Jerry Lee Lewis is in the news again, so it might be a good time to write about him and Elvis Presley. Stories about their rivalry persist, although Elvis had been gone from Sun Records for over a year before Jerry Lee burst on the scene. In some ways The Killer had the better of it in this presumed competition. For one thing, Jerry Lee had much bigger hits at Sun Records than Elvis did. The sales of “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire” absolutely dwarfed anything achieved by Elvis’ five Sun releases. “Breathless” and “High School Confidential” also made the Top 40, something not achieved by an Elvis song until he went to RCA. Jerry Lee’s career also shot out of the gates quicker than Elvis’. His first release “Crazy Arms” went nowhere, but the second, “Whole Lot of Shakin’,” instantly made him a national star.
The supposed feud between Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley is on pretty shaky ground. Consider what Elvis said after the famed “Million Dollar Quartet” session, his first musical interaction with Jerry Lee: “That boy can go. I think he has a great future ahead of him. He has a different style, and the way he plays piano just gets inside me.” Jerry Lee wasn’t afraid to put his stamp on Elvis songs. He has recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Elvis covered Jerry Lee’s’ “Whole Lot of Shakin,” and a few lesser-known Lewis songs.
The news about Jerry Lee is not so happy; he has divorced his sixth wife. They had been married for almost 21 years, probably a marital-longevity record for him. He will have to pay her $250,000, plus $50,000 a year for 4 years until Jerry Lee Lewis III reaches 22. Most celebrity divorces cost much more than this, so it sounds like he got off pretty light. Jerry Lee also gets to keep his ranch south of Memphis in Nesbit, Mississippi, where he has lived for 40 years; and that’s got to be helpful in getting him through yet another difficult time.
Jerry Lee Lewis is a survivor. He is now 70, which means he will outlive Elvis by at least 28 years. Unfortunately, he filled a lot of his years with scandals, drug and alcohol problems, and family breakups. Nine months before Elvis’ death, Jerry Lee was arrested for waving a gun outside the gates of Graceland in the early morning hours, when he was refused permission to see Elvis. I like Jerry Lee Lewis and his music. He hasn’t led an exemplary life, but I hope somehow he finds a good woman, marries her, treats her right, and lives long enough to set an even greater marital-longevity record. Have a nice life at the ranch, Jerry Lee.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold