‘Recent Air’ remembers rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis : NPR







That is FRESH AIR. I am David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.


JERRY LEE LEWIS: (Singing) You shake my nerves, and also you rattle my mind. An excessive amount of love drives a person insane. You broke my will however what a thrill. Goodness, gracious, nice balls of fireplace. I laughed at love ‘trigger I believed it was humorous. You got here alongside and also you moved me, honey. I’ve modified my thoughts. This love is ok. Goodness, gracious, nice balls of fireplace. Kiss me, child. Mmm, it feels good. Maintain me, child. Nicely, I am off to like you want a lover ought to. Oh, you are superb, so type. Received to inform this world that you simply’re mine, mine, mine, mine. I chew my nails after which I twiddle my thumbs. I am actual nervous, nevertheless it certain is enjoyable. Come on, child. You drive me loopy. Goodness, gracious, nice balls of fireplace.

BIANCULLI: We’re remembering rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, who died October 28 at age 87 with excerpts from two interviews from our archives. Within the second half of the present, we’ll hear again to Terry’s interview with Myra Lewis Williams, who was married to Jerry Lee when she was 13. They have been cousins. The scandal which adopted their marriage ended Jerry Lee’s profession as a rock ‘n’ roll famous person, however he later discovered redemption in performing nation music.

We’ll kick issues off with an interview Terry did with Jerry Lee’s youthful sister, pianist and singer Linda Gail Lewis. Earlier than Jerry Lee Lewis turned a star, their household lived in a shack in Ferriday, La. Linda discovered to play piano from watching her brother. They began performing collectively when she was 14, within the early Sixties. They recorded collectively, and he or she toured with him for a few years within the ’60s and ’70s earlier than going off on her personal. Linda Gail Lewis was on FRESH AIR in 2018, together with singer-songwriter and guitarist Robbie Fulks. That they had simply put out a document collectively referred to as “Wild! Wild! Wild!” This is the opening observe, that includes Linda Gail Lewis on piano and vocals.


LINDA GAIL LEWIS: (Singing) I am the sister of a hell raiser, the daughter of an previous tomcat. I used to be playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk earlier than you bragged about that. If it is a tune about laborious, laborious livin’ (ph), it is a tune I am livin’ in. If a tough highway goes there, you possibly can wager I have been. When the ladies have been playin’ at bounce rope, I used to be playin’ (ph) the lads for fools. I used to be drownin’ in a sea of whiskey once they have been dreamin’ about Liverpool. Ever since I used to be a baby, I used to be quick and wild. I suppose I am a wild one nonetheless. ‘Trigger once they say you possibly can’t, you understand I’ll. I am like a document that will not put on out. I am like a wheel that spins on. You may’t hardly cease rollin’ once I’ve been ‘spherical too lengthy.


TERRY GROSS: Linda Gail Lewis, welcome to FRESH AIR. Robbie Fulks, welcome again to FRESH AIR, and congratulations in your album, “Wild! Wild! Wild!” So, Linda, we simply heard a pattern of your piano model, which is similar to your brother Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano model. However you did not begin enjoying till you have been 30 or 40 or one thing.

L LEWIS: I used to be truly 40. You realize, I knew the fundamental chords on the piano, you understand, like, for simply accompanying myself if I used to be writing a tune or simply singing a gospel tune or a rustic tune or one thing. However I did not know the right way to play rock ‘n’ roll or boogie-woogie as a result of I would been on the highway with my brother. In order that wasn’t wanted in our act. After I left his band, it was essential for me to determine it out. And thank goodness he had proven me a whole lot of issues that I thankfully may keep in mind.

GROSS: What did he present you?

L LEWIS: He confirmed me mainly this – I name it the Jerry Lee Lewis invention as a result of it is type of like a Bach invention, solely it is for boogie-woogie and rock ‘n’ roll. He got here up with this factor for me to play, and he stated, if you happen to play this and also you begin out actually sluggish after which work up to the mark, then it is going to open up the whole lot for you, and you’ll play rock ‘n’ roll and boogie-woogie piano.

GROSS: What in regards to the glissandos the place you slide down the notes of the piano?

L LEWIS: That simply comes naturally to me.

GROSS: I all the time suppose it should tear up your fingers.

L LEWIS: It does.

GROSS: Does it?


