His parents both loved country music, and soon young Jerry Lee picked up on it too. At his aunt's house, Jerry would play on the piano and when his parents heard him, they knew he was naturally gifted. They even mortgaged their home to buy him his own piano when Jerry was 8.
As a young man, Jerry studied to become a preacher at a bible college in Texas. Unfortunately, Jerry could not resist the temptation of his roots, and one Sunday boogied up the hymn 'My God Is Real' and was expelled for doing so. Thereafter, Jerry Lee turned to music.
In 1949, Jerry Lee made his first public appearance. The event took place in Ferriday, at a local Ford dealership. With his new mixture of blues, gospel and country, and with his unique style, he stepped on stage to join a country band. His father passed the hat around and collected $13.
Later the same year, he got his own 20-minute show on the radio station WNAT just across the river, in Natchez, Mississippi. He made very little money on those jobs until he got his first paid job at the Hilltop Club in Natchez. During the summer of 1951, he visited the city of jazz and blues, New Orleans. There, on a wax record given to him by his friend Cecil Harrelson, he recorded two songs, a rock instrumental, and "Don't Stay Away Till Love Grows Cold".
On February 21st, 1952 he got married for the first time to Dorothy Barton. The story says that Dorothy's brothers showed up at his door and threatened him into marrying their sister.
Jerry Lee and marriage never seemed to mix, and on September 15, 1953, he married Jane Mitcham, 23 days before the divorce with Dorothy Barton was final. On November 2, 1954, Jane gave birth to their son, named Jerry Lee Lewis Jr.
Jerry Lee heard that a small company in Memphis, called Sun Records, recorded Elvis, and Jerry wanted a shot at it too. He and his father financed a trip to Memphis with money they earned by selling 33 dozen eggs at Nelson's Supermarket in Ferriday. When they arrived at the Memphis Recording Service, they found that the owner, Sam Phillips, was on vacation in Florida. Jerry Lee persuaded producer Jack Clement to let him record some demo songs in the studio. The month was September and the year was 1956. Two months later, Sam Phillips called Jerry Lee back in studio to record. "Crazy Arms" was recorded in November and sold nearly 300,000 copies locally. Six months after this first release, Jerry Lee was working as a studio musician. His "pumping piano" can be heard on "Your True Love" and "Matchbox" by Carl Perkins. For a short while, Jerry was a part of Billy Riley's "The Little Green Men" and played on Riley's "Red Hot" and "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll", using only his first name and last name, Jerry Lewis.
Now it was time to let Jerry Lee show his skills in rock and roll. With his cousin J.W. Brown on bass, Jimmy Van Eaton on drums and Roland Janes on guitar, he cut a rock version of a song called "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". They recorded the song in one take, and to this day, Jerry Lee claims that they didn't even know the tape machine was running. A month later he appeared on The Steve Allen Show, and the show's ratings went through the roof. By autumn, one million copies of "Whole Lotta Shakin'" had been sold.
"Killer" as he became known to his fans, had a big year in 1957, releasing four rock n' roll classics (" Whole Lotta Shakin'," "Great Balls of Fire," "Breathless," and "High School Confidential") all within a year. "Great Balls Of Fire" was recorded with thumbtacks stuck on the piano hammers, witch accounts for the special clicking sound on that recording. His songs were soon the "hottest" music around. They topped the charts in every category. Jerry Lee even beat Elvis Presley in record sales that year.
His marriage to Jane Mitcham had ended, but the two were not officially divorced. On December 12, 1957, Jerry married 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown, his third cousin. Cousins or second cousins getting married was a common practice in the rural Southern United States in the Fifties, but when Jerry Lee went to England in 1958, the press scandalized his marriage. He did a few concerts, but the pressure from the furious and judgemental British press became overwhelming and the tour was stopped after just three shows. The scandal nearly ruined Jerry Lee's career. By the time he got back to the States, his records were being ripped from store shelves, his appearances canceled and his record sales declined. "High School Confidential", from the MGM movie of the same name, sank to the bottom of the charts. Lewis stood up to the deluge, however, saying "I plumb married the girl, didn't I?".
On February 27, 1959, Jerry Lee's second son, Steve Allen Lewis was born, named for the TV host. Musically things were bad. His records sold poorly, and Sam Phillips struggled to find Jerry Lee's next hit. Songwriters didn't send him their newest material anymore, so he had to find old songs which he could renovate. Although his career was in a tailspin, Lewis never gave up performing. The late fifties and early sixties were tough years, but the reputation of his enthusiastic shows kept Lewis from nose-diving into the has-been category.
During the autumn of 1963, his contract with Sun Records expired. Sam Phillips desperately tried to keep Jerry Lee. He signed contracts with Jerry Lee's parents, but that didn't change Jerry Lee's mind and he decided to go to Smash Records instead.
