67. Birthday from Jerry Lee Lewis (29.09.2002)
Source: Maarten van der Tol
(photographs copyright 2002 by Maarten van der Tol any use of the photographs without permission is prohibited. )
Source: Christian Leibbrandt
(photographs copyright 2002 by Christian Leibbrandt any use of the photographs without permission is prohibited. )
VACATION IN LEWIS HEAVEN
Portions by Pierre Pennone and by Graham Knight with edits, inserts and photo by Kay Martin
(photographs copyright 2002 by Kay Martin any use of the photographs without permission is prohibited. )
Pierre Pennone speaks:
I arrived in Memphis on Monday, September 23rd, along with my French friend Jean-Pierre Gilabert (the guy who runs the French JLL web site - www.jerryleelewis.fr). Getting there was no fun with the current security paranoia in airports, but it was wonderful to get to Memphis after 31 long years. Next morning, it was time to pick up Kay Martin at the airport and to meet Graham Knight at the Holiday Inn Select/Airport where the Birthday Convention was to be held this year. Among other fans already there, I was introduced to Rolf Bresser and his friend Hans Wilms. The 6 of us were destined to spend almost every hour of the week together. Tuesday afternoon, after we checked out our Ferriday Ride bus at Southern Stages' headquarters, we went downtown to visit the Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue. It has changed a lot since I saw it in 1971. Now it is rearranged in a museum and it is crowded! There is a shop to visit first with a soda fountain and plenty of memorabilia, Sun Studios emblem clothing and paraphernalia, CDs and some old original SUN singles at very high prices, like Sun 281 with the picture sleeve for $100. Then you can visit a museum on the second floor with windows containing original stuff given by artists. Next you can see the original tiny studio that has been kept as it was. It is certainly worth a visit. It was funny to see the Sun Studio shuttle bus for tourists in front of the place. With a Memphis guide as driver, this vehicle goes between the studio, Graceland and other Memphis points of interest all day long. Next we visited Roland Janes (Jerry's guitar player in 1957-59) and Dean Phillips (widow of the late and great Jud Phillips), both of whom work at Sam C. Phillips Recording Studio right around the corner from the Sun Studios, at 639 Madison. The studio is still active and, in fact, many current recording artists use this service. Roland unfortunately is not playing his guitar anymore and is only working as an engineer. Jud Phillips Junior joined after us after a while. We also learned that Sam Phillips had been sick was in the hospital for weeks, probably with pneumonia. Tuesday evening, we visited Joel and Debbie Shumaker and had dinner at their home. Joel is doing much better, but he still has to have oxygen constantly. He will soon start a gene therapy program and hopefully recover completely. His morale is high and we all had a very nice evening with Joel giving news of former Memphis Beats members. Joel recently played on the last Kyle Esplin's CD. Back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the evening listening to those great stories that Graham can tell you about the UK tours of 1962, 1963 and 1964 when he, together with Terry Adams and Breathless Dan Coffey, was going every place Jerry was playing, or when he had Jerry along in his car, a Mini, that Jerry loved. Gosh, they must have had fun and we had fun listening to Sir Graham! Kay also had some great stories, as she was there from day 1. Like that story when she first talked to Jerry: she was inquiring about him to somebody she thought might have been a relative of his and it turned out to be Jerry himself. Wednesday, September 25th, it was time to make the Ferriday Ride organized by Kay. Joel Shumaker nicely came to the hotel with his son to see us off and chat with the Riders. What a nice guy and what a pity that he is not with the Memphis Beats anymore! We were about forty Ferriday Riders assembled around noon for the 5 or 6 hour trip down to Natchez. Kay had organised this better than a tour operator. She had prepared some 12 hours of video to show on the bus, all TV shows she taped since the early 70's including many I had never seen before like one of the "In Concert" where Jerry is backed by two drummers (Tarp and Junior) and Jerry is absolutely wild. With just one about-face to go back to get the roses which had been left behind in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, we were off. We were sailing along quite well on the boring highway south, with a lunch break somewhere in the middle of the ride. We were feeling the tail end of Hurricane Isidore which had hit Louisiana and Texas very hard, but aside from occasional heavy rains, we really were not severely affected by the drizzling weather. We made a pit stop at a Wal Mart store before we got to Natchez to pick up needed rain gear for the next day. We stopped at the Days Inn in Natchez for the night, where we were supposed to meet our honored guest, Cecil Harrelson, Jerry Lee's life-long friend. However, the desk clerk said he was not at the hotel. We waited about an hour for him, and calls to his home were met by an answering