Album Review

Jerry Lee Lewis - Mercury Smashes...And Rockin' Sessions

Jerry Lee Lewis - Mercury Smashes...And Rockin' Sessions

Anyone foolish (or impatient) enough to dismiss Jerry Lee Lewis after his 1956-1963 Sun Records tenure is not only selling the man woefully short, they are also denying themselves some of the most satisfying music of his 40-plus-year career. After leaving the famed Memphis label, Lewis continued down the same path Sun's owner Sam Phillips had started him on eight years earlier, often rockin' with a raw ferocity that actually became more feral and untamable as the years passed. Although Lewis was being marketed to a country audience at this juncture -- especially after his 1968 chart resurrection -- the Killer never abandoned the rock 'n' roll, gospel, nor the rhythm & blues that had always fueled his music. Nowhere is this more amply audible than on the 1973 Southern Roots album that serves as the centerpiece of this 10-CD retrospective of his 1970s studio recordings for Mercury (complete, save for the London Sessions, which will be issued separately). Criminally ignored upon its initial release (just try to find it reviewed in any of those '70s-era record guides), this particular LP has, along with 1964's Live At The Starclub, Hamburg, risen toward the top of many a fan's list on the strengths of its material, its participants, and its loose-grooved, slow-cooked, wild-ass Memphis soul. Jerry Lee truly found himself a kindred spirit in Roots producer Huey Meaux. A fellow Louisianan, Meaux knew just as much about how to get a criminal record as he did a hit record, and showed absolutely no fear in egging Lewis on to delivering ruthlessly on'ry performances (this set includes the volatile session chatter to prove it). The other key to the success of Southern Roots was songwriter Mack Vickery, who contributed more than a few memorable songs to Lewis' output during this period. In Vickery's raunchy, double-entendre laden powerhouse "Meat Man", for instance, Lewis received a phallic anthem that had the potential of being to his career in the '70s what "Great Balls Of Fire" had been in the '50s. But it wasn't to be. The '70s were no more ready for "Meat Man" than the '50s had been for Jerry Lee's child bride. The record died at radio and was quickly deleted. No follow-up was released, even though there is over a manic hour's worth of neck-snapping outtakes here from the same sessions. Hard to believe the world could turn a deaf ear towards the Killer pumping away with the likes of the MG's (minus Booker T.), Tony Joe White, Augie Meyers, and Jerry's old Sun labelmate Carl Perkins, but such was the musical climate of 1973. The remaining eight discs here contain no shortage of further treasures. The best -- the gospel album In Loving Memories, the self-explanatory LP The Killer Rocks On, mind-bending takes on chestnuts such as "Honey Hush" and "I Can Help", not to mention a demented 1977...parody?...of "Great Balls" -- rival the Southern Roots material for intensity. Some folks may be tempted to merely read the titles of the songs for an outline of the story that lies within: "Middle Age Crazy", "The Gods Were Angry With Me", "You're All Too Ugly Tonight", "I Hate You", "I Think I Need To Pray", "Ivory Tears". Ah, but to hear them...that is to know and believe the story, every myth about Jerry Lee ever told, and then some.