Country & Rock and Roll Legend Jerry Lee Lewis Has Died
One of the biggest names ever in rock & roll, who also amassed a distinguished Hall of Fame career in the country music realm as well, has taken his place among the Million Dollar Quartet in the sky, right beside Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins. “The Killer,” a.k.a. Jerry Lee Lewis, has died, only days after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and after amassing a musical career that set the very foundations of what we consider American music today.
Born in Louisiana in 1935 and rising to fame as a Sun Studios recording artist, Jerry Lee Lewis is arguably the most well-recognized rock & roll piano player of all time, and one of the very founders and foundations of the rock and roll genre. He deserves to stand right beside Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly on the Mount Rushmore of rock and roll. This is mostly what the world will remember when they remember Jerry Lee Lewis in the coming days, week, and months through songs like his signature “Great Balls of Fire,” or “Breathless” and “High School Confidential.”
Jerry Lee Lewis brought the danger to rock and roll. And perhaps a little too much danger, which cut into the success of his career. But after becoming frustrated at his inability to land a hit in rock and roll after his heyday, Lewis decided to become a country music artist in 1968. He released his first country single, “Another Place, Another Time” by Jerry Chestnut in March of 1968, and it was off to the races. Jerry Lee Lewis eventually had 17 Top 10 hit singles on the Billboard country chart, and four #1’s as a country artist.
Some of Jerry Lee’s hits included “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out of Me),” “She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me),” “Since I Met You Baby,” “To Make Love Sweeter For You,” and “Sometimes A Memory Ain’t Enough.” Eventually Jerry Lee Lewis became one of the highest paid performers in all of country, and some of his previous rock & roll records were repackaged for the country audience.
Jerry Lee’s country music career wasn’t without controversy, of course. Beyond the scandal the piano player was already carrying around after marrying his 13-year-old 2nd cousin, he made a mockery of the Grand Ole Opry stage during his first appearance on January 20, 1973. After being warned by Opry management to respect the family atmosphere of the show, Jerry Lee took the stage and shouted, “Let me tell ya something about Jerry Lee Lewis, ladies and gentlemen: I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherfu_ker!” Lewis also played for 40 minutes instead of his appointed eight-minute slot. He was banned from the Grand Ole Opry afterwards.
But his impact and influence on country music was undeniable. This is why the CMA Committee chose to induct Jerry Lee in a crowded Veteran’s Era field to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022, and at a time when the American music legend was in the twilight of his life. Better to award him when he’s still around to enjoy it, and they came in just in the nick of time.
Jerry Lee Lewis was formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on October 16th, but due to health concerns, could not be at the Medallion Ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Nashville in person. Instead, Hank Williams Jr. and Kris Kristoffferson received the medallion in Jerry Lee’s honor, and then Kris Kristofferson drove to Memphis to deliver the medallion to Jerry Lee Lewis personally.
Jerry Lee Lewis experienced a stroke in 2019, which has mostly put him out of the spotlight in recent years, but he did appear at the press conference announcing his Hall of Fame induction on May 17th. TMZ falsely reported Jerry Lee’s death on October 26th, though you knew at that moment, it was just a matter of time. That time came a couple of days later, on October 28th. Jerry Lee Lewis was 87.
“He is ready to leave,” his wife Judith said, just before his death.
October 28, 2022 @ 10:21 am
Original King of Cool who should be viewed as the same as Elton John and Billy Joel. Rocking out to Great Balls of Fire right now
January 15, 2023 @ 6:46 am
God, no! John & Joel are just also-rans compared to The Killer!
October 28, 2022 @ 10:35 am
God Bless Jerry Lee’s family at this time. I hate to see him go, but glad he lived a good long life. I can’t believe how close they cut it inducting him in the Country Music Hall of Fame! I would say his “Killer Country” compilation album is one of the discs I’ve played the most over the years out of any artist. It’s definitely one of my go to records!
October 28, 2022 @ 10:44 am
so does being in the hall of fame suddenly make a career a hall of fame career? i sure do like him, but i really don’t think he as country music hall of fame worthy. i think the hall of fame is getting too watered down, that the true giants no longer stand out.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:28 am
@MUM–The H-o-F has to keep inducting people in order to remain in business.