The first years at Smash resulted in numerous Blues and Country singles. Jerry Lee's producers wanted him to record some pure Country, and maybe achieve a major comeback in the Country field. One producer, Eddie Kilroy, was exited about this idea, and Jerry Lee recorded a beautiful song called "Another Place, Another Time". This record boosted his career and Jerry Lee once again had a number one record. From 1969 to 1981, the C&W hits kept coming with fine ballads like "Would You Take Another Chance", "She Even Woke Me Up", "Touching Home", "He Can't Fill My Shoes" and "When Two Worlds Collide". He also put Blues numbers like "I'll Find It Where I Can" into the C&W charts. His albums also sold well, especially "The Session" and "Killer Rocks On".
Although his music career was going well, Jerry's personal life was filled with tragedy. His beloved sons Steve Allen & Jerry Lee Jr. died in accidents in 1962 & 1973 respectively, his mother died in 1970, the same year that Myra divorced him. Wife number four would drown in 1982 and the next year, his fifth wife died of a methadone overdose. The trouble in his life led to Jerry Lee's dependency on drugs and alcohol and he nearly died in 1985 from bleeding ulcers.
In 1989, a Hollywood movie about Jerry Lee's life was made, staring Dennis Quaid . The movie is about his childhood in Ferriday, the marriage to Myra and the English tour of 1958. The soundtrack was supplied by Jerry Lee himself. He continued to tour and in 1995, released the album,"Young Blood" that had the same energy as anything from the past. He survived a mild heart attack in 1996.
In July, 2003, Jerry Lee filed for divorce from his sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver, whom he married in 1984. The action became final in June, 2005. Their union produced one son, Jerry Lee Lewis III, born in 1987. The couple had lived on The Lewis Ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi, in a mansion with a piano shaped swimming pool. The ranch was open to the public and visitors were given a guided tour to see all his gold records, pianos, memorabilia items and all his cars and motorcycles. The divorce settlement allowed Jerry Lee to keep the ranch. Jerry Lee once said, "When they look back on me, I want 'em to remember me not for all my wives, although I've had a few, and certainly not for any mansions or high livin' money I made and spent. I want 'em to remember me simply for my music."
On February 12th, 2005, Jerry Lee was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Recording Academy (The Grammy organization). On September 26th, 2006, a new album titled "Last Man Standing" was released, featuring contributions from Mick Jagger, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Rod Stewart and many others. Receiving mostly favorable reviews, the album reached four different Billboard charts, including a two week stay at number one on the Indie chart.
A DVD called "Last Man Standing Live", that contained concert footage with many guest artists, was released in March 2007, and the CD achieved Lewis's 10th official Gold record for selling over 500,000 copies in the US alone. On November 5th, 2007, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, honored Lewis with six days of conferences, interviews, a DVD premiere and film clips, dedicated to him entitled The Life And Music of Jerry Lee Lewis. The week culminated with a tribute concert with Kris Kristofferson serving as master of ceremonies. Lewis was on hand to accept the American Music Masters Award and closed his own tribute show with a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
On February 10th, 2008, Jerry Lee appeared with John Fogerty and Little Richard on the 50th Grammy Awards Show, performing "Great Balls of Fire" in a medley with "Good Golly Miss Molly". On June 4th of that year, Lewis was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. One month later, he appeared on A Capitol Fourth and performed the finale's final act with a medley of "Roll Over Beethoven", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On" and "Great Balls of Fire". In October, as part of a very successful European tour, Lewis returned to the UK, almost exactly 50 years after his ill-fated first tour. He appeared at two London shows: a special private show at the 100 Club on October 25th and at the London Forum on October 28th with Wanda Jackson and his sister, Linda Gail Lewis.
In August 2009, in advance of his new album, a Kris Kristofferson penned song entitled "Mean Old Man", was released for download. An EP featuring that tune and four more was also released on amazon.com on November 11th. 2009 also brought the 60th anniversary of Jerry Lee's first public performance when he sang "Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" at a car dealership on November 19th, 1949 in Ferriday Louisiana.
The album "Mean Old Man" was released in September 2010 and reached #30 on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart. A light touring schedule through parts of Europe and America filled 2011 and 2012. On March 9th, a 76-year-old Jerry Lee married for the seventh time when he wed his caregiver, Judith Brown, who was previously married to the singer's cousin Rusty.
In June of 2012, Jerry Lee announced an October 28th release date for both his next album, "Rock & Roll Time", and his biography, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. The book covers the making of Lewis' biggest hits as well as addressing the many controversies that have surrounded his life, from his numerous marriages to his feuds with other artists. At 78 years old, he had just two live appearances booked, July 5th at Harrah's Rincon in Valley Center, California, and October 30th at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill in New York City.
On October 24th, 2014, Jerry Lee appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman where he performed a condensed version of "Rock & Roll Time" after Dave's opening monologue. During commercial breaks, Jerry Lee, along with Paul Shaffer And The CBS Orchestra, performed several of his hit songs.
In June, 2015, 79-year-old Jerry Lee announced what he called his Farewell Tour of the UK the following September. The Killer was slated to headline shows at the London Palladium on Sunday September 6 and the Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, on Thursday September 10.