JERRY LEE LEWIS

THE (COMPLETE) SESSION (2 CD)

Recorded in London with great guest artists

Hip-O Select/Mercury Records, A Universal Music Company

(P)© 2005 The Island Del Jam Music Group

CD digipack cover

CD cover


Jerry Lee Lewis: piano & vocal

Featuring: Tony Ashton, Andy Bown, Delaney Bramlett, B.J.Cole, Tony Colton, Drew Croon, Matthew Fisher, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher, Pete Gavin, John Gustafson, Chas Hodges, Joe Jammer, Kenny Jones, Mickey Jones, Mick Kellie, Albert Lee, Alvin Lee, Kenneth Lovelace, Brian Parrish, Pete Robinson, Steve Rowland, Ray Smith, Gary Taylor, Thunderthighs (Karen Friedman, Dari Lallou & Casey Synge), Klaus Voormann, Gary Wright

Photos 1 Photos 2

CD inlay

Jerry Lee Lewis seemed to walk a line between Anglophilia and Anglophobia. England was, after all, the scene of his greatest debacle when—in 1958—the British press exposed his marriage to an underage cousin, and he'd returned home in disgrace. But the British were the first to embrace him again in the early 1960s. At a time when he could barely fill a honky tonk back home, he was playing British tours to packed theaters. But then again, he didn't like much of what had happened in music since the mid-1960s, and held the British responsible. The Beatles, he once said, should go back across the Atlantic at a slow walk.

The London sessions in January 1973 coincided with Jerry Lee's second career peak, just as the calamitous 1958 tour coincided with the first. After ten years in the wilderness, Jerry Lee Lewis was a country star; in fact, by 1973, he was quite possibly the biggest star in country music. He'd racked up more than twenty country hits in five years, and his record label, Mercury, was wondering if a return to the pop charts was out of the question. In 1 972, Mercury renewed Jerry Lee's contract, and the new deal called for four LPs a year, one of which would be rock. His last album under the old deal, The Killer Rocks On, had been his first rock album in five years and became his best-selling LP to that point. Perhaps an "event" album would build on that success. Sessions in London with superstar guests were a way to introduce classic artists to new audiences. It had worked for Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and several other bluesmen. Chuck Berry had come to England and recorded a novelty song, "My Ding-a-Ling," that became the biggest hit of his career. The portents looked good.

"The London session was my idea," said Mercury's Charlie Fach. "Every time I'd go to England, I'd meet these British musicians, and they'd find out I was from Mercury, and they'd say, "Jerry Lee Lewis is on Mercury. I'd love to record with him." They knew every lick he'd ever played. I wanted Steve Rowland to produce it. He was an American who lived in England and he had cut a lot of hits for us and others (Mindbenders, Pretty Things, the Herd with Peter Frampton, etc.) We flew Steve to see Jerry in Memphis, but Jerry and his crew were bombed out of their heads, and when they got to London, they didn't remember him."

Jerry Lee Lewis arrived in London on Sunday, January 7, 1973, with his girlfriend, Charlotte Bampus; his publishing manager, Eddie Kilroy; his sidekick, Jud Phillips; his manager, Cecil Harrelson; and three backing musicians, including his son, Jerry Lee, Jr. Drinks were free in First Class, and Jerry partook all the way across the Atlantic. He brought along a song he'd been performing for a year or so, Charlie Rich's "No Headstone on My Grave"; otherwise, he had no idea what he would play. On Monday, Jerry strode into Advision Studios on Gosfield Street to find Delaney Bramlett and Gary Wright awaiting him, but no rhythm section. Someone suggested an Island Records act, Head, Hands & Feet, that included drummer Tony Colton (who doubled as Rory Gallagher's producer) and master guitarist Albert Lee. Jerry had no idea who any of them were, but readily agreed.

Jerry warmed to Head, Hands & Feet, but Colton sensed some apprehension. "He wasn't about to show his hand in front of so many people," said Colton. "He nearly punched me when I suggested that he try one of my songs, 'Music to the Man,' though I thought he'd sound good doing it, and he did." Jerry Lee wouldn't admit to anyone, perhaps not even himself, that most of the assembled musicians were, technically at least, better than him. True, he had the presence, the aura, and the indefinable star quality, but his home turf was three-chord country and rock 'n' roll. The fact that he hadn't grown as a musician was, in part at least, his strength. He plowed a narrow furrow with absolute mastery. He could imprint himself upon a country or rock 'n' roll standard by stripping it to its essence and singing it with the authority of one who has seen both the top and the bottom. Charlie Fach remembers Jerry Lee telling Peter Frampton that he couldn't play guitar. Fach heard it as an insult, but Jerry probably meant that Frampton played too much guitar for his taste.

