Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Great Balls of Fire!

by Pa Rock

Number Two Son (Ah so, Mr. Chan!) has asked me to revisit the night that I saw Jerry Lee Lewis in concert. I will try to honor that request, but as I step into the land of country music and hillbilly rockers, the temptation will be mighty strong to ramble. Be forewarned, be very forewarned!

Jerry Lee Lewis, aka "The Killer," was on a program with Porter Waggoner and Dolly Parton at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Missouri, sometime in the very early 1970s. I am certain that some lesser stars were there also, but those three were the headliners.

Lewis, a native of Ferriday, Louisiana, grew up banging on a piano and talking Jesus with his two equally ambitious cousins, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. He toured with the likes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash in the 1950s. (If you haven't seen Walk the Line, do it!) He fell into public disfavor in the late 1950s when he travelled to England to perform, accompanied by his third wife, Myra. A reporter at the London Airport discovered that not only was Myra just 13-years-old, she and the 23-ear-old Lewis were first cousins (once removed). Gotta love those hillbillies!

See, I warned you that I would ramble!

Jerry Lee Lewis (and Cousin Mickey, too, for that matter) can do anything with a piano. That night he pounded out several songs, and then ended the show with his signature number, Great Balls of Fire. Our group was standing watching him get crazy at the piano - and he was standing also. The music was raging by the time he kicked the piano bench off of the stage and into the audience. And then he was pounding the keyboard with his butt, and then he was back to leaning into over the ivories and attacking them with both hands - never missing a note or a beat - and then...and then we all gasped in amazement as "the Killer" lunged into the final few bars of the song with both hands and a foot beating Great Balls of Fire out of a piano that was probably just as shocked as we were!

There was a television documentary on Jerry Lee Lewis a few years ago that strongly indicated that his nickname, "the Killer," might be appropriate due the strange deaths of a couple of his wives.

Dolly Parton, you ask? That Dolly Parton? Yes, there was a time many years ago, just after Dolly stumbled down out of the hills of Tennessee when she and Porter Waggoner were a singing duo. They were together several years and even had their own television show for awhile. Dolly finally broke her contract with him and headed out to Hollywood where she became the caricature that we all know and love today. Even though there was a lawsuit when she broke her contract, she and Porter eventually patched things up. Dolly's song, I Will Always Love You, (the one that made Whitney Houston a bazillion dollars) was written for Porter. When Porter Waggoner lay dying in Nashville last year, Dolly came to the hospital and sat at his bedside. (That was probably more than you wanted to know.)

Porter Waggoner, after he lost his Dolly, went on to be a regular host for thirty-minute segment at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville where he pitched Martha White Cornbread, emceed, and sang a few songs. The last time I saw him was at the Opry on March 4, 2006. I am certain of the date because they announced at the show that it was the 10th anniversary of Minnie Pearl's death - and I looked that up on Wikipedia! He was a shrivelled little, old man who had to read his song lyrics from cheat sheets as he sang. I was at the Opry that night because the 14-year-old daughter of my good friend, Cheryl Belfiore, was performing for the first time with the Opry's regular group of square dancers. Melanie was fantastic! It was a good thing that Jerry Lee Lewis wasn't around!

What, me ramble?

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