The Day Great Balls of Fire Was Unleashed
There was a duality to Jerry Lee Lewis when he was becoming a rock and roll star. To those who saw him in concert or on TV, he was a wild man – pounding the piano, kicking over the stool, belting out innuendos and shaking like he was possessed. But in private, he felt conflicted about his music. Having been raised by a strict Christian family (his cousin was Jimmy Swaggart), Lewis felt he was leading his audience straight to the gates of Hell.
Growing up in Louisiana, Jerry Lee began distilling the music he heard all around him into what would become his signature sound. He heard country music on the radio, R&B at the black juke joint across the tracks and gospel songs at church. Although his mother enrolled him in the Southwest Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas (with the idea he would start singing all his songs for God), Jerry Lee quickly got in trouble there. After restyling "My God is Real" as a boogie-woogie at a church assembly and playing "worldly" tunes at a talent show, Lewis got expelled for playing the devil's music. Pearry Green, the president of the student body, also got expelled, although Lewis protested on Green's behalf, because he didn't know what music Lewis was going to play.
Flash-forward to 1957 and Jerry Lee had moved to Memphis and was signed to burgeoning rock and roll record label Sun Records, both as a session pianist and solo performer. His first hit, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," was an R&B tune that Lewis had tailored to his own, propulsive style during his live shows. The lyrics contained their share of sexually suggestive content and Sun founder Sam Phillips thought the single might be pushing it too far. But, he was proven wrong when the song hit #3 on the pop charts, and #1 on both the country and R&B charts. more on this story
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