The Rise and Fall of "The Killer"

Dec 12, 2014

The cover for Rick Bragg's new biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, "Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story."
Credit HarperCollins

    

When many people think about the legends of rock and roll music, they think about The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and so on.

But back before the Psychedelic Era of the late 1960s and the British Invasion of the mid-1960s, there were a group of musicians shaping and forming rock and roll into the musical genre we recognize today, all fighting for the title of "The King of Rock and Roll."

One of the most colorful and turbulent figures of this era was Jerry Lee Lewis, a blonde-haired piano player from the backwoods of Louisiana. Nicknamed "The Killer," Lewis played rambunctious, up-tempo music that was only outdone by his increasingly wild stage presence, jumping on top of pianos in the middle of sets and sending stools flying off the stage with a swift kick.

Almost as famous as "The Killer's" music and on-stage antics, however, were the many scandals that plagued his career. At the height of his popularity in 1958, Lewis was castigated by reporters in the United States and Great Britain after the marriage to his 13 year old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, was discovered. A few years later on his journey to reclaim the popularity he once had, Lewis struck a man with the base of his microphone stand at an unruly nightclub while performing onstage.

So when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times Bestselling author Rick Bragg was contacted by the Lewis family to write the first authorized biography of Jerry Lee Lewis' life, he couldn't refuse the chance.

Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winner, New York Times Bestseller, and the author of "Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story."
Credit The University of Alabama

Starting in the summer of 2012, Bragg spent the better part of two summers interviewing a bed-ridden Jerry Lee Lewis while he recovered from a long list of illnesses and medical complications, including back arthritis and a fractured leg. Mostly kind, sometimes indignant, Lewis talked about everything from Elvis, to the many scandals he endured in his career, and even his fears of going to hell for the music he played.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Rick Bragg about his latest book, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story (HarperCollins/2014), about what what it was like to get inside the mind of "The Killer." Bragg will be reading from the biography December 12th at 7 p.m. at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham and December 13th at 10 a.m. at McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro.