- Category: Volume 86 (Fall 2014 - Spring 2015)
- Published: 22 April 2015
Imagine this: it's 1957 and Rock n' Roll music is forming, growing more popular in the teen generation by the day. The music is fast, it's loud, and it's nothing anyone has seen before. The baby boomer post-World War II kids are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, breaking away from previous social norms. Parents are furious.
Word gets around about a young kid in his twenties from Louisiana recording at Sun Records, where Elvis got his start. Word also says he's a lunatic. Flipping his curly hair, he pounds on the piano keys with a chaotic proficiency that only a genius could produce. He sings about "shakin'" and "wigglin' around" with a Southern twang that can shout over his piano or fall loosely from his mouth like thick molasses.
"He's the white Little Richard," you say to your friend as both of you jump around your bedroom to the sounds coming out from the record player in the corner. Sweating, gasping for breath, you realize music has never made you feel this way before—so alive, so in the now. A new star is born, and his name is Jerry Lee Lewis.
57 years later, celebrating his 80th birthday on tour, Lewis took to B.B. King's night club in NY's perpetually bustling Times Square last Thursday. And not even sitting in the night-before-Halloween New York City traffic could take away from what this night gave to me.
Arriving at B.B. King's venue at 7 pm, an hour before the show began, all the seats in the house were taken. My father and I ended up standing at the bar where there was plenty of room to hang around. However, by the time Lewis came on at 9 pm we were packed in like sardines, fighting for position to get a clear view of the stage.
The lights went out at 9:10 when Lewis, cane in hand, was escorted to the stage with the help of his band members and a woman who stood sheepishly in the back of the stage throughout the show. He didn't waste any time, playing a song with the furious delicacy on piano that only a rock legend like himself could have mastered. This is Rock n' Roll.
The air inside the club was electric. Lewis' energy was phenomenal for his experienced age, and the banter with his diehard fans in the crowd between songs was witty and fun-loving. Despite living the long life of a Rock n' Roll star, he was still sharp as a tack.
Forty minutes was all it took, and no one who was in attendance will ever be the same. Lewis blew through 11 songs but at no point did the show seem rushed or frazzled. Watching him pound on the piano, sliding his hands back and forth and yelling into the microphone, he had everyone in the place jumping. And ending the show with a flair that only a true rock pioneer could get away with, he used his cane to hit the last few notes of the song.
Stepping out into the frigid New York City street, it made me realize what a different level of music I had seen that night really was. I had just witnessed an 80-year-old man take complete control of a crowd and get them more hot-and-bothered than any other concert I have seen before. They say true Rock n' Roll died when Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis were out of the game, and The Beatles brought it back. I'm glad I got to see one of the first originators of cool.
IMAGE TAKEN from bbkingblues.com