And just about every member this side of Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, and Hank Williams drew some chorus of naysayers saying that they’re not worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure your “true giants” are not all giants to everyone.
I don’t know if the Hall tries to estimate or rank the amount of “customer traffic” and photos and poses with selfies that each of it’s plaques draws, but I’d bet that Jerry Lee will not be a laggard
October 28, 2022 @ 11:35 am
@Luckyoldsun i completely agree, it’s a business. i think the chorus of naysayers as you mention has been increasing in recent years b/c it’s starting to get watered down. but certainly Jerry Lee performed his country honestly (living it, etc…), and his name is so recognizable, i agree most will think he belongs there.
probably why the CMA HOF doesn’t survey me before they nominate someone. 😉
October 28, 2022 @ 1:36 pm
Having covered the Hall of Fame extensively for years now, the primary criticism is who is NOT in, not that they’re letting anyone and everyone through the door, watering down the inductees. The Country Music Hall of Fame system is the most austere throughout American culture, and this is a consensus belief among people who cover Halls of Fame. Only letting in two performers each year has created an extreme backlog, and strong criticism for the Hall of Fame for not featuring enough artists, not vice versa, especially since so many artists are dying before they are inducted.
You may not feel that Jerry Lee Lewis is Hall of Fame worthy. But the very specific reason there has been a strong push for him to be inducted over the last few years was due to this health concerns. Boosters wanted him to get in before he passed as opposed to after. It came down to the wire, but they got him in and inducted.
October 28, 2022 @ 3:31 pm
Actually, Jerry Lee is in that group of performers whose induction into the H-o-F was probably delayed for years, due to issues that some voters had with their personal attitudes or behavior. Hank Jr.’s in that group along with Faron Young. Probably Webb Pierce, too, though it’s not all that clear what the inustry’s problem with Webb was.
King Honky Of Crackershire
October 29, 2022 @ 6:08 pm
Appeals to “authority” aren’t helpful, particularly when the “authority” lacks the cred to speak on the topic.
The people you’re talking about aren’t rural people; probably didn’t grow up on C(c)ountry music, and really have no business giving their opinion on the topic. Even you, Trig; you admittedly didn’t start listening to our music until you were 30 years old. Why should your opinion hold more weight than some old man who’s been raised on it?
The people who made this music what it is, think many of the HOF inductions are a joke. I don’t even take it seriously anymore.
Southern Man, Country Fan, and Stuck Somewhere Else
October 28, 2022 @ 11:33 am
Jerry Lee Lewis had a very long career in country music, with many hits on country radio (that is, when more country radio stations played more traditional country music), in addition to his great career as a rocker. If you aren’t familiar with his country albums, and his hit country songs, there is a great amount of material to be heard. RIP, Jerry Lee Lewis.
October 31, 2022 @ 7:29 am
Your handle would make a great country song in its own right. Makes me think of that classic bridge song by another artist who left us earlier this year, Warner Mack. And he also made a comeback shortly before passing I do believe.
Southern Man, Country Fan, and Stuck Somewhere Else
October 31, 2022 @ 11:07 am
Thanks so much for the kind words on my “name” here, Brian! I came up with it, one night just recently, when, after visiting this site and reading articles and comments for years, I decided to finally start commenting too.
Basically, I was born and raised in Alabama and lived there for over 25 years, but various life circumstances, including a physical disability and a need for a better public transit system (I can’t drive, due to my disability) led me to move to what I *then thought* was a Northern state, Maryland. Long after moving here though, I’ve learned, from a historian friend of mine, that Maryland is actually the *Northern-most Southern state*! It’s embarrassing now, but I had utterly no idea about that fact until he told me.
The region of Maryland where I live, just outside of DC, does not *feel* like the South, at all, to me– and it *definitely* doesn’t feel like the deep South, where I was born and raised! Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee– that’s the South that I’ve had personal life experience with, and this area in Maryland/DC feels nothing like the South of my experience. Virginia, yes, more so, but where I live is very “big city,” and loud and bustling, and honestly, frantic and stressful, in many ways, to me. I do the best I can with it though. I just wish I could find more country fans to hang out with up here!
I’ll have to check out Warner Mack (I’m still learning about so many great country artists, even after decades of being a fan) and his song that you mentioned. Thanks for the tip!