GROSS: OK. You are each from very completely different backgrounds. So, Linda, let me ask you. You grew up in a shack in Louisiana. Would you describe the shack for us?

L LEWIS: Nicely, it was this grey constructing. There was type of, like, holes in it in locations. And we did not have a rest room on the within. We needed to bathe in a tin tub out on the porch in the summertime or within the kitchen the place there’s warmth within the winter. It was robust. It was laborious dwelling there. And it was embarrassing for me once I’d get off the college bus as a result of…

GROSS: A lot of the different youngsters weren’t as poor.

L LEWIS: I did not see another shacks precisely like that one, perhaps one or two. However nonetheless, when it is you getting off the bus and it is your shack, it is embarrassing. So it was laborious for me. However, you understand, I used to be in a position to depart there fairly early as a result of, you understand, my brother acquired us out of there once I was 10 years previous.

GROSS: Nicely, yeah, as a result of, you understand, he turned well-known as Jerry Lee Lewis. He signed with Solar Information, and other people understand how that story went. So it will need to have actually profoundly affected your loved ones life when there was cash coming in and he turned well-known.

L LEWIS: Oh, it was fantastic. We went to Memphis. I keep in mind our first journey to Memphis. It was so nice. However, in fact, the principle factor that I keep in mind is that Jerry purchased us a brand new home on the town, a pleasant brick dwelling with the whole lot, lavatory on the within. It was beautiful. And he gave us $1,000 to buy groceries. My mama had two attire, one to put on to church and one to put on at dwelling. That is all she had. And we took $1,000 to Doris’ Costume Store (ph) in Ferriday, La., and purchased the whole lot that they had in our sizes.

GROSS: Everybody in your loved ones made music, proper?

L LEWIS: Nicely, sure. My mama was an excellent singer. She was the tune chief in our church. And Daddy performed guitar, and he performed slightly little bit of piano.

GROSS: So one factor you have got in frequent by way of your background is I feel, you understand, you each grew up in musical households, though, Linda, there was a well-known individual in your loved ones. Nicely, not simply Jerry Lee Lewis. Jimmy Swaggart is your cousin, and he is, like, the well-known televangelist – a well-known televangelist preacher. However he carried out in these exhibits, too – did not he? – like, sing and play.

L LEWIS: Sure, he did. And he is a beautiful piano participant, and he is an excellent singer. And he is an excellent…

ROBBIE FULKS: Nice singer.

L LEWIS: Yeah, he is an excellent singer, and he is an excellent preacher. And he was off of TV for some time due to the scandal. However he is again on now.

GROSS: Proper. And the scandal concerned a prostitute and pornography.

L LEWIS: I feel so.


FULKS: Howdy.

L LEWIS: Though there are some little previous women that suppose that he was framed (laughter).

GROSS: Is that true?

L LEWIS: I did have a few folks inform me that. Sure.

GROSS: However you do not suppose he was framed.

L LEWIS: Nicely, I feel that is far-fetched.


L LEWIS: I like Jimmy, and I would not say something dangerous about him, however that’d be a bit far-fetched.


GROSS: OK. So – and did you each develop up singing in church rather a lot, too?

FULKS: I did slightly bit, yeah.

L LEWIS: And I did rather a lot.

FULKS: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you sing a whole lot of church songs at dwelling although you simply did slightly singing in church, Robbie?

FULKS: You realize, I am attempting to recollect. I did a whole lot of singing with my household, and I went to – I ended going to church, partly as a result of we have been dwelling so removed from something and I did not have transportation. My dad and mom have been churchgoers, however I feel I ended going to church round age 13, they usually have been largely, like, Methodist church buildings with uninteresting hymnal singing. They weren’t, like, the actual cool music that Linda was most likely doing.

GROSS: So, Linda, I feel your loved ones helped construct the church that your loved ones belonged to.

L LEWIS: Nicely, they did. You realize, it was a Holy Curler church, so it wasn’t so in style. In our little city of Ferriday, you’d have, like, a thousand folks attending the Baptist church and perhaps 500 the Methodist and 200 Catholics and about 50 Pentecostals.


GROSS: And that was your church.

L LEWIS: And that was our church.

GROSS: So what sort of music was within the church?

L LEWIS: Oh, it was nice music. And Robbie would have liked it, you understand?

GROSS: (Laughter).

