Born on September 29, 1935
in Ferriday, Louisiana, rock and roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, often known
by his nickname, The Killer. He has been described as "rock & roll's
first great wild man." A pioneer of rock and roll and rockabilly music,
Lewis made his first recordings in 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis. "Crazy
Arms" sold 300,000 copies in the South, but it was his 1957 hit "Whole
Lotta Shakin' Going On" that shot Lewis to fame worldwide. He followed
this with "Great Balls of Fire", "Breathless" and "High School Confidential".
However, Lewis's rock and roll career faltered in the wake of his marriage
to his 13-year-old cousin when he was 22 years old.
He had minimal success in the charts
following the scandal, and his popularity quickly eroded. His live performance
fees plummeted from $10,000 per night to $250. In the meantime he was determined
to gain back some of his popularity. In the early 1960s, he did not have
much chart success, with few exceptions, such as a cover of Ray Charles's
"What'd I Say". His live performances at this time were increasingly wild
and energetic. His 1964 live album, "Live at the Star Club, Hamburg", is
regarded by music journalists and fans as one of the wildest and greatest
live rock albums ever. In 1968 Lewis made a transition into country music
and had hits with songs such as "Another Place, Another Time". This reignited
his career, and throughout the late 1960s and 1970s he regularly topped
the country-western charts; throughout his seven-decade career, Lewis has
had 30 songs reach the top 10 on the "Billboard Country and Western Chart".
His No. 1 country hits included "To Make Love Sweeter for You", "There
Must Be More to Love Than This", "Would You Take Another Chance on Me"
and "Me and Bobby McGee".
Lewis has a dozen gold records in
both rock and country. He won several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime
Achievement Award. Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
in 1986, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized
by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1989, his life was chronicled in the
movie Great Balls of Fire, starring Dennis Quaid. In 2003, Rolling Stone
listed his box set All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology number 242 on their
list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2004, they ranked him number
24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Lewis is the
last surviving member of Sun Records' Million Dollar Quartet and the Class
of '55 album, which also included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison
and Elvis Presley.
On this day in 1976, at his 41st
birthday party, a drunk Jerry Lee Lewis attempts to shoot a soda bottle
with his .357 Magnum and instead hits his bass player, Norman Owens, twice
in the chest. Owens makes a full recovery.