January 15, 2023 @ 6:48 am
He had far more huge country hits than pop hits.
October 28, 2022 @ 10:59 am
Have you even listened to his records. Country through and through from Day 1.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:25 am
nice try to condescend, @Anna. i never said he wasn’t “country through and through.” but sounding country through and through doesn’t qualify someone for the hall of fame. try comparing his country music career (which only substantively began in 1968) with ANY country music hall of famer from that era. Conway? Jones? Haggard? Cash? I could keep going and his country “success” pales in comparison. just because someone sings country music, and was an originator of another genre (no question he belongs where he is in the Rock N Roll HOF), doesn’t automatically qualify them for every other music hall of fame. he started out playing gospel music but you can rest assured he’ll never be in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. and rightly so. same reason dolly doesn’t belong in the rock n roll hof.
October 28, 2022 @ 2:30 pm
I’d love to be able to turn on my local country station and regularly hear music as country as Jerry Lee’s pre-1968 material.
He had five top ten country singles in the 1950s. Elvis, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson and other early rockabilly stars had success there as well. They all played the Opry and toured on package shows with more traditional acts and several established country artists attempted rockabilly singles of their own to try to ride the wave (including George Jones, who you mentioned). These singles were presumably sent to country radio.
In retrospect, was it country? Not if your definition of country is that it sounds like Ernest Tubb or Roy Acuff, but that would exclude most inductees.
October 28, 2022 @ 10:59 am
RIP MAESTRO one of the true giants of Rock and Roll and Country music. I loved Jerry Lee’s country records.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:03 am
One of the towering figures in the history of American popular music, period. Right up there with his own musical heroes Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Rest In Peace, Killer.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:09 am
Every artist in either rock n’ roll or country stands somewhere on his shoulders
October 28, 2022 @ 11:11 am
Fake news media finally got it right?
A great loss for country music.
I shall play his music today in remembrance.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:28 am
That’s it then–the last of the founding fathers. RIP Jerry Lee.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:28 am
When Kristofferson drives 200 miles to your house, there’s really nothing left to say about your greatness.
October 28, 2022 @ 12:20 pm
My thoughts as well.
October 29, 2022 @ 11:34 am
I’ll second that. “Mean Old Man”– the legendary Kris Kristofferson — hardly ever leaves his Hawaii home for anybody, but for Jerry Lee, whose induction he and others had been pushing for years, he’d definitely show up. Kristofferson knew what it was to be a black sheep who had to wait a damn long time — 34 years from the 1970 CMA Song of the Year until the CMHOF. And damned if he wasn’t gracious about it when the finally got around to giving a man who had written so many fine songs that he could fill two 90 minute concerts as the HOF Artist in Residence only repeating 3 songs.
October 28, 2022 @ 11:53 am
Jerry Lee still had it just this month!
October 29, 2022 @ 8:13 am
Ha ha. That’s Jason D. Williams who is great in his own right.
October 28, 2022 @ 12:16 pm
I think it’s instructive to remember that, even though Jerry Lee turned to country in the late 1960’s when he couldn’t get another rock and roll hit, the approach he took was still recognizably his and his alone; you just couldn’t mistake those piano glissandos on “What’s Make Milwaukee Famous” or “One Has My Name” for anybody else . And it’s not like he had totally abandoned rock and roll, if his savage versions of “Chantilly Lace” and “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” were any indication in the early 1970’s (they were minor pop hits, but still significant parts of his output just the same).
A true legend, colorful and arguably more than a little deranged, The Killer is now of the ages. The likes of Jerry Lee Lewis will never be seen again.
October 28, 2022 @ 9:12 pm
I grew up in NYC in the early ’70s and the only country music I knew as a young kid was Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell, thanks to TV and the breakout of “A Boy Named Sue” on both radio and network TV. But also, thanks to TV, I knew all the beer brands and slogans and jingles years before I had any idea what beer tastes like.
I’ve alwas felt that Jerry Lee Lewis’s “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” (written by Glenn Sutton) is one of the great country drinking songs of all time. [In case anyone now might be unaware, it was a play on one of the long-running ad campaigns of the era, for Schlitz beer, which was billed as “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous.”] I’m not sure that the Schlitz company appreciated the shout-out or the turnaround on their slogan, associating it with losers, but I don’t think it wound up hurting the brand in the least.