L LEWIS: He’d most likely have been discovering a option to get to church if he was going to that one. It was simply – you understand, it was fantastic music, upbeat more often than not – not on a regular basis. Nevertheless it was very emotional, although. I imply, typically, it was horrifying and unhappy. However once they did these songs like “I am going to Fly Away” and stuff like that, it was completely fantastic.

GROSS: I am questioning in case your brother and also you first acquired your fingers on a piano in church ‘trigger if you happen to have been dwelling in a shack, I doubt there was a piano within the shack.

L LEWIS: Nicely, my mama and daddy discovered a option to get my brother a piano when he was 8 years previous.

GROSS: Within the shack?

L LEWIS: Yeah, in – I suppose, yeah. We have been nonetheless…

GROSS: Within the shack with the holes in it?

L LEWIS: Oh, we have been positively within the shack with the holes in it.

FULKS: It was at your aunt’s home, yeah?

L LEWIS: Nicely, he – they purchased it from my aunt. My Aunt Eva had a piano she had purchased for her daughter Norma Jean (ph). And Norma Jean simply would not take the teachings and play the piano. So she stated she simply needed to promote it. So she offered it to my mama and daddy. And Daddy moved that piano downstairs by himself…


L LEWIS: …As a result of they lived up over their cafe that that they had. That they had a restaurant. And so they lived up over it, so it was upstairs. And Jerry informed me, he stated, I am unable to consider how Daddy may transfer that piano down these stairs by himself. It was an upright piano. My brother nonetheless has it.


BIANCULLI: Linda Gail Lewis, the youthful sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. She spoke with Terry Gross in 2018 together with songwriter-singer and guitarist Robbie Fulks. We’ll hear extra after a break. That is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s return to the interview and efficiency from our archives with pianist and singer Linda Gail Lewis, the youthful sister of Jerry Lee Lewis, and singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks. They have been on FRESH AIR in 2018 after placing out their document, “Wild! Wild! Wild!”

GROSS: So that you sing nice harmonies collectively. Did that come naturally? I imply, Linda, you actually sang a whole lot of harmonies along with your brother prior to now.

L LEWIS: Nicely, I’ve. You realize, my brother’s an excellent singer, and so is Robbie. So it jogs my memory of doing duets with my brother. And it wasn’t laborious for me to sing with Robbie. I like singing with him.

GROSS: Can I ask you to do a tune that you simply additionally do on the brand new album, “Wild! Wild! Wild!”? I will ask you to sing your duet of “On The Jericho Street.” And did you each know this tune earlier than you determined to do it collectively?

L LEWIS: Nicely, I used to be sitting at a Burger King in Tromso, Norway. I acquired an e-mail from Robbie saying, nicely, we have to do some gospel. And I recommended “Jericho Street.” Did not I, Robbie?

FULKS: You probably did. Yeah. And also you directed me to Jerry’s insane efficiency of it…


FULKS: …With – yeah, unbelievable piano solo.

L LEWIS: Yeah. After which, I instantly informed you, I am not enjoying that piano solo. Then, I made you play the guitar solo.

FULKS: You made me play the guitar.

L LEWIS: (Laughter).

FULKS: And for higher or worse…

L LEWIS: Probably not, however I requested you to.

FULKS: …That is what we got here up with.

(Vocalizing, enjoying guitar).

ROBBIE FULKS AND LINDA GAIL LEWIS: (Singing) As you journey alongside on the Jericho Street, there’s room for simply two. Brother, do not carry a load. Simply deliver it to Christ. Your sins all confess. On the Jericho Street, your coronary heart he’ll bless.

FULKS: (Singing) On the Jericho Street…

L LEWIS: (Singing) On the Jericho Street…

FULKS: (Singing) There’s room for simply two.

L LEWIS: (Singing) There’s room for simply two.

FULKS: (Singing) No extra and no much less.

L LEWIS: (Singing) No extra or no much less.

FULKS: (Singing) Solely Jesus and also you.

L LEWIS: (Singing) Simply Jesus and also you.

FULKS AND LEWIS: (Singing) Every burden he’ll bear. Every sorrow he’ll share. There’s by no means a care. Treasured Jesus is there. There’s by no means a care. Treasured Jesus is there.

GROSS: Oh, thanks for that. I liked it.

FULKS: Warts and all.


