The “Great Balls of Fire” singer’s team released a statement Friday, saying, “Lewis, perhaps the last true, great icon of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, whose marriage of blues, gospel, country, honky-tonk and raw, pounding stage performances so threatened a young Elvis Presley that it made him cry, has died.”
A piano-playing legend, Jerry Lee is considered one of the first true rock ‘n’ roll musicians … rising to fame way back in 1957 with his first hit, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
Ever the showman, Jerry Lee was known to light his piano on fire to close out a show … and he was nicknamed “The Killer” for the way he knocked out audiences.
Jerry Lee was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, and when he was 9 years old he taught himself to play piano. His father mortgaged the family farm to buy Jerry Lee his first piano when he was 10, and when he was 14 he had his first public performance at a local car dealership.
JL quit school to focus on piano and he wound up in Memphis, where he signed with Sun Studios in 1956 … jamming out with Elvis Presleyand Johnny Cashbefore releasing his first single and becoming a star himself.
Jerry Lee’s second single was “Great Balls of Fire” … it was released in December 1957 and is a staple of pop culture, being featured in movies like “Top Gun” and the recent sequel.
Dennis Quaid played Jerry in the “Great Balls of Fire!” movie about his life.
The first person inducted into the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, Jerry Lee played big gigs well into his ’80s … and in 2013 he opened Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café & Honky Tonk on historic Beale Street in Memphis.
He was just inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year, but was unable to attend the ceremony because he was ill with the flu. Kris Kristofferson accepted the award for Jerry, and drove it to him to present it in person.