat down in supplication at the foot of the stage (just left of centre naturally).
For 2 hours and 25 minutes, yes that's right for one hundred and forty five minutes (longer than the shows on the last tour put together!) we were enthralled once again by the master show man in absolute prime vocal and instrumental form. He played over 40 songs plus various bits n pieces. Original Memphis Beat Buck ("better known as Duck!!") Hutcheson was mesmerised along with the rest of us and said later that Jerry's voice is still strong and as clear as a bell.
My writing skills aren't sufficient to describe how absolutely wonderful a performance Jerry gave, trawling through all aspects of his career and accepting request after request (he even did 3 songs that I called out). It was great to hear many of the US fans asking for the Smash/Mercury era country classics and to hear them performed in such a spine tingling manner.
As Eric Morecambe so memorably put it, these are the right songs but not necessarily in the right order!! Opener Roll Over Beethoven got everyone in the groove, followed by Lucille, which was more like the Mercury cut rather than the plodding bluesy version of recent years. A great version of You Belong To Me lead into Johnny B Goode which swung well. A quick look back at Sam showed he was beaming as JLL went into Sun 259 Crazy Arms, absolutely spot on. My loudly hollered request took us to autobiographyville, Lewis Boogie and a ripsnorting take on it too. Grinning from ear to ear JLL tore through it like a man possessed. Still in Union Avenue mode we had a superfine Matchbox, Star Club time. Over The Rainbow calmed us down somewhat before Hollywood beckoned for High School Confidential, full of drive and hollering vocals. Could this really be the same sleepy guy who shuffled about in loose flip flops yesterday? We were like putty in those ten long fingered hands and boy he knew it. He chatted about the original session and recalled the names of everyone on it too.
Bob Hall was drowning in a pool of sweat by now behind the drums. Two absolute stone country classics next, a magnificent What's Made Milwaukee Famous and a nod to old Hiriam with You Win Again, the solos rippling out like a treasured Sun/London 45. My favourite quip of the night was an improvised "I Love You Still -(pause), But not TOO still" line in the latter. Then full steam Killer time, a pounding Chantilly Lace and a mouthwatering Meat Man with Mack Vickery's machine gun lyrics chomped to death. A lascivious and witty Big Legged Woman showed he was still hanging it in. Then duckwalk time, a storming Sweet Little 16, full of flashing right hand runs and a precise take on Little Queenie had us all meanwhile, thinking etc. Don't Be Cruel pumped along quickly followed by a fine tell me What'd I Say. He' d been on stage for over an hour by now.
Charlie Rich' s blues classic Don' t Put No Headstone On My Grave came to an unexpected end and the Killer glare flashed at the band so he played an improptu instrumental interlude to get them back on track, he may be 65 but he' still a perfectionist when it comes to music! Then treat of treats, to show he was still the happy birthday boy, a request from Gary Skala lead into Filipino Baby the old Ernest Tubb song, never recorded by JLL but this one proved he still loves those old 78s, CMA awards? Eat my shorts!
Hamburg time again with a stonking version of Money (Opry or Motown, hell its all grist to the Killer's mill). A dream come true, I've waited 30 years to hear this 'un. On his own patch, in a medium sized venue not some huge soul-less amphitheatre, he proves yet again he is the artist others have to be measured against. After a tiny hint of GBOF, he once again performed another personal request Drinkin' Wine Spo Dee O Dee, back to the flat bed truck in Louisiana.
From Sticks McGee via a scintillating Jimmie Rodgers Waiting For A Train, straight into Me And Bobby McGee! A surreal Lewis meander through the unique jukebox of his mind. Kenny Lovelace is such an under-rated guitarist outside the Lewis world, he was brilliant, both on his solos and on making sure the band knew quickly what was happening next.
MCA era's Why You Been Gone So Long ?, followed by a tremendous clear Once More With Feeling. Unlike the old London Rainbow shows of the late 70s each song, whether country or rock, was applauded on merit/performance not prejudged on genre. Troy Seals classic Boogie Woogie Country Man upped the temperature once again before cooling the fervour with an inspired Georgia On My Mind. Sorry Hoagy, Ray 'n Willie, only one cat does this song justice. This was followed by an instrumental whilst JLL tried to recall who wrote Georgia, with snatches of Stardust amongst other snippets.