I looked it up and the song only hit #2 on the U.S. country chart, but that’s no-doubt because it came out at the beginning of Jerry Lee’s move to mainstream country in the late ’60s, and some country D.J.’s were probably a bit leery of him as a country artist. But it did reach #1 in Canada, as did a handful of other Jerry Lee country singles that stalled inthe top 5 in the U.S.
January 15, 2023 @ 6:51 am
He never “turned country”. He merely changed the emphasis. His early rock ‘n’ roll albums usually included some country songs, as were most of his B-sides (the flip side of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ was ‘You Win Again’).
October 28, 2022 @ 12:22 pm
A great musician. His bands were rock-solid clinics. Larger than life Louisiana personality. A more dramatic example of Saturday night and Sunday morning can hardly be imagined.
October 28, 2022 @ 1:14 pm
I’ll refer you all to Josh Morningstar’s song about the high-octane wildman.
October 28, 2022 @ 1:26 pm
Nobody & I mean nobody follows The Killer! R.I.P Jerry Lee Lewis. Trigger you forgot to include the highlight of his career… setting the piano on fire & telling Chuck Berry to “Follow that motherf*cker.” 🤣🤣🤣
October 28, 2022 @ 2:18 pm
JLL’s passing reminds me that he was the subject of one of the best rock and roll bios ever written — Nick Tosches’ epic “Hellfire”. If you haven’t read it, it would make a great weekend read in remembrance of the Killer.
October 28, 2022 @ 2:20 pm
What a loss. When I was 10, my brother brought a mix tape of 50s rock ‘n’ roll home from one of his “bad buddies” house. Whole Lotta Shaking Goin’ On was on there and it blew my little mind. We grew up Mennonite, and I never heard the likes. haha. Thanks, Killer!
By the way, this now leaves Dickey Lee as the last surviving Sun Records artist.
October 28, 2022 @ 2:36 pm
Jerry Lee’s rendition of Mickey Newbury’s “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye” is one of my all time favorites. Really, it’s difficult to listen to other versions in comparison. The Killer nailed it.
October 28, 2022 @ 4:43 pm
Any version other than Mickey is difficult for me, sort of joking but not really. Mickey could sing his ass off and I love his voice.
Rickie Jon Connors
October 28, 2022 @ 3:01 pm
JLL Live at the Star Club is one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever made. You can hear him screaming at his band (who were all just local kids from Hamburg) to play faster. They just couldn’t keep up. Played a couple of Hank numbers that night, too.
We will not see his kind again. RIP.
October 28, 2022 @ 5:03 pm
Agreed. Pound for pound, his greatest album and among the best live records ever made. I’d also put “Greatest Live Show on Earth” on the list of essential JLL records, along with “The Session” and “The Killer Rocks On”. For compilations, I’m partial to “The Sun Years” (12-LP box), “Milestones” (2 LP comp on Rhino) and the aforementioned “Killer Country” (CD reissue of his prime country singles).
Rickie Jon Connors
October 30, 2022 @ 5:11 am
I will check those out – thanks man.
November 9, 2022 @ 11:45 pm
Jerry was backed that night by British band The Nashville Teens, who later went on to have a big hit with Tobacco Road
David: The Duke of Everything
October 28, 2022 @ 3:27 pm
Sad to see him go , a true musician to the core. May he rest in peace.
October 28, 2022 @ 7:30 pm
I love “What Made Milwaukee Famous” and “Middle Age Crazy”, not to mention his stellar rock and roll records from the 50s. Requiescat in pace, Killer.
October 28, 2022 @ 10:44 pm
Love that man’s talent and attitude.
October 29, 2022 @ 2:33 am
He was a scumbag with a history of abusing women, including his 13 year old cousin/wife and his fifth wife, who he almost certainly murdered.
October 29, 2022 @ 10:35 am
After reading your post I found Richard Ben Cramer’s account of Shawn’s death. Eye opening to say the least.
November 8, 2022 @ 10:39 am
Nice job of grandstanding. Atta boy.
October 29, 2022 @ 6:14 am
I had the privilege of playing with Jerry on the Southern Roots album (74?) My Hammond was set right beside his piano. I kept losing my mind watching him play. Hands and arms flapping like a goose on crack. EVERY time they came down they landed in precisely the right place.
