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Natural-Born Piano Player

Fifty years since “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” Jerry Lee Lewis is The Last Man Standing.

Following are excerpts from CW's exclusive interview with Jerry Lee at his northwest Mississippi home.

CW: Ever been to jail?

JLL: Jail? Oh I’ve been in jail! [Laughs]

CW: Any fond memories of that?

JLL: Not fond memories.

CW: Got a harmless story you could tell about one of those times?

JLL: There was a time I rolled my Rolls Royce over near Memphis … they put me in jail for that. I was a little bit drunk, to be honest about that. That was back in my younger, younger, younger days. Back when I drank. I don’t drink anymore.

CW: Get hurt?

JLL: Nah … didn’t even get a scratch on the Rolls Royce. I was playin’ this song “You’re the One Rose That’s Left in my Heart” on a tape … and it warped the tape a little bit … [He sings … you’re the one rose] And the cop was tryin’ to get me out of the car. I said, “I’m not gettin’ out of the car till that song finishes! [Laughs] He let me sit there till it finished. Then they got me out, and they took me to jail [laughs].

CW: Did you write a letter to the Rolls Royce people complimenting them on their fine vehicle?

JLL: Yeah, I told ‘em what a good vehicle they had [grins].

CW: Tell me about Haney’s Big House.

JLL: Haney’s Big House was a big colored juke joint where B.B. King and people like that used to come and play when they were like 18, 19 years old. I was about 7, 8 years old. I used to sneak in and crawl in under the table and listen to ’em.

CW: Was yours the only white face in the place?

JLL: Yeah, oh you can believe that. Haney would catch me and grab me by the nap of the neck and take me to the door and put me out. He said, “Boy, your mama would kill me if she knew you was in here!”

CW: Was he right?

JLL: Yeah, she would’ve. He said, 'No tellin’ what your uncle Lee Calhoun would do to me … he owns this place! Now, you get outta here and stay outta here!' And I’d sneak back in again.

CW: Ever get up on the stage?

JLL: Naw … I never got up on the stage. I didn’t get that brave! [Laughs] Old Haney’s Big House … it was a big one. I’d walk by there and I’d see one of those big old buses out front … all the windows open on it. And I’d say, “Yeah, somebody’s here tonight.” So I’d make sure to catch who’s playin’ what.

CW: Did you try to get back to the piano as soon as you could and play what you’d heard them play?

JLL: Yeah. I learned a lot of my stuff from them.

CW: What makes you smile?

JLL: Money! [Laughs] And a car that’s not top heavy! And women … yeah! They’re not top-heavy.

CW: Hardest thing you’ve ever been through?

JLL: Divorces … the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through. That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever think about gettin’ married again. Too old for that kind of foolishness anyway.

CW: You’ve made your contribution to the matrimonial ranks already!

JLL: You know that's the truth! [Big laugh]

For more on Jerry Lee, check out the story in the 8/27 issue of CW.