Instead of putting out the call for new songs, Rowland let Jerry stay within his comfort zone. The master and his disciples (the age difference between them was not that great—just a few years, in most cases) would try to bring a fresh slant to rock and blues standards. When Jerry looked beyond bedrock country, blues, and rockabilly, it was back to the songs he'd learned in his youth, like "There's a Goldmine in the Sky (1937)," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love (1928)," and Eddie Fisher's "Dungaree Doll." His poignant reading of "Goldmine in the Sky" is a master class in reinterpreting standards. When the sessions were over, the only two completely new songs, "Music to the Man" and "Jukebox," were by Tony Colton. The rest were either standards, or songs that Jerry considered standards, like "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee." The latter had almost totemic importance for him because he'd sung it at his first public appearance at the Ferriday, Louisiana, Ford dealership in 1949. It was, in other words, the song that had set him upon his course.

Aside from Colton's songs, only three numbers originated from the previous ten years: Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," and the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." Rarely overawed by someone else's interpretation of a song, Jerry had to acknowledge that the Stones had him licked on "Satisfaction." "They done that one so good that me singin' it would be like stickin' a greasy noodle up some critter's ass," he said. Everyone laughed, but no one knew what he meant. The rock standards and boogies might have been familiar, perhaps over-familiar, but the guests reinvigorated them to the point that they came alive once more. Rory Gallagher in particular was superb on slide guitar. The sense of occasion brought out the best in Jerry, along with some of the worst. Not only did he not know who the guests were, he didn't bother to learn their names. "Take it, son," he'd say.

In Nashville, Mercury's Jerry Kennedy had figured out how to produce Jerry Lee Lewis. He ordered the peanut gallery out of the studio so that Jerry wouldn't play to them, and found new songs within Jerry's comfort zone. Steve Rowland had to cope with hangers-on, fan club reps, and label people crowding the control room and the studio floor. "Sea Cruise," for instance, was suggested by a fan club member leaning on the piano. It might have been a more adventurous album if Rowland had closed the session and put out the call for new songs, but he was justifiably pleased with the results. "The magic was there," he said. "The guys were having a good time. That's the ingredient that's so hard to put into a session. Those albums still sound good." Jerry turned slow blues songs, like "Trouble in Mind" and "No Headstone," into tours de force, and allowed the guests enough room to make these standards come alive once more.

Back in the States, Mercury commissioned a die-cut double LP sleeve, and prepared a big promotional push. "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" was pulled as the single, and became Jerry's last Hot 100 hit to date, peaking at No. 41 in 1973. The album gave him his best-ever showing in the pop LP charts, peaking at No. 37. Mercury's Charlie Fach was sufficiently impressed with Tony Colton to ask him to produce Jerry Lee in Memphis. In March 1973, Colton came to Memphis with a new song he'd co-written, "Jack Daniels Old No. 7." The subject was dear to Jerry's heart, but, as Colton said later, "It cured me once and for all of the albums and tours with [him]." Colton remained in the United States, though, working as a songwriter, scoring most recently with LeAnn Rimes' "Congratulations."

Within the last year or so, Jerry Lee Lewis has finished another superstar guest album, this one with Jimmy Rip at the controls. As before, household names lined up to play a chorus or two with one of the few surviving kings of rock 'n' roll. Inevitably, perhaps, there's a sense that Jerry Lee's later albums are a collective last hurrah, but in 1973, he was atop his game. His music was, as his guests knew well, the root from which it all sprang, and they were there to pay homage. It would have been nice if Jerry Lee had remembered their names, but it was sufficient simply to have been there.
Colin Escott


Audio samples Real Media (multistream 20 to 105 kbps)

CD1 tracklist CD2 tracklist
DRINKIN' WINE SPO-DEE-O-DEE MUSIC TO THE MAN BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO BAD MOON RISING SEA CRUISE (I CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION JUKE BOX NO HEADSTONE ON MY GRAVE BIG BOSS MAN PLEDGING MY LOVE DUNGAREE DOLL MEMPHIS I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE TROUBLE IN MIND JOHNNY B. GOODE HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL EARLY MORNING RAIN BE BOP A LULA SINGING THE BLUES GOLDMINE IN THE SKY WHOLE LOT OF SHAKIN' GOIN' ON SIXTY-MINUTE MAN DOWN THE LINE WHAT'D I SAY GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY LONG TALL SALLY JENNY, JENNY TUTTI FRUTTI WHOLE LOT OF SHAKIN' GOIN' ON

!!! THE BEST STUDIO ALBUM OF JERRY LEE !!!

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