machine. So we went to out to dinner at a nearby steak house, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. However, there was still no Cecil when we got back to the Days Inn. Through a series of phone calls, Kay ascertained that Cecil had left early and should have been there. Frankie Jean Terrell stated that he had visited with her in the afternoon and had left Ferriday for Natchez about 4:30, traveling in a red pick-up truck. Kay was about to make another trip to the front desk to ask the reservation clerk if anyone had come in driving a red pick-up truck, and as she set foot out of her room, noted a red pick-up truck parked by the room next door to hers! And it had a Louisiana license plate! So she went to the front desk and had the clerk call the room and ask who was in there. Obviously, it was Cecil! The desk clerk that had been on duty when he arrived did not note that he had checked in, so the one that was on duty when we came after 6 p.m. had no idea. A hell of a way to run a hotel! But all's well that ends well. An hour later, as I was already sleeping, the telephone rang and Kay said she was calling from Cecil's room and I should come down and join them with Graham. What an emotion it was to see him after all those years! But he is still the same, in great physical condition, and still somewhat difficult for me to understand, as he talks with his Louisiana accent. He had some great pictures to show us and we had a lot of fun with the stories he had of the early days. In the middle of the night, it was time to go to bed. Next morning, we got on the bus under pouring rain with Cecil serving as our guide on the bus microphone. We visited all the places around like those where Jerry used to play, go to school, had that fight, zipped away from the law enforcement, or had a car accident, etc. We saw where Haney's Big House had been and that piece of land is for sale at the moment. Wouldn't it be nice if a club was built there again? We visited the cemetery in Clayton where Jerry's and Jimmy Lee's folks are buried. Kay had taken care to have the place maintained before we arrived and she had brought flowers for us to put on the tombstones. We next went to the new Delta Museum, the old Post Office building which is next door to the Arcade movie theatre where Jerry used to see Gene Autry's films. The museum is dedicated to Jerry Lee, Mickey and Jimmy Lee. There are some great pictures there, and the piano that Jerry used to play when he was in school, but nothing like the REAL museum we were going to see next. That is Jerry's sister Frankie Jean Terrell's museum, The Lewis House, right in the old family home. That place is UNBELIEVABLE! It is packed with thousand of pictures heretofore unseen and documents. A fan like me could spend a week walking through those rooms. The place is a typical Lewis place, crazy! All of us marveled at the many treasures Frankie Jean has preserved and presented in a folk art manner, with many of her own artwork decorations. Unfortunately, Frankie Jean herself had a family emergency and escaped for the day, a typical Lewis no show! Kay had taken, among other presents, a print-out of a large scrapbook with several thousand pictures and articles covering the 1956-1963 period that I have collected during 40 years and put together on computer during last winter. We waited until 5pm for Frankie's return, but finally had to go back to Memphis. On the way through Natchez, Cecil repeated a story we had heard the night before about Jerry Lee's first ever record taped in New Orleans in 1952!!!! Cecil gave us a lot of great stories and a lot of emotion also! I don't know if he will ever act as a guide for such a tour again, but if he does, it is worth flying to the States just for that! When we left him, there was so much emotion and tears in our eyes that it lasted half an hour. A great shame that Cecil was not able to make it to Jerry's birthday! He had made a prior commitment to see the OTHER Lewis, Linda Gail, who was performing near her home in Big Sandy, TN the same night as the Convention. We love you Cecil, you are a great man, Jerry's brother! God bless you. The trip to back Memphis was great fun again looking at Kay's video. Thank you, Kay, for this Ferriday trip; it was perfect! If you do it again, it is not to be missed for anything in this world. Friday was spent going to the Lewis Ranch in Nesbit. Jerry has got a nice place to live there, much better than Graceland. A barbecue had been organised for the fans. The guys who prepared the food are big fans of Jerry's and their food was delicious. There at the ranch, I was glad to meet Elaine Berman Orlando, who created the Jerry Lee Lewis International Fan Club with Kay in August 1957. She would spend the next three days with us. I was also glad to see some old friends like Kenneth Swanstrom or Hans Jabell. Jerry Lee's home is another museum, full of pictures and memorabilia, such as his first piano. I noticed great photos where he stands with President Ronald Reagan around 1986 and another one with President George Bush (the father) around 1990. On the grounds, we met with Lee -- JLL 3rd, a little man now. Otherwise, there was Kerrie's family all around. But Jerry was still asleep and Phoebe had gone out for