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Monday, October 31st, 2022

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 Sad news for us rock and rollers all over America, and for that matter, all over the world. The Killer passed away last week after living a full 87 years of life.  Although he lived in a number of venues, and seem to constantly travel all over the world, he always called Ferriday, Louisiana his home. This little town in Northeast Louisiana produced a number of famous people. But no one was bigger and more well-known than Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jerry Lee had two famous and celebrated cousins.  Mickey Gilley won the award of the country singer of the year. And cousin Jimmy Swaggart became and still is one of the best-known evangelical ministers in the country. Newscaster Howard K. Smith came from Ferriday as well as General Claire Chennault of the fighting tigers fame in World War II.  My daughter Campbell had a nationwide following as host of the Today Show on NBC and primetime news anchor on CNN.  Yes, I’m a Ferriday guy, having practiced law and being the state senator from this little town for many years. But nobody, and I mean nobody, was as well-known and controversial as Jerry Lee.

As I’ve written before, Jerry Lee was my first client when I opened my law practice in Ferriday back in 1967.   I had just put up my shingle and couldn’t even afford a secretary. I just hung out in my office hoping that someone would come in needing a lawyer, and I was always anxious when the door opened. One afternoon, in walks “The Killer” himself. I recognized him immediately with that long wavy hair and pointed chin.  He didn’t need a lawyer but had a family member that was in a bit of trouble with the local game wardens. I was glad to help and that forged a long relationship with the king of rock and roll.

In 1957, there was no doubt that Jerry Lee was the king of rock “˜n’ roll. The Beatles John Lennon even said that Jerry Lee was the representation of a whole new genre of music. Nobody played a boogie-woogie piano better than the Killer. He played with both his hands and even his feet, and the piano keys seem to take a life of their own with the maestro, Jerry Lee, directing them to play faster and louder. I saw him at one performance kick over the piano stool and even dance on top of the piano.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, Jerry Lee was at the top of his musical game. He was bigger than Elvis or any other performer, both in the U.S. and numerous other countries in Europe.  But his star lost some of its luster with personal problems, including his marriage to his 14-year-old cousin. He was married seven times with a number of highs at lows.

Then his luck turned and Jerry Lee reinvented himself, following the path of Cousin Mickey Gilley, and he began performing country music ballads.  His top country hits included”Middle-Age Crazy” (1977), What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” (1968), and “Chantilly Lace” (1972). But whatever else he recorded, nothing then and in the future will ever come close to “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” (1957) and “Great Balls of Fire.” (1957).

 I attended a dinner in New York a few years back for a relative, and a wealthy hedge fund CEO came to my table and introduced himself. He had heard I was from Ferriday. All he wanted to talk about was Jerry Lee Lewis. “My musical idol,” he told me. “I even have a piano in my office, so to unwind, I play The Killer’s music.” This guy has billions, travels the world in his own private jet, and to relax, he plays the music of a Ferriday boy who cut his musical teeth hanging out with the likes of Mickey Gilley and Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.  

As the song says, “Rock and Roll will never die.”  And years from now, when they make a list of the all-time greats, included at the top of the list will be the Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also look over a list of books he has published at www.thelisburnpress.com.






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