GROSS: Oh, it was fantastic. And let me reintroduce you. My friends are Robbie Fulks, songwriter-singer, guitarist, and Linda Gail Lewis, who’s a pianist and singer and typically songwriter as nicely and in addition the sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. So we simply heard you sing “On The Jericho Street,” which is a really Christian tune. And Linda, I feel you are still within the church.

L LEWIS: Nicely, I am not precisely in a church. They will not have me.

GROSS: (Laughter).

L LEWIS: However I’m a Christian.


GROSS: However you are still deeply a Christian.

L LEWIS: Yeah. I have never discovered one that will agree with the whole lot I do, however (laughter). However, sure, I do go to church often. However I do not, like, belong to a church. However I am very non secular, and I like the Lord.

GROSS: And, Robbie, as I keep in mind from our final interview, you utterly moved away from the church.

FULKS: Yeah. I am an atheist, which I have never actually mentioned with Linda till this second. However there it’s.

GROSS: Are you OK with that, Linda?

L LEWIS: I already knew that he was an atheist. I learn it on a kind of social media issues.


GROSS: Your secret is lengthy out.

FULKS: Yeah. Cat’s out of the bag.

GROSS: However you continue to love singing these songs.

FULKS: I actually do. I imply, they’re nice songs. I imply, songs about perception, you understand, that is what makes a love tune nice ‘trigger you consider it once you sing it. And songs about transcendental perception, to me, are all of the extra highly effective.

GROSS: Linda, what did your dad and mom suppose, being such church folks, when Jerry Lee Lewis, together with you, his youthful sister, began performing these, like, wild songs, completely secular, type of blasphemous most likely inside your church? So how did that go over within the household? Now, granted, he was bringing in some huge cash and acquired the household out of poverty, so I am certain they preferred that. However there was rather a lot that went together with that.

L LEWIS: Nicely, you understand, my dad and mom defended my brother all the time. And so they did not essentially agree along with his concept, which is that he was doing the satan’s music. They did not actually really feel that like he did. And – however the folks within the church weren’t pleased with us. I imply, Mama would nonetheless go. And he or she’d take me together with her a whole lot of occasions. And other people weren’t all that good to us within the church anymore. However Jerry seems like – you understand, he used to really feel like that was the satan’s music. I do not know if he feels that manner a lot now. I feel he is mellowed on that.

GROSS: Did you ever really feel such as you have been going to go to hell due to the music you have been enjoying or the life you have been dwelling?

L LEWIS: I by no means felt that manner.

GROSS: Even once you have been younger and…

L LEWIS: Nicely, once I was younger, I used to be scared to demise. I imply…

GROSS: Of hell?

L LEWIS: Of – yeah, of hell. I imply, these preachers would preach these sermons and would scare you to demise.

GROSS: Positive. However then you definitely’re going from that to – I imply, you have been married on the age of 14. You – I imply, you have been consuming. You have been on the highway along with your brother. I imply, that’s not, like, what could be outlined because the righteous life, in order for you – are you aware what I am saying?

L LEWIS: I used to be fairly loopy as a child.

GROSS: Yeah, that is what I am saying.

L LEWIS: I admit that.


L LEWIS: Sure, I used to be.

GROSS: So in these early days of being wild, as in “Wild! Wild! Wild!,” the album title…

L LEWIS: (Laughter) Again within the day.

GROSS: …Did you are concerned about hell? Did you are concerned about, you understand, not being redeemed?

L LEWIS: Perhaps slightly bit once I wasn’t consuming Wild Turkey and 7UP…


L LEWIS: …And had an opportunity to consider it. However sure, I most likely did fear about it. However I’ve simply all the time felt like that Jesus forgives us of our sins as a result of that is what the Bible says. And lots of people miss that. And so they have all these concepts about what you are able to do and you may’t do.

GROSS: Inform us slightly bit about what it was prefer to be performing along with your brother once you have been in your early teenagers.

L LEWIS: It was fantastic. It was completely nice. I needed a lot to go on the highway with him. And naturally, I used to be in class. However then I met this man and fell in love with him. And we acquired married. Nevertheless it solely lasted for, I feel, just a few months. It wasn’t lengthy in any respect. And I ended up with a divorce. After which I stated, nicely, I am unable to actually return to highschool as a result of I’ve simply gone by this divorce. So how about me occurring the highway with you, Jerry?


