Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jerry Lee Lewis- The Greatest Live Show On Earth

When you think about the career of Jerry Lee Lewis you think of what might have been, what could have been achieved. By the early 60's his career was stalled, he was basically persona non grata in the music world, he couldn't get his records played on radio and could get any exposure on TV, certainly not in the states, Europe was a little more forgiving of his transgressions. What he continued to do well was perform live, and in the absense of solid material his label Smash released a number of live records during the mid 60's.  One such album Live At The Star Club Germany is often regarded as one of the best live albums recorded. Jerry was no longer playing the big tours, it was mostly club dates, high school auditoriums and regular jaunts to the Golden Nugget at Las Vegas as well as regular tours of Europe and the U.K

The Greatest Live Show On Earth was recorded at the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium in 1964 as part of a package show for a local radio station. Jerry could still deliver live, his performance was impassioned and evoked the spirit of rock and roll at a time when everything British was the vogue. But it was also a symptom  of his reliance on old material and covers, there is nothing new or fresh in the material he was performing. Jerry barnstorms his way through the Little Richard classic Jenny Jenny at his frantic best, on the slower Charlie Rich classic Who Will The Next Fool Be Jerry Lee turns it into a rock and soul tune, I always tended to think Jerry had a limited vocal range but he sings the song with real gusto. Jerry Lee then kicks it up a gear with a version of Chuck Berry's Memphis which borrows the rhythm from Hi Heal Sneekers. He ratchets it up to another level with Hound Dog, his band lock into that groove as they take the song at a cracking pace. I'm not sure of the personnel on this album I think Morris 'Tarp' Tarrant is on drums and Herman Hawkins is on the bass, and they formed the rhythm section of his band for most of the 1960's. Lewis' version of Hi Heel Sneakers is given a loose interpretation but it has real soul to it with some nice organ work and guitar interplay. It's possible the great Memphis guitarist Charlie Freeman is on the album. Jerry Lee returns to the Chuck Berry songbook for No Particular Place To Go for a rather straight ahead arrangement, it has some prominent guitar work. The Buck Owens chestnut Together Again slows things down and was a harbinger of things to come, with Jerry exploring more country music than rock and roll. It's still has a soul resonance especially with the organ locking in behind Jerry's solo which has a wonderful spasmodic element to it.

Jerry returns to the R&B format for a rollicking rendition of Long Tall Sally, with his band really rocking things along. It's interesting that he only performs one of his original songs, he closes the show with Whole Lotta Shakin and it's a cooking version which is what you would expect. It was an interesting time for Jerry Lee, he seemed to be in two minds as to where he wanted to go. He was like a lot of rock and roll artists from the mid to late 50's experimenting with R&B but was also dipping his toe into the country music pool. His record label also seemed unsure what to do with Jerry and figured his best music came in a live setting and not in the studio. Still it's another interesting musical document in the history of rock and roll.

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