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YouTube Gold: Jerry Lee Lewis

A stunning performer, Lewis has passed away

1957, Memphis, Jerry Lee Lewis Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Jerry Lee Lewis burst on to the music scene in the 1950’s with a frenetic style that was unlike anything before or, really, since.

He played piano with a raw energy that has to be seen to be believed. In the beginning of this documentary, he kicks the piano bench out, which was a predictable stunt. But you also see other furniture flying too, presumably tossed by people in the audience.

He was one of the founding fathers of what we know now as rock and roll - that Fats Domino said had been played in New Orleans 10-15 years prior to it becoming a national sensation - and we’re pretty sure he was the last one standing. Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley have all departed. Elvis Presley died in 1977, a shell of himself and Buddy Holly didn’t make it to 23, having died in a tragic plane crash in 1959.

Lewis was a massive disruption, a wild man on stage and someone who changed rock and roll forever. But to say the least, he was not a very nice man. At one point, he was told to go on before Chuck Berry and replied, “nobody follows the Killer!”

While Berry waited, Lewis lit his piano on fire and played it as it burned, then went off stage and told Berry, “follow that.

His first scandal was marrying his 13-year-old cousin once removed. The news came out during a tour of Great Britain; it was over after three performances. Later, another wife died under mysterious circumstances and he never fully escaped suspicion in her death.

There were various other things over the years. As we say, he was not a particularly nice man.

But he was a revolutionary performer. After the scandal with his first wife, he continued to tour and Live at The Star Club (1964) is widely regarded as one of the greatest live albums, and albums of any type, of all time. It’s mesmerizing.

He also went into country music and made some classics there.

Later, he was more or less forgiven for most of his excesses and recorded with a lot of people, including Bruce Springsteen.

Live at the Star Club aside, and his voice was already starting to suffer there, Lewis’s greatest performances were his earliest. He was out of control on stage as he was in his personal life. There had never been a performer like him, and there may never be one like him again. You can’t follow the Killer.