L LEWIS: And he took me on the highway.

FULKS: (Laughter).

GROSS: So that you have been – you met Elvis Presley. You most likely met all of the rockabilly performers and a whole lot of different now-famous performers, too.

L LEWIS: It has been completely fantastic. I imply, Chuck Berry and Little Richard – and Fat Domino was a beautiful man. It was so nice being round all these guys.

GROSS: So we have heard you do duets collectively. And you’ve got additionally each recorded rather a lot solo. What are a few of the pleasures of singing concord?

FULKS: I really feel it is type of laborious to explain. It is just like the pleasure, as I used to be saying earlier, of dancing with a superb companion. And it is just like the pleasure of falling down on a pleasant, delicate mattress, you understand? And once you sing with an excellent companion, like I get to do with Linda, it actually is nearly like falling right into a mattress in its thoughtlessness and luxury and the nice feeling. And I want I may very well be extra scientific about it. It is a good feeling.

L LEWIS: I actually – I take pleasure in harmonizing. In fact, I did with my brother and with my sister, Frankie Jean. After which now my son and my daughter sing with me. And that is a whole lot of enjoyable once we try this.

GROSS: Oh, that is nice.

FULKS: Girl plus man is an particularly potent factor, although, at the least in nation music. Do not you suppose?

L LEWIS: Oh, sure, in fact. And the factor that largely that I’d do with my youngsters could be like gospel or folks music or one thing. However, yeah, the nation songs with a person and a lady singing a duet, I feel it is actually nice.

GROSS: It has been so nice to have you ever each right here. Thanks for being so beneficiant, enjoying your music for us. I actually liked listening to it. Thanks a lot.

L LEWIS: Oh, thanks. Thanks a lot.

FULKS: Thanks, Terry. It was an excellent pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Pianist and singer Linda Gail Lewis, the youthful sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. She spoke with Terry Gross in 2018, together with songwriter, singer and guitarist Robbie Fulks. The document they put out collectively known as “Wild! Wild! Wild!” Linda Gail Lewis toured together with her brother, Jerry Lee, within the ’60s and ’70s. This is a duet from a document they put out in 1969. The title of the album is “Collectively.” The tune known as “Secret Locations.”


L LEWIS: (Singing) Each time you maintain me shut, we meet in secret locations. We will not exit in town trigger folks know our faces.

J LEWIS: (Singing) We have liked one another all these years. We have lived with fixed disgrace and worry.

JERRY LEE LEWIS AND LINDA GAIL LEWIS: (Singing) However we’ll go on and dwell our love tonight in secret locations. Secret locations, hidden faces, that is all we have ever recognized. Stolen moments, heat embraces – we all know we simply cannot be flawed.

L LEWIS: (Singing) Why do now we have to cover our love once we belong collectively? Our love is sort of a ship at sea that is tossed by stormy climate.

BIANCULLI: Arising within the second half of our present, an interview with Myra Lewis Williams, who married Jerry Lee Lewis when she was simply 13. The scandal which adopted ended his profession as a rock ‘n’ roll famous person. Myra’s memoir, titled “Nice Balls Of Fireplace,” turned the idea of the film of the identical title. She did not suppose a lot of the film. And music critic Ken Tucker has an appreciation of Jerry Lee’s flip to nation music. That is developing after a break. I am David Bianculli, and that is FRESH AIR.


JERRY LEE LEWIS AND LINDA GAIL LEWIS: (Singing) Secret locations, hidden faces – that is all we have ever recognized. Stolen moments, heat embraces – we all know we simply cannot be flawed.

BIANCULLI: That is FRESH AIR. I am David Bianculli, professor of tv research at Rowan College, sitting in for Terry Gross. We’re remembering rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis at this time with interviews from our archive. Lewis was 87 when he died on October 28. Together with his large hits “Complete Lot Of Shakin’ Going On” and “Nice Balls Of Fireplace,” he was the foremost radio rival to Elvis Presley. However in 1958 when Jerry Lee married his second cousin, 13-year-old Myra Brown, his profession was destroyed by the ensuing scandal. Myra divorced Jerry Lee in 1971 and went on to a profession in actual property in Atlanta, Ga. In 1989, Terry interviewed Myra Brown Lewis, who’s now often known as Myra Lewis Williams. The movie “Nice Balls Of “Fireplace!,” starring Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee, had simply come out. It was based mostly on Myra’s memoir of the identical title. In 2016, Myra revealed a second memoir titled “The Spark That Survived.” She informed Terry that she did not suppose a lot of the film.