A fine slinky Trouble In Mind lead into another raid on Union with an absolutely stunning Mean Woman Blues. Sam and Knox joined everyone else in giving this huge applause and an A-OK sign to boot. Back to those old juke joints for a full length romping take on Bill Nettles Hadacol Boogie, once again leading to gasps of awe from the enraptured crowd. Mickey Newbury's epic ballad She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye could have come off the Live Vegas lp of 1972, such was its clarity and vocal range. Amongst the many Killerisms and quips, we had a sung "I've fallen to the bottom and I'm working my way down!!" topped off with a guffaw. The second hour on stage had just flown by. My jaw was still on the floor at the energy and vitality of this cat who's lived many lifetimes crammed into 65 years of rocking on and on and on.
Treat of treats, during CC Rider Kenny managed to dig out the old fiddle and saw away much to JLL's surprise and obvious delight!! Another instrumental had shades of Sun's Lewis Workout, and by the looks of BB, Bob, Bill and Kenny they were getting fitter by the minute, who needs aerobics when the metronome that is the Lewis left hand of God is pumping away like a runaway train. A ragtime styled I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover brought many a smile to nodding bequiffed heads. This followed a great one line vocal on Folsom Prison Blues, where JLL stopped and said "Woah, Johnny Cash'd crucify me if he heard that version!!!
Earlier a JLL aide tried to get him to stop as the hotel were concerned that it was after midnight by now. Diplomatically as ever JLL told him "Get the ---- off mah stage boy!!" huge roars of approval from the enraptured crowd. What a showman. The stool flew back in the Ferriday national anthem (and as can be seen in the photos JLL took up the classic 50s Steve Allen Show stand up stance to Shake It Once again). Whole Lotta Shakin' flipped into Just A Little Bit and back for Let's Go One Time. Kenny was grinning even wider now that he'd survived the flying stool again. To huge cheers JLL picked up the stool and flicked it back upright for Coming Back For More, before ripping the place up with a full throttle Goodness Gracious, Great Balls Of Fire.
As much as I love James Burton, it was great that for this party Kenny was allowed to star again and that JLL played lengthy solos in most of the songs and was obviously having a ball. One right handed ripple up the keys continued over the side and down the leg of the piano with a huge grin and headshake to follow! We were all crammed up close to the stage now just like the 60s or the legendary Kings Hotel weekend, close enough for me to catch Jerry's ear with a croaky request for Mexicali Rose. Whatever Bob Hall was paid, he earned it for that song alone, brilliant performance by the two in a headlong race to the finish. There was a torrent of sweat running non stop down Bob's nose right through the song. Reluctantly JLL came to the closer, he told us he wanted to play all night for us. Mack Vickery's Elektra classic Rockin' My Life Away. A more appropriate closer for this pulsating pumping pensioner wouldn't have been possible. Somewhere along the way the piano lid vanished, the mike stand was on top of the piano, stool upside down, more stand up keyboard flailing and many, many shakes of delighted fans hands our hero left the stage with a trademark spin.
65 and Holdin' indeed, by my reckoning we had 41 songs with 20 coming from the golden era in Memphis. It was now 12:30 am, we'd been part of rock n roll history, ooh what a night it was, such a night. No one, repeat, no one, could have followed that show. Breathless! Sam, like the rest of us, was cheering and shouting, he graciously stayed to meet everyone who wanted to pay respects whilst later JLL was in residence in an upstairs room chatting to hoards of fans until dawn. The band worked their socks off and it was fitting as they walked round the balcony later they received standing ovations from the still excited fans gathered round the piano in the bar.
I've deliberately waited a month before writing this report in case the euphoria of the moment got to me but even with hindsight it was an event that will live long in the memories of those of us lucky enough to have experienced it. The way was dark, the night was long we didn't care if Jerry never went home!
Hopefully the fan club will eventually bring out a video of the show as the show was recorded. Dear Santa - - - - - - - - -
Thanks to Shaun, Ian, Des, Bob, Fran and especially Claudio for their help.