the day. So we left around 3 pm. Back at the hotel, there was already some great piano playing in the hotel lobby by Jerry's fans. Some were very good, particularly one from Austin, Texas, one from Holland, and Peter Hayman from the UK. At 11pm, the piano was locked because of the noise in the hotel -- pity ! Saturday was the day of the Birthday Convention with people flying from all over the world, Australia, many from the UK, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and all the US states. I thought we should take this party on the road, and suggested that Kay do it in NYC next year, then Graham in London, then Wim in Amsterdam and finally me in Paris..but would Jerry turn up? One can dream. Anyway, the convention started with a brunch and some bands playing on stage. There was some possibilities of shopping because the merchandise that had been at the Lewis Ranch Gift Shop was now on display in the room. The video of the 2001 Convention was on sale for $35. Jimmy Van Eaton was there selling his last record and drum sticks. Early in the day, there was a contest of young Jerry Lee Lewis imitators that was overwhelmingly won by a young kid of 17 from Texas named Lance Lipinski. He was geared up like Jerry Lee in early 1958 with a red suit; he combed his hair like Jerry and his act, piano playing and singing was very good. However, a lot of people thought he performed more like Dennis Quaid in the movie "Great Balls of Fire" than like Jerry himself. I personally liked Ervin Travis who did "Sexy Ways," but he was more a Gene Vincent imitator than JLL. Some other fans played in a non-competitive jam session. Among the stand-outs were Don Gervasi with "Swanee River Rock," Tim Congdon on guitar, and Peter Hayman's piano playing was very good. Then it was time for the birthday cake ceremony. To the tune of "Happy Birthday," Jerry Lee came out for 10 minutes, made a short speech of thanks, and said he would be back soon for the show. Unfortunately, he didn't spend time for autographs or talking to fans as in prior years. Next was an Elvis type of performer named Raymond Blondell (we called him Blondie) from Scotland who is getting a lot of promotion from his recording company. This guy could buy himself the best players in town like W.S. ("Fluke") Holland on the drums in a rockabilly group, but many in the room did not care for him. I took the opportunity while he was on stage to get out and as I was passing the door, Phoebe came in. She was just as happy to see me as I was to see her after some 10 years. What a sweet girl! She is really nice, humble, smart and good looking. We had a long talk and then she joined us at our table for the show. Knox Phillips came and said a few words to the audience. This year, he was unable to stay because he had another commitment at the Blues Ball which was taking place the same evening. We were sorry his dad, Sam, is in the hospital and has been for some time, but Knox reported that he is much better and is improving rapidly. Gary Skala also arrived. He has not changed during the last 10 years. He was nice to give me some corrections regarding articles I wrote in previous Fireball Mail magazines, but did not socialize very much. We had a real treat when Kenneth Lovelace complied with everyone's request that he do a number with his fiddle! He started "Lonesome Fiddle Man" to great applause, but had to stop momentarily, saying that the band didn't know the song! They did get it together and performed a wonderful rendition of this Lovelace-penned weeper. Next, Stephen Ackles took the stage, backed by the Memphis Beats including Ken, BB Cunningham, Robert Hall, Bill Strom and, for that night, we had the return of Buck Hutchison who played guitar for Jerry Lee in the mid 60's and was also in the band at the end of the 80's. Stephen did The Old Rugged Cross and soon he announced the Killer. Jerry Lee took the stage dressed casually in a beautiful blue denim shirt for which he apologized, saying that Kerrie didn't like it, but who cares, that's rock 'n' roll! The report on the show is related by Graham below, so I won't repeat what he says. Let me just remark that I found Jerry's voice and piano playing as good as it was 20 years ago. He really worked hard for 2 hours and a half. Who else can do that at his age? -- certainly not Little Richard or ol' Chuck Berry, God bless them! But he unfortunately had to leave the stage totally exhausted, for a few reasons. He didn't seem to have at least a glass of water to drink on stage or a towel to clean his sweat! During the show, the audience was obviously totally enthusiastic. I enjoyed the way Graham went in front of stage facing Jerry to ask for "Mean Woman Blues." Jerry recognized him and asked him if he still had his Mini car. Then Graham went again to request Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got The Money Honey, I've Got the Time," a great song I had never heard done by Jerry. Graham was too much how he did it, a real Lord! Kay disappeared from our table and we learned that she had left to take a photo of Jerry straight on in front of the stage. [attached] When Jerry saw her, he said "Hi, Kay, wondering when you were gonna come up here and join us!", so she spent the rest of the show sitting on