MYRA LEWIS WILLIAMS: After I walked in and I began watching this film, which I postpone about so long as I may – and my household drug me there. They stated, you have to go together with us and see this. What I sat down and noticed was a light-weight musical comedy. It was very entertaining, and it was very cute. And it does attempt to inform you a whole lot of data. However it’s a yr and a half in our life, and my guide coated 30 years. And there are a whole lot of issues which might be factual in as a lot so far as they go. Nevertheless it’s virtually like you must know what occurred earlier than and after to know the reasoning behind what the individual did.

GROSS: Nicely, let’s speak about your story as you truly lived it. How did you first meet Jerry Lee Lewis?

WILLIAMS: Terry, I met Jerry by the use of my father bringing him to Memphis. My father had been injured on the job, and he went to Louisiana in search of his first cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, who he had not met. However he did know that he performed piano and sang. And my father had been in a band along with his brothers, you understand, when he was a child. And he needed to type a band, so he went and located Jerry, introduced him to Memphis. And when Jerry walked into our home, I used to be a 12-year-old child sitting on the kitchen desk doing my math homework – ponytail and crinoline and poodle skirt and all this. And I actually did not even know who Jerry was or what he was.

GROSS: Your marriage to him turned a scandal since you have been 13 and he was 22 and also you have been second cousins. Did that appear uncommon to you on the time – your age and marrying as second cousins?

WILLIAMS: It did to me. You have to keep in mind I grew up in a metropolis. I grew up in Memphis, Tenn., the suburbs of the town. Jerry grew up on a farm in Louisiana. The place he got here from, it was commonplace. However when Jerry determined that he needed to marry me, I argued with him that I used to be too younger, and he argued again that I wasn’t. So I used to be very conscious of the age, that it was totally too younger.

GROSS: And I feel his sister had married when she was 12.

WILLIAMS: Sure. Sure.

GROSS: So it actually wasn’t that uncommon in his household.

WILLIAMS: It wasn’t uncommon. His mom had married, I feel, when she was 16. In fact, my mom married when she was 16. However that they had left that a part of the nation, and I had not been raised in that atmosphere. So it was – you understand, it was manner out of the unusual for me. However in Jerry’s household, it was nonetheless occurring.

GROSS: How did you get married because you have been underage?

WILLIAMS: Nicely, Jerry went to the courthouse in Mississippi. He took a woman that posed as me. She signed the certificates and stated that she was Myra Gale Brown. And so they placed on there that she was 22 years previous. And they didn’t query her, in fact. And also you had a three-day ready interval, I consider, at the moment. And Jerry got here again from this journey to my home, referred to as me exterior within the automobile, and stated, sit down. I wish to inform you one thing. I wish to present you one thing. And he pulled out the wedding license.

And once I first noticed it, I believed we had gotten married. I couldn’t perceive how an individual may very well be married and never comprehend it. And when he stated, no, we will get married – and that is once I argued with him and stated, Jerry, I’m too younger for this. And he stated, no, you are not. My mom married younger, and your mom married younger. And I am making lots cash, and the whole lot might be OK. And that is the purpose the place I jumped out of the automobile and slammed the door and ran off. And he got here after me. And he caught me, and he whirled me round. And he stated, Myra, I like you, and I wish to marry you. And I stated, nicely, I like you, too, Jerry. However I do not wish to marry you proper now. I am too younger. And he stated, nicely, it is now or by no means. And naturally, you might virtually say the remainder is historical past.

GROSS: You have been in what grade once you acquired married?

WILLIAMS: The eighth.

GROSS: Did you drop out after you have been married?

WILLIAMS: Terry, in 1958, there was a legislation that stated you might not attend faculty if you happen to have been married, which was there to discourage younger marriages. However all, in essence, it discouraged was an schooling. So, in fact, I dropped out as a result of I needed to. However I’d have myself anyway as a result of, in fact, Jerry needed me to be with him. He needed me occurring the highway with him.

