Tribune News ServiceBy Jon Platt
I remember watching a TV special on Jerry Lee Lewis as a kid.
“Just look at him go on that piano,” said my dad as he grinned and slapped his recliner to the beat. “He’ll play till he’s dead.”
And that seems to be the case.
The 79-year-old Lewis, known as “The Killer” by friends and fans, has released three original albums in the past nine years. In addition, he released an extensive box set; several albums of unreleased and remastered songs; a live recording from Austin; and a live performance DVD. Lewis has also maintained a regular number of tour appearances.
Lewis’ latest two albums, “Rock & Roll Time” (Shangri-La) and “The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings” (Saguaro Road Records), were released in the past two months.
“Rock & Rock Time” is a completely original album for Lewis. It features the voices of many other great musicians, like his previous works “Last Man Standing” (Shangri-La, 2006) and “Mean Old Man” (Shangri-La Roots, 2010).
Rock ‘n’ roll artists Neil Young, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are some of those singing with Lewis on this new album.
Of the two albums, my favorite is “Knox Phillips Sessions.” It carries the distinctly authentic tone Lewis is famous for by including the kind of lines one expects to hear from an artist known as rock ‘n’ roll’s first great wild man.
“Mattress full of dollar bills to tickle my feet,” Lewis sings in track number two “Ragged But Right.” “I meet ’em. I cheat ’em. I love ’em. I leave ’em. I break ’em in right. Tell ya, boys, The Killer’s rugged but he’s right.”
Track one of “Knox Phillips Session” is a very candid performance of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Lewis. It’s this sincere nature that makes Lewis’ music memorable.
Even on Lewis’ modern “Rock & Roll Time,” the overarching theme seems to be that he has made mistakes and will again in the future, but he’s pushing through to come out on top.
“Little mistake by The Killer on piano, but I’ll be alright,” Lewis said after slipping up on the bridge of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
On “Knox Phillips Sessions,” Lewis also includes his rendition of “Room Full of Roses,” which is a slower, sad love ballad. Lewis’ first cousin Mickey Gilley gained popularity in 1974 when he covered the song.
Based on this recording, Lewis’ version trumps Gilley’s. The reason for this could be that Lewis is attempting to parody Gilley. However, this is not a stretch for him, as the two have very similar yet distinct vocal and piano techniques.
“Have you ever heard anybody build their self up, tear their self down, build their self up and then bring it out?” Lewis said at the end of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
Lewis grew in popularity alongside Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. All of these artists have since died, leaving Lewis both the first great wild man of rock ‘n’ roll and the last great man of rock ‘n’ roll standing.