the floor in front of the piano with other devoted JLL fans. What a terrific job Kerrie and the Killer Krew did putting together this Convention! There had to be hundreds of details that needed attention and it was obvious that they had been at work for a year to make sure everything went smoothly. Of course, the unforeseen circumstances that caused Billy Lee Riley to cancel, and later the illness of Billy Swan's wife that forced him to drop out at the last minute, and the bad weather that caused Mickey Gilley to be unable to cover, were beyond Kerrie's control. Working with what they had, the Convention planners still came up with another winner. After the show, we had a little party in Rolf's hotel suite with Ken Lovelace to celebrate his recent acknowledgement by the Alabama Hall of Fame which has engraved a star in their main hall with his name. Jerry Lee made the trip to Alabama when Ken had his induction and said he would not miss it for anything in the world, as Ken is like a brother to him. Gary Skala also made the trip for the event. We had taken a bottle of excellent champagne from France to celebrate this event and Ken sure appreciated this. The next day, we had been invited to Jerry's home to see him thanks to Kay, but unfortunately he was in hospital for a check up. Therefore, we spent the day visiting a few more places like the new Rock and Soul Museum. That has to be seen. It is very well done and it has got a lot of good things donated by Sam Phillips, artists, etc. There are some old Jerry Lee's stage clothes, J.W. Brown's old bass guitar, some good movies. It is well worth a visit. As we were leaving, Gary Skala was arriving! I bet this place does a thriving business when Jerry Lee's fans are in town. We had lunch at the Blues City Café, which Phoebe used to manage, and where J.W. Whitten still works. Yes, the meat does fall off the bones on those scrumptious ribs! Later in the evening on Sunday, to satisfy Elaine's week-long craving for pancakes, we all went out for a late night snack at an International House of Pancakes restaurant. Diplomatically, Kay ordered two German and two French crepes, declaring them all equally delicious! On Monday, before leaving Memphis, we made a quick trip to the ranch again to talk with Phoebe and bring out Jerry's birthday gifts we had. While we were there, she called her father in the hospital, who was kidding around in spite of being half asleep because of medication. He told Phoebe that they X-rayed his brain, but couldn't find it! He had gotten calls from Linda Gail (she played near Nashville the night of the Birthday party) and Cecil Harrelson. Phoebe felt some confusion about what was going on so she decided rightly that she had better go to the hospital immediately. Kay heard later that Phoebe arrived there at 5pm to talk to the doctor who said that all was alright and Jerry left the hospital at 7 pm on Monday with Phoebe to get back home. What a shame he spent his birthday in the hospital! Let's hope he will take better care of himself than he has done recently, do some exercise, walk around his great premises, and keep in shape. So, it has been a great week. I really enjoyed being there with Graham, with my German new buddy Rolf (everybody enjoyed our kidding arguments regarding France and Germany), Elaine and Kay. Kay has been so nice to us, it is unbelievable. It was hard to separate and there was tears in everybody's eyes. Thank you, Kay; we all love you.
Source: Graham Knight
JERRY LEE PLAYS 44 SONGS IN 150 MINUTES , Jerry Lee came onstage at 9:42pm and he played until 12:15am. The Room was very hot and he only took a few sips of water onstage but despite the stifling conditions, he played for over 2 and a half hours. Jerry did a show that was totally different from his usual set. This time, Jerry knew he was playing to his long time fans, many of whom he knows by name. Fans had come from across the world for this party including several from Australia, Hawaii, all over Europe and from the USA itself. Jerry played a total of 44 songs in a stunning show that lasted for two and a half hours. Although he looked pale and was slow to walk on stage, his voice and piano playing were as powerful as ever. He spoke a lot between numbers and appeared tearful at some points, as songs the fans requested reminded him of happy times that are long gone. He made a lot of very personal remarks about his life and made some searing comments about other Memphis personalities, judges, courts, previous wives, and (as he would say) "a flock of others" all came in for a roasting from the Killer. He was casually dressed and to wild applause from the delighted fans, he joked "I always go casual when the millionaires come in. Kerrie said I didn't look right, but I feel fine - I'm doing alright whatever clothes I am in." The set list was: Roll Over Beethoven, You Win Again, Drinkin' Wine Spo Dee o Dee, Johnny B Goode with a reprise of a verse of Drinkin' Wine in the middle!, Over The Rainbow, I Am What I Am, Another Place Another Time, CC Rider, Mean Woman Blues, Boogie Woogie Man from Tennessee, Mexicali Rose, How's My Ex Treating You, Bobby McGee, Your Cheatin' Heart, a boogie woogie instrumental, Lovin' Up A Storm, Lewis Boogie, Goldmine In The Sky ( Gene