The Killer’s vindication

By Sergio Ariza

On April 5, 1964, at the height of the 'Beatlemania' boom, Jerry Lee Lewis, also known as 'the Killer', took to the stage of a small German club, the Star Club, where the Liverpudlian musicians had played a number of times before jumping to fame. Just to make one thing clear, he may not have had much success since his scandalous marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, but on stage he was unrivalled.   

His name rings out and Jerry Lee gets on stage, lightly plays his piano, and suddenly howls "Mmmmmmhh, I got a woman mean as she can be" and starts pounding his piano as if his life depended on it. Meanwhile the young British band that accompanies him are sweating and suffering to keep up with him. Lewis begins to slow down and feel at ease, the audience begins to cheer him on, the Killer is ready and willing, his favorite weapon, the piano, begins to fire notes at full speed, as if Jerry Lee, instead of his hand, was hitting it with a hammer. The massacre has just begun.


The record does not lower its level at any time during its 37 glorious minutes. Jerry Lee sounds possessed, as if he were atoning for all the sins committed and all the injustices of his career. A career in which he was pointed as Elvis' heir until the aforementioned scandal. Jerry Lee and his gigantic ego are feeding off that ‘unjustness of being forgotten’ and claiming a new audience.

One can imagine him feeding that fire, like the moment when years before he decided to set his piano alight, leaving it burning on stage and then approaching Chuck Berry and saying, "Follow that” The fact is that 'The Killer' does not allow competition on stage and if that April 5th the Beatles themselves or the Rolling Stones had played at the Star Club, let no one have any doubt that Jerry Lee would have swept them off the stage. It didn't matter if he was playing old hits like High School Confidential, Great Balls Of Fire or Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, the song that ends the album, or doing covers of Ray Charles' What I'd Say or Little Richard's Long Tall Sally, Jerry Lee is a volcano erupting throughout the concert, and determined not to take prisoners.


Accompanying him are Barry Jenkins on drums, Pete Shannon Harris on bass and Johnny Allen on guitar, possibly with his brand new Gibson Barney Kessel of 1961, members of the Nashville Teens, an English group that, ironies of fate, was going to have great success that same year with their version of Tobacco Road. Jerry Lee would probably frown upon the news and use it as ammunition to motivate himself for his next concert.

Here that fury, that anger and that gigantic ego served him to deliver one of the two or three best live albums in history, an unstoppable rock & roll hit, squandering a wild energy that very few, then or since, have managed to approach.