GROSS: You realize, I am eager about what it will need to have been prefer to be married – you have been 13, and he was 22 – however not solely to be married, to be married to this, like, super-libidinous husband, you understand?


GROSS: I imply, your husband was somebody who was singing essentially the most type of wild, attractive lyrics, you understand? And he actually had a really type of sexually charged persona as a performer. Did you are feeling in any respect bodily or mentally ready for a marital, sexual relationship?

WILLIAMS: No, I used to be not ready for something. I had no thought what was anticipated of me. I had no thought what I used to be purported to do or how I used to be purported to do it. I didn’t develop up and get married. I acquired married and grew up. And to me, it was essentially the most pure factor on the earth, and essentially the most regular, though I did notice that there was nobody else on the face of the earth that was dwelling life the identical manner I used to be dwelling it.

GROSS: Did you discover sexuality regular or disturbing once you have been that younger?

WILLIAMS: I didn’t discover it disturbing. I do not know what I discovered it. I discovered it my obligation greater than the rest. I used to be very unknowledgeable about something. As a matter of reality, I consider Jerry knew I used to be pregnant earlier than I did. I had no thought. I had no thought why I used to be sick.

GROSS: You’re actually a basic instance of going from dwelling in your dad and mom’ home to dwelling in your husband’s home and going from having dad and mom because the authority figures to having husband as authority determine with out having any time as an unbiased individual. And the impression I acquired is that Jerry Lee Lewis actually was an authority determine within the dwelling and that he tried to manage you in some ways. You say that he tried to decide on the garments you wore, the books you learn, informed you to not put on make-up, selected the data that you might hearken to. And I used to be actually curious what data he did not need you to hearken to.

WILLIAMS: If that they had his title on them, I may hearken to them.

GROSS: The rest?

WILLIAMS: And in the event that they did not, I used to be not purported to be listening.


GROSS: Did it look like – did it ever appear actually hypocritical to you that right here was this wild man whose habits actually knew no bounds however for you, his spouse, he would draw the road and, you understand, make you toe the road?

WILLIAMS: It is referred to as a double normal, Terry.

GROSS: Proper.


GROSS: Have been you conscious of it being that manner? Did you ever object to it once you have been 12? Or did you simply settle for, nicely, that have to be the way in which issues are?

WILLIAMS: No, I accepted it at that age. You see; I let Jerry increase me. I let him inform me what I used to be purported to suppose and what I used to be purported to consider. First off, I did not have anybody else to inform me, and I needed to develop up, so I needed to suppose one thing. And within the Deep South, you have to keep in mind, it is – a spouse was virtually a possession to her husband. My grandmother referred to as her husband mister. Now, that is fairly a time in the past, however nonetheless, that may virtually present you the way girls have been very subservient place to their husbands. So it was not unusual to me.

I believed the whole lot he informed me. He spoon fed me life in little bitty sips, and I accepted it and sought no different opinion, by no means for a second considered disobeying him or not agreeing with him till I began rising up. After which I stated, wait a second. In some way all this cannot be proper. There’s a complete world on the market that is not going to agree with this. And once I began considering alone, I noticed that there was extra to life than what I used to be getting.

BIANCULLI: Myra Lewis Williams talking to Terry Gross in 1989 – extra after a break. That is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: That is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to Terry’s 1989 interview with Myra Lewis Williams. She married Jerry Lee Lewis, her second cousin, when she was 13 years previous in 1958 and divorced him 13 years later in 1971.

GROSS: Nicely, let’s describe the story slightly bit. What occurred was, as you stated, you went with Jerry Lee Lewis on tour to England. It was his first performances there. There was a giant press convention on the airport, I feel it was.

WILLIAMS: We arrived in London, and the press was there to fulfill and greet Jerry and take pictures.

GROSS: And one reporter requested who you have been, and also you stated that you simply have been Jerry Lewis’ spouse, and he requested you your age.

WILLIAMS: He requested my age. And I made a decision – Jerry had talked about me telling folks that I used to be older, and he was attempting to inform folks that I used to be older anyway. And as an alternative of being 13, I informed him I used to be 15. I believed, nicely, that’ll make an entire lot of distinction. And the following day, it got here out within the press that Jerry – it stated Jerry Lee Lewis is right here along with his baby bride, Myra, who’s 15 years previous. And this was an unbelievable scandal. It was dangerous sufficient proper then. Then the following day, it got here out – it stated, Jerry Lee Lewis is right here along with his baby bride, Myra, who is absolutely 13 and is his second cousin. After which on the third and the final day, it got here out that Jerry Lee Lewis is right here along with his baby bride, Myra, 13 years previous, his second cousin, and he isn’t legally divorced from his second spouse. After which we went dwelling. We have been requested to go away the nation. That was the tip.

