Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the pioneers of rock and roll. In 1956
he signed with Sam Phillips of Sun Records and his outrageous, high energy
piano style made him an overnight sensation. He recorded some hits
that are still getting airplay today, 50 year later, including the rock
standards Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin'
On. In tribute to this great musician, Time-Life has released
a DVD filled with The Killer's TV appearances that he's made over the years.
The aptly titled Jerry Lee Lewis: Greatest Live Performances of
the 50's, 60's and 70's is a great collection of rarely seen material
that shows Lewis at the height of his popularity as a rock singer, and
later when he reinvented himself as a country and western musician.
Jerry Lee Lewis had a huge impact on rock and roll. He made the
piano an exciting and vibrant instrument, and with his dynamic style he
naturally became a star. While singing, he'd often kick the stool
away and play his instrument standing up, dancing in time with the music.
He gave an energetic performance, and we're lucky that this early TV footage
disc starts out with Jerry Lee's first TV appearance on the Steve Allen
show in 1957. He plays his newly released single, Whole Lot of
Shakin' Goin' On, with his usual style and energy. While he slams
his hands against the keys his hair is flying in and out of his face and
his legs are moving around like they have a life of his own. It's
one of the most impressive performances on the disc.
Next is a very rare clip from a local Memphis TN TV show, Dewey Phillips
Pop Shop, which was taped at the end of '57. Lewis lip synchs
on this clip, but even so it's nice to see him so young and energetic.
Following that is a 1958 appearance on the Dick Clark Show where
he sings Breathless. Viewers of the show who sent in four
gum wrappers and 50 cents would get a signed copy of the single in the
mail! Even though half a dollar went a lot further back then, it
still sounds like a great deal. I wonder how many of the thousands
that they gave out still exist?
In 1958 Lewis' career came to a screeching halt when it was discovered
that he had married his cousin. A cousin who was only 14 at the time.
This wasn't an uncommon practice where Jerry Lee was from, and he was surprised
by the public's reaction. They were outraged and they showed their
displeasure by boycotting Lewis records.
few years later when things had cooled down a bit, Lewis went to Britain
and recorded a special for Granada TV; Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin'
On. Here he plays his big hits and the man, looking a bit older
now, still has a lot of energy. The special is worth watching just
for the ecstatic look on the two male fans to the right of Jerry's piano
as he announces each song. They acted as if it was the greatest night
of their lives, and it probably was.
Jerry Lee Lewis relaunched his career in the late 60's by releasing
some C&W albums. Promotional appearances from this part of his
life are also included. One of the non-musical highlights is the
short interview that Jerry gives on Pop Goes the Country.
He talks about how Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart are both his cousins.
When the host, Ralph Emory, turns to the camera and asks the audience if
they 'got all that' Jerry jumps in and says "Remember, I'm the guy who
married his 13 year old cousin." Poor Ralph isn't sure what to say
to that, so he laughs.
For his performance on that show he plays two songs, one of which is
a fast, upbeat version of Me and Bobby McGee that didn't really
work well. When he sings "I'd trade all my tomorrows - for a single
yesterday, holding that woman's body close to mine" it doesn't ring true
at all and sounds like he's just running through the song. The fact
that he's playing the song is a polyester suit and tie just makes him seem
even more disconnected from what he's singing about. Besides that,
you can still see the Killer lurking inside a middle-aged man's body.
He occasionally has that glint in his eye and still plays the piano with
flair. While the two appearances from Pop Goes the Country
that are included on this disc aren't as interesting to a rock fan like
me, I enjoyed seeing them.
The quality of the stereo audio varies widely, but it is generally very
good, especially when the age and rarity of these clips is taken into account.
The early clips are lacking fidelity and have a narrow dynamic range, but
viewers can still feel the energy and excitement of Lewis' playing.
In some clips there are dropouts and a couple of times the levels drop
for a second or two, but this is undoubtedly on the master tapes that was
used to make the DVD. The segments from Pop Goes the Country
has some distortion, which is most evident in the interview segments.
While this disc will never win any awards for sound quality, it's clear
that Time-Life did the best with what they had.
full screen image isn't perfect but looks great for something that was
basically considered disposable entertainment. These TV appearances
weren't preserved well, but they haven't been ravaged by the flow of time
either. None of the clips are bad, though they all have some problems.
The Granada TV segment was the worst segment on this disc. It has
a fair amount of grain and a good amount of blooming, especially at the
beginning. This has the least amount of detail too, with Jerry's
face being washed out whenever the spotlight is aimed right at him.
The Pop Goes the Country sets are pretty soft too, with wonky colors
and they don't exhibit the detail that they should. Even with these
defects the songs look pretty good. They are all fairly clear and
none of them look like the 5th generation VHS recordings that you generally
find on discs of this type of material that you can buy on e-bay.
They all look like they are from very early generation dubs or masters
that are just a little old.
This disc also features an interview with Lewis in the old Sun Studios
that was recorded in 1993. He talks about his origins as a musician,
hearing Elvis for the first time, the Million Dollar Quartet session
(where he, Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash jammed in the Sun studios
one afternoon) and his first tour. It's an interesting interview.
Also on the disc is the trailer for High School Confidential, a
film Lewis appeared in.
This disc is a very good collection of rare and fun performances.
Jerry Lee Lewis' stay at the top was relatively short, but his influence
was felt long after he fell from the charts. While the audio and
video quality aren't spectacular, when you think about how old and rare
these clips are, it's a wonder the disc looks and sounds as good as it
does. Fans of old rock and roll owe it to themselves to check this