Little Richard was good, but Jerry?
Shit! Move over EVERYBODY.
October 29, 2022 @ 6:40 am
Random thoughts on Lewis:
By all means check out the recently released Jerry Lee Lewis the Knox Phillips Sessions album..recorded in the 70s at Sam C Phillips studio in Memphis, engineered and produced and mixed by Sam’s son Knox…this was done well after midnight and Jerry was in peak form! Bad Bad Leroy Brown is a key track on this one…according to Cousin Kenny Vaughn this is one of The Killers finest recorded moments.
So many great stories about Lewis, where to start..
Visit his club sometime on Beale street..There is a real curiosity on the wall when you go in…One of Jerry’s ex wives had a Cadillac El Dorado Jerry purchased for her…when they divorced he asked her to either sell it or give it back to him, she did neither and left the car sitting…Not to be slighted, Lewis had the car cut in half with a torch, lengthwise! The entire passenger side now sits bolted and hanging off the wall in his club!
A great story from Kenny Vaughan: Marty Stuart was playing in Cashs band and they did a European tour. One night, it was like 2 o clock in the morning, Marty gets a knock on his hotel room door in Paris…he gets out of bed, opens it to a shirtless Jerry covered in birthday cake! He yells at Marty, I’m gonna need to borrow your fiddle son! Marty handed it to him, and never saw the fiddle again! No clue what the fiddle was used for or where it ended up, or for that matter what Jerry Lee was up to!
One of a kind, there will never be another like him!
October 29, 2022 @ 7:14 am
“ My life would make a damn good country song “ RIP Killer.
October 29, 2022 @ 7:33 am
“Middle Aged Crazy” by Jerry Lee Lewis is one of my favorites. Reminds me of my dad after I graduated college…he went crazy trying to be young and is still trying 20 years later
October 29, 2022 @ 8:20 am
My first concert was Jerry Lee, George Jones & Tammy Wynette. 1981. I was 8 years old. His country music was played in my house growing up and now I love it as much as the R&R sides. Losing the “last man standing” was inevitable but still sad nonetheless. RIP Killer and may hell be risen in heaven tonight.
October 29, 2022 @ 3:20 pm
The winter after Elvis died a big snow storm hit Memphis. God came up to Elvis in heaven and said King, I got some bad news and some even worse news. Elvis said well give me the bad news first, God said it snowed at Graceland and Jerry Lee Lewis wrote his name in piss on your front lawn. Elvis said Lord that is bad, what could be worse? God said ….It was in Priscilla’s handwriting!!!!
Luke the Drifter
October 30, 2022 @ 1:52 pm
To anyone questioning Jerry Lee’s HOF credentials, I point your attention to the album with “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye” and “Once More With Feeling.” If that album was his whole career he’d have my vote.
October 31, 2022 @ 6:26 am
To me, the strongest case for why ultimately, Lewis got inducted into the CHOF is the fact that both his peers and the fans of Country music clamored for it. Of course he made Country music, should go without saying. There are only a small handful of Country, Boogie Woogie piano players in history. If Moon Mullican is widely accepted as a Country artist, then unquestionably Lewis belongs as well. In fact Mullican is more a footnote in the history, whereas Lewis is part of the bedrock. There will always be the naysayers, as with any inductee. Would love to have witnessed someone tell The Killer that he wasn’t really Country!
October 31, 2022 @ 3:24 pm
His episode of “Tales from the Tour Bus” was a riot
November 4, 2022 @ 12:08 pm
Jerry Lee should have been in the country HOF years ago, maybe decades ago. I have one of the Billboard chart history books from the late 90’s and he was still ranking among the top 35 or so acts of alltime on the country charts, everybody ahead of him was in the HOF before him and a large number ranking below him made it to the HOF were in before him even though their careers were spanned approximately the same period. Two things probably held him back, first a personal life filled with controversy (although that didn’t stop more than a few from getting in) and the fact that he only briefly lived in the Nashville area. At least Jerry Lee was finally inducted in his lifetime. His late cousin Mickey Gilley has never gone in despite being one of the five or ten biggest stars on the charts not in the HOF.
November 8, 2022 @ 5:09 pm