GROSS: Did you are feeling like he was fairly nicely blacklisted after the story broke?

WILLIAMS: Oh, he was. There is not any doubt about it. It was – for 10 years, Jerry’s data have been held off the air. He couldn’t get an honest live performance date. There have been sure radio stations that will not contact him in any respect. Sponsors, greater than the rest, stated, no, you’ll not play his music. He went from making $10,000 an evening to creating $200 an evening.

GROSS: Now, when his revenue plummeted and his profession type of stopped lifeless in its tracks, did he blame you for it due to your age, since you’d stated one thing to that reporter?

WILLIAMS: No, Jerry by no means blamed me. That was one benefit of Jerry. He by no means pointed the finger and stated, that is your fault. If he was ever placed on the spot with it, he would put his arm round me and say, I paid tens of millions of {dollars} for this little woman, however I like her. And he by no means, for a second, blamed me.

GROSS: Did he nonetheless play at dwelling even when he wasn’t getting good efficiency dates?

WILLIAMS: Oh, sure. He performed every single day. He performed two or 3 times every single day. Jerry would additionally make chords in the midst of the night time along with his fingers. If his hand was resting on my shoulder, it could be chording and enjoying. You can see him shifting. You realize, may see his fingers shifting.


GROSS: You have been pregnant once you have been 15 and – is that proper?

WILLIAMS: No, my baby was born once I was 14.

GROSS: Oh, OK. OK. And so that you had a son on the age of 14. And…

WILLIAMS: Sure, sure.

GROSS: He died on the age of three in a drowning accident in a pal’s swimming pool. When that occurred, did you suppose God was punishing you?

WILLIAMS: No, I by no means thought that. Jerry thought God was punishing him.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

WILLIAMS: However I by no means thought God was punishing both of us. I simply don’t consider that God works that manner.

GROSS: So that you say that Jerry, although, thought that God was punishing him with this demise. Was he afraid that he would go to hell due to the music that he performed and the life that he led?

WILLIAMS: Jerry was raised in a background of – a spiritual background – holiness, Pentecostal faith. It was very strict and really stringent about issues that you might not do. And Jerry stated in judgment of himself repeatedly – as a result of he may by no means get away from the elevating and the instructing that he had – that, first off, he wasn’t purported to be enjoying that type of music. He wasn’t purported to be dwelling the life that he lived. And he was a person who was tormented day by day by this – his expectations of what he needs to be doing versus, in actuality, what he was doing. So he was plagued by this. And Jerry believed once we misplaced our son that God was punishing him for not being what he was purported to be.

GROSS: Jerry Lewis and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart have all the time been painted as these actually attention-grabbing opposites who every have a part of the opposite inside them – you understand, that Jimmy Swaggart has a part of the satan in him and Jerry Lewis is – Jerry Lee Lewis can also be – you understand, has this type of non secular drive in him as nicely and is all the time, like, caught between God and the satan. The place have been you in the midst of all of this? Have you ever been doing all your life like a non secular individual, a believer?

WILLIAMS: Sure, Terry. I’ve all the time been very – I am not an especially spiritual individual, however I consider I am a really non secular individual. And I’ve all the time mainly sat on the toes of each of those males and listened to their directions. Jerry was by no means dwelling the life that he may – that he would inform you to dwell. However there have been a few years that I lived the life that Jerry informed me to dwell. He needed me to be good and pure and straight and, you understand, a Christian and the whole lot. And he needed to have that type of dwelling. He needed that atmosphere. Though he wasn’t part of it, he needed it there. There have been a few years – nicely, our whole married life, for 13 years, Jerry didn’t enable anybody to come back in our dwelling and drink. There was by no means, ever a bottle of liquor introduced into our home.

GROSS: Did you return to highschool after you left your husband?

WILLIAMS: I used to be going to highschool your entire time that I used to be dwelling with Jerry on and off, Terry, from – the one time I may go to highschool was when