Autry tune), another boogie woogie and a slow instrumental, Vacation In Heaven, Frankie and Johnny, You're the One Rose That's Left In My Heart, Meat Man, She Even Woke Me Up to Say "I Do"!, Help Me Make It Through The Night, Chantilly Lace, What's Made Milwaukee Famous, Before The Night Is Over, You Belong To Me, Sweet Little 16, High School Confidential, and Crazy Arms. He did two duets with the Scottish singer, Blondell (who had done an hour long set earlier in the day) on Lawdy Miss Clawdy, and Hound Dog, then it was back to solo Jerry Lee with Don't Put No Headstone On My Grave, (a slow version first, then a completely separate fast version), Rockin' My Life Away, Wedding Bells, Jericho Road, Mona Lisa, If You've Got The Money Honey I've Got the Time, My Bucket's Got a Hole in It, Green Green Grass of Home, and he ended, unexpectedly, with Lucille. Then he said he was feeling the effects of the heat on stage, got up and walked offstage somewhat unsteadily. Perhaps he had, as he often says, "overshot the runway". After the show, he was taken to the hospital suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Jerry had been pacing himself throughout the evening, slow songs, talks between each song, but when Blondell came up to do two duets with him, Jerry seemed to become a side man for this young guy whose youthful vigor pushed Jerry to his limits, and who kept saying "one more time!" too many times. Jerry was rolling his eyes in disbelief! This expenditure of energy I believe put Jerry over the edge and used up his reserves. Never before had we seen Jerry reach the limit of his endurance and it was pretty shocking for everyone. On the eve of his 67th birthday, Jerry Lee Lewis realized he wasn't 23 anymore. During the entire show Jerry was singing what the audience requested and many long time fans had their particular favorites played. Wim Geels requested Frankie and Johnnie and Help Me Make It Through The Night; Stephen Ackles got Jerry to do Mona Lisa. Kay got a few bars of Lovin' Up A Storm. When I went up to the front to request Mean Woman Blues, Jerry told the audience "this guy has been almost everywhere with me in Europe for the last 40 years. Do you still have that small car?" he asked from the stage. This was a reference to me sometimes driving Jerry to shows in my "Mini" car all those years ago. Jerry may be 67 years old, but his mind is still sharp and he still has a great memory. Mean Woman Blues was of course an Elvis song, but Jerry Lee's version is a far better performance of the song, which was even acknowledged by the songwriter Claude Demitrius, who said long ago that Jerry sang it like he MEANT to write it. I've been getting him to do that song for 40 years, as many fans rate it as his top number. His piano work on it was as brilliant as ever and at the end he said "I remember Elvis screeching his car alongside me in Memphis and joking that he was about to sue me as Whole Lotta Shakin' had just knocked Elvis' version of Mean Woman Blues off the top of the charts after he had only been there for one week." I also persuaded Jerry to sing "If You've Got the Money Honey - I've Got the Time." Last time he sung it for me was in private in 1968 and in 1983. Jerry and I both like Lefty's song. Jerry Lee's talk between numbers was sometimes very pertinent to the occasion, sometimes funny, often melancholy, sometimes rude, and often completely outrageous. Here are a few quotes from the night: After "Vacation in Heaven" he said, "If Sam Phillips is lying on his deathbed in the hospital, that's the kind of tune that would kill anybody." On drugs he said, "Here is the reason I can't get with it like I want to - I ain't had no dope in a long time. They quit making those blue and yellow pills. They did throw a wrench in Elvis's motorcycle and they sure did mess up Jerry Lee's Deuce." On Lisa Marie "She's not the girl I used to know - she seems to be just going from one to another"! When a fan requested "How's My Ex Treating You," Jerry replied "Which one of 'em?" It is a pity that the event ended with Jerry feeling so unwell, but it does reflect his life for the last 47 years since coming to Sun Records. Jerry knew all the people at this special birthday party show had traveled thousands of miles to be there and as ever - whether he was playing to an audience of 30 - as he did at Warrington in the UK in the sixties - or playing Madison Square Garden - Jerry gave his all and we appreciate it.
Source: Tim Congdon
after playing over 2 1/2 hours, jerry lee lewis was helped off stage and collapsed into a chair and then was taken to the hospital in memphis accompanied by family members. jerry was in a great mood all night but after a long show of over 40 songs, he said he had to take a break and walked to the edge of the stage where he was caught up and helped into a nearby chair. after about 20 minutes, he was helped away into the long corridor leading to the waiting cars and taken to the hospital for observation. it was a fine day with lots of memorable moments but a real shame that jerry took ill and ended the show prematurely. we all hope jerry is ok and I will update his condition as soon as I hear anything. please keep jerry in your thought and prayers. from memphis, tim congdon