At Sun Records: The Collected Works (18-CD Box Set( By Jerry Lee Lewis

August 7, 2016

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“You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, too much love drives a man insane, you broke my will, oh what a thrill, goodness gracious great balls of fire.”

Several days ago, with those words firmly implanted in my mind, I opened the definitive, and I mean definitive, Sun box set by Jerry Lee Lewis. The 18 discs contain every session and track recorded by Lewis during his seven years with the Sun label, 1956-1963. That’s 623 tracks if you are keeping count. Also included are two 300 page books; one contains a complete discography with comments and notes and the other presents hundreds of pictures, with 100 being previously unpublished.

Today, Jerry Lee Lewis in one of the grand old men of rock and roll. He was one of the original ten inductees into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. While his career is now into its sixth decade, his time with Sun produced a body of work that helped create the fabric of rock and roll.

This is not a release for the faint of heart but for hard core aficionados of good old rock and roll. There are multiple tracks of many songs that will only appeal to the person who wants everything either by Lewis or from the Sun label, but if you fall into that category there is a gold mine to be explored.

His well-known material is the roots of 1950’s rock. “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Breathless,” “High School Confidential,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” and others are a music history lesson. While many people may not need a dozen versions of these songs; the subtle differences and the final master create a traceable journey of how his songs took their final form.

His lesser known material and a few obscurities share the stage with his hits. He was never afraid to tackle songs outside his comfort zone as rock, pop, blues, country, and gospel all mingle together and emerge with his personal stamp. “Ooby Dooby,” “Love Letters In The Sand,” “Honey Hush,” “Singing The Blues,” “Mean Woman Blues,” “The Ballard Of Billie Joe,” and even “The Marine Hymn” all point to his flexibility as a musician.

The two books are a treat in and of themselves. The discography is a companion to the music as one is able to trace the various recording sessions in detail. The book of photographs is a trip in a time machine back to a very different era.

This is not a set for everyone. If you are not connected to Lewis or 1950’s rock and roll, there will probably be little interest. The other issue is the price given the enormity of the box set. If however you want to completely explore the early career of one of the legends of rock and roll and have a few dollars to spend; then this is a must purchase.

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Rock & Roll Time By Jerry Lee Lewis

April 28, 2015

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Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the grand old men of rock and roll. His career now spans seven decades. He was 79 when he entered the studio to record his latest album Rock & Roll Time.

His last two studio efforts, Last Man Standing (2006) and Mean Old Man (2010) were duet albums. His latest release is all Jerry Lee. It is still heavy in star power but the likes of Keith Richards, Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Robbie Robertson, Doyle Bramhall II, and Shelby Lynne are regulated to guitarists and background vocalists.

The title of the album is somewhat misleading. While he can still rock as seen on covers of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” and “Promised Land;” much of the album is more in tune with the country side of his career.

The title track, written by Kris Kristofferson, has a plaintive and nostalgic feel. Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Mississippi Kid” is transformed into an emotional country-tinged performance. “Keep Me In Mind” is a pure country ballad, reminiscent of many of his country hits during the 1970’s.

He reaches deep in the Bob Dylan catalogue with a sincere version of “Stepchild.” In a tribute to his Sun label days, he straddles the line between rock and country with “Folsom Prison Blues.”

His voice may not have the explosive power of his younger days but he more than makes up for it with a laid back and smooth approach. He can still play the piano but also uses the array of guest guitarists to fill in the sound.

Jerry Lee Lewis has produced a remarkable album at an age when most of his contemporaries have retired or passed on. It may not shake your nerves and rattle your brain but there is still some fire in the music.

 


Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On 45 by Jerry Lee Lewis

April 19, 2012

Jerry Lee Lewis and His Pumping Piano was one of the original early rock ‘n’ roll madmen. His high octane live performances and high energy music were some of the highlights of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll.

His debut chart single was “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” It first reached the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart June 24, 1957 and peaked at number three. It was the second biggest hit single of his career.

Jerry Lee Lee Lewis is now a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and The Rockabilly Hall Of Fame.

His Sun Label bandmates, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash may be gone but now in his late 70s, Jerry Lee rocks on.


Blue Suede Shoes 45 by Jerry Lee Lewis

February 26, 2012

Jerry Lee Lewis released his version of “Blue Suede Shoes” while he was with the Sun Label. It did not become a hit as the original by Carl Perkins remains the standard for this classic rock ‘n’ roll song with Elvis’ a close second.

Still, during the late 1950s, Jerry Lee Lewis really did not produce any bad rock ‘n’ roll songs for the Sun label. While “Blue Suede Shoes” will never be associated with Lewis, it was still a rocking cover of a classic song.


Rock & Roll Medley/Drinking Wine Spo-Dee O’ Dee 45 by Jerry Lee Lewis

February 25, 2012

Jerry Lee Lewis has had a lot of ups and downs during his career but this single and its parent album, THE SESSION, were a definite up.

I always flip this single over. “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee O’Dee” was was a excellent country cover of the old 1949 rhythm & blues hit by Stick McGhee.

The B side was Jerry Lee Lewis at his rocking best. He combined a number of classic rock ‘n’ roll songs into an explosive medley.

The single would peak at number 41 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and while his albums have continued to sell well, this was the last of his 18 pop charting singles.


25 All Time Greatest Sun Recordings by Jerry Lee lewis

September 20, 2011

Jerry Lee Lewis is the last man standing among his famous Sun labelmates. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash are all gone, but old Jerry Lee rocks on. He is also one of the last of a rapidly vanishing list of 1950s superstars who helped form the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll.

His career has now reached the 55-year mark. He has produced dozens of pop and country hit singles, and his albums have sold tens of millions of copies. He has toured constantly for over a half century and been married seven times (including once to his 13 year old cousin once removed, which almost ruined his career). He has been elected to the Rock And Roll and Rockabilly Halls Of Fame.

While his career has moved in many directions and included rock, country, and rockabilly styles of music, it was his time with the legendary Sun label that has defined his career. 25 All Time Greatest Sun Recordings is a fine short overview of his almost seven years with the label. If you have the cash and the inclination, there is always the Bear Family label’s Classic: The Definitive Edition Of His Sun Recordings 1956-1963, which covers 244 tracks spread over eight CDs. If that box set is overkill, then this single disc compilation should do just fine.

The sound is just about as clear and pristine as its going to get, given the age of the songs and the recording equipment of the day. The producers wisely went back to the original source tapes and used modern technology to enhance the quality as much as is possible.

Most fans of early rock ‘n’ roll should be very familiar with his better known songs. If you fall into that category but don’t have any of his early material in your collection, then this is a good place to start. If you are unfamiliar with his music, then this album will be a real treat.

His biggest hits are some of the finest to emerge from the 1950s. “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Breathless,” and “High School Confidential” are essential to understanding the early evolution of rock music. The energy and underlying sexual tension have remained an essential part of rock’s make-up. Add his pumping piano and showmanship to the mix and you have some of the best high octane rock of its era.

As with any compilation album, there will always be controversy as to what was included and what was left out. Once you get past his essential hits, there are any number of songs that could have been included. The material chosen tended to be somewhat haphazard, which worked well as it gave a taste of the many sides of his early career. There are rock covers (“Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Good Golly Miss Molly”), country covers (“Crazy Arms” and “You Win Again”), and the somewhat obscure (“Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” and “Lewis Boogie”).

Jerry Lee Lewis has always considered himself the greatest musician in rock history. Many of these tracks show that he was very close to being right.

His biggest hits are some of the finest to emerge from the 1950s. “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Breathless,” and “High School Confidential” are essential to understanding the early evolution of rock music. The energy and underlying sexual tension have remained an essential part of rock’s make-up. Add his pumping piano and showmanship to the mix and you have some of the best high octane rock of its era.

Article first published as Music Review: Jerry Lee Lewis – 25 All Time Greatest Sun Recordings on Blogcritics.


Mean Old Man by Jerry Lee Lewis

November 6, 2010

If ever two album titles described an artist at a specific point in his career, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Last Man Standing (2006) and Mean Old Man (2010) are it. He is the last of the major Sun Label artists still alive, as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash are all gone. Now in his mid-seventies, he still has the attitude and fire of his youth.

Jerry Lee Lewis burst upon the music scene during 1957 with such hits as “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls Of Fire.” His rock ‘n’ roll career came to an abrupt halt when he married his thirteen year old cousin. He made his living as a noted country artist for the next three decades, as he charted 65 songs on the C&W charts in the United States during 1957-1989. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986. Today, the “Mean Old Man” of rock ‘n’ roll continues to record and tour.

Mean Old Man is similar to his last release in that except for one track, it is an album of duets. Let me also say that I am reviewing the deluxe edition, which contains 18 tracks as opposed to the regular version, which contains only ten. A word of advice is spend the extra couple of bucks and buy the longer one.

He really brings his sound into the modern age with his selection of songs and partners. Ronnie Wood, Kid Rock, Slash, Eric Clapton, John Fogerty, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, and a host of others all lend a hand here.

His voice may not have the suppleness of his youth, but he still more than gets by. He can still play his piano with skill and ferocity when needed.

“Rocking My Life Away” features some nice boogie woogie piano by the old master, plus guitar work by Slash and vocal assistance from Kid Rock. The best vocal fit is with Sheryl Crow on the old standard “You Are My Sunshine.” He combines with John Fogerty on his classic “Bad Moon Rising.”

He goes in a country direction on a number of tunes. “Whiskey River” with Willie Nelson and “Swinging Doors” with Merle Haggard return him to one of his comfort zones.

There are also some inspired choices. The old Roy Hamilton tune, “You Can Have Her,” features two of the great living guitarists, Eric Clapton and James Burton. The most eclectic choice was the somewhat obscure Rolling Stones song “Dead Flowers” but Mick Jagger’s presence gives it legitimacy. The most poignant combination is with Solomon Burke on “Railroad To Heaven.” Burke recently passed away and this is a final reminder of his talent and vocal skill.

The album comes to a fitting conclusion with just Lewis and his piano with a performance of “Miss the Mississippi And You.”

Mean Old Man proves that Jerry Lee Lewis is alive and still kicking in his mid-seventies. If this album is any indication, there is hope that his story will have more chapters in the future.