‘A CLASS BY HIMSELF’: Ferriday native Jerry Lee Lewis remembers his home community – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper
FERRIDAY, La. – Another of the famous cousins who came from a street in Ferriday has died.
Jerry Lee Lewis, the country, gospel and rock phenom who performed “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” died Friday of double pneumonia at the age of 87.
He and his cousins, the late Mickey Gilley and the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, will forever be remembered in their community as boys of “God-given talent”, said Hyram Copeland, former mayor of Vidalia and first cousin of the three.
Copeland said the loss was difficult after Gilley passed away in May at age 86. Swaggart is still alive.
“At 14 and 15, (Jerry) and Mickey would come to my aunt’s house on Mississippi Avenue (now Mickey Gilley Avenue) and they would play the piano. He’s 5 years older than me, so I was 10 and I was outside and listening to them.
Copeland said it seemed like every cousin in the family could play except him.
“Maybe I would have played too, but I’m out there shooting marbles,” he said. “They each had a God-given talent and played mostly by ear.”
Copeland remembers eating burgers with Lewis and Gilley and listening to a song on the jukebox. When they returned to his aunt’s house, Lewis and Gilley were able to play the song without any music, having only heard it once. He also remembers that they came to town to perform at a charity school. Gilley kept complaining that the piano was so out of tune it was impossible to play. “Jerry Lee walked over and said ‘Scoot over Mickey’ and started playing,” Copeland said. “He was playing that piano like it wasn’t out of tune. It was just his ability.
Their family was very religious and they all went to church together at the Assembly of God.
“He lived a long and exciting life and I’m sad to see them go,” he said. “I feel like I’m losing part of my family as I get older.”
Even locals unrelated to Lewis were impressed with his abilities and legacy.
“One of my greatest pleasures was meeting him in 2021,” Linda Gardner, who previously worked as director of the state-owned Delta Music Museum, told Ferriday until she was relieved. from office in September.
Before her final year as headmistress and the final year of Lewis’s life, she was asked to renew her wedding vows with his wife Judith at his private ranch in Nesbit. Reverend Donnie Swaggart presided over the ceremony. The couple were previously married in Natchez a decade ago by local minister Reverend Doug Broome, Gardner said.
“He wasn’t there to mingle with the crowd much, but he did spend some time with each of the 100 to 125 people present before he was ‘taken to his private quarters,'” Gardner said.
“I had the opportunity to tell him that it was a pleasure to meet him and how much I enjoyed working at the museum,” she said.
She left with a commemorative photo of herself and Lewis and a lasting memory.
She then received a signed photo of Lewis with a personalized message, “To Linda Gardener, thank you for your dedicated service to the Delta Music Museum.”
“It’s a treasured memory that I will treasure forever,” she said. “Meeting him was such an iconic experience.”
In five years of working at the museum, Gardner said he met many national and international visitors who found Ferriday simply because of Lewis.
“He will be greatly missed, but thank God we still have his music to remember him by,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize he was a master of many instruments, guitar, accordion and of course piano. He’s an American treasure.
Glen McGlothin, former mayor of Ferriday, said he knew Lewis and his family from growing up alongside them in Ferriday and attending the same church, the Assembly of God.
“Jerry Lee is a typical southern boy, except for this incredible talent,” he said. “He was born into a family that didn’t have much, but he and his two cousins were blessed by the Lord with wonderful talent.”
McGlothin took some musical influence from Lewis, he said. He was 14 or 15 the first time he sang in front of someone. The song was Blue Swede Shoes by Elvis Presley.
“What I loved about Jerry Lee, and everyone else did, was that he was flamboyant and entertaining. He had the ability to blow people out of their seats. Lots of people try but very few become a legend like him.
Having that connection to his hometown, McGlothin and his band, Easy Eddie, had the opportunity to open for Lewis and Gilley in Jackson and Vicksburg, he said.
“It was wonderful,” McGlothin said of playing with them. “He signed an album for me, which he didn’t like to do for everyone, but every time I saw him he was very nice to me. My heart is broken. We have lost another great musician and dear friend. I hate to say it but there will never be another like The Killer. He is in a class of his own.
Of all the rock rebels to emerge in the 1950s, few captured the lure and danger of the new genre more unforgettable than Lewis, the Louisiana-born pianist who called himself “The Killer.”
The tender ballads were best left to the old. Lewis was all about lust and gratification, with his sleazy tenor and demanding asides, violent tempos and brash glissandi, cocky sneer and crazy blond hair. He was a lonely man who had fans screaming and keyboards swearing, his live act so combustible that during a 1957 performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” on “The Steve Allen Show,” chairs were thrown at him. like buckets of water on a brazier.
“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there was no pure rock ‘n’ roll until Jerry Lee Lewis kicked down the door,” a Lewis admirer once observed. That admirer was Jerry Lee Lewis.
But in his private life, he raged in a way that could have ended his career today – and almost did then.
For a brief period, in 1958, he was a candidate to replace Presley as top rock hits producer after Elvis was drafted into the army. But while Lewis was filming in England, the press learned three damaging things: he was married to Myra Gale Brown, 13 (maybe even 12), she was his cousin, and he was still married to his former wife. . His tour was canceled, he was blacklisted from the radio, and his earnings dropped overnight to virtually nothing.
“I probably would have rearranged my life a little differently, but I never hid anything from people,” Lewis told The Wall Street Journal in 2014 when asked about marriage. “I just carried on with my life as usual.”
Over the next few decades, Lewis struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, legal disputes, and physical illness. Two of his many marriages ended in the untimely death of his wife. Brown herself was divorced in the early 1970s and later alleges physical and mental cruelty that nearly drove her to suicide.
“If I was still married to Jerry, I probably would be dead by now,” she told People magazine in 1989.
Lewis reinvented himself as a country performer in the 1960s, and the music industry finally forgave him, long after he had stopped having hits. He’s won three Grammys and recorded with some of the biggest stars in the industry. In 2006 Lewis released “Last Man Standing”, featuring Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, BB King and George Jones. In 2010, Lewis brought in Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw and others for the album “Mean Old Man”.