Thursday, June 12, 2008

Everybody knew... but Jerry Lee

Jerry Lee Lewis
Town Hall, New York City
The two guys standing outside Town Hall holding their $100 tickets
could have been refugees from a Neil Simon play. "Jerry Lee Lewis,"
said the one with the black strands of his combover anointing his
dome like so much grease paint. "What's he gonna do, play 'Great
Balls of Fire?'"
Inside the house lights dazzled as they reflected off the highly
polished pates of the seniors on hand, but there was as much of a
buzz in the hall as at any big rock show at Madison Square Garden.
After all these oldtimers were on hand to see a man who, despite
being the oldest guy in the house, promised to deliver them back to
rock's golden age.
"Anybody in the house remember the 50s?" local DJ Broadway Bill asked
rhetorically by way of introducing Jerry Lee's backing band, a two
guitar quartet led by guitarist Ken Lovelace, who joined 41 years ago
when Jerry Lee made his then-controversial "switch" to country music.
The fact is that even in his rockabilly prime Jerry Lee was pure
country, and the distinction has virtually disappeared in the ensuing
By the end of the night the entire crowd was standing and singing
along to "Great Balls of Fire," urging the "last man standing" on as
he wrapped up a near-perfect set delivered with the elan and self
assurance of a master craftsman. Jerry Lee didn't pound wildly on the
keys or strike them with the heels of his black patent leather high
heel boots as he once did -- in fact he was slightly hunched over and
appeared to have trouble walking -- but his hands still flew across
the keyboard with precision, urgency and flair. The most remarkable
thing about Lewis, though, is his voice. Strong and clear, completely
unchallenged by the most difficult notes, Lewis' voice is a treasure
of Americana, still fully adept at delivering dry rockabilly classics
and arguably one of the greatest instruments in the history of
country music, as his wry but heartbreaking rendition of Hank
Williams' "You Win Again" ("everybody knew... but Jerry Lee") proved.
When you hear what sounds like echoes of Bob Dylan's phrasing in
"Drinking Wine Spo Dee Oh Dee" or the sonorous held note on "End of
the Road" that recalls Willie Nelson you realize that these icons
were influenced by Lewis, not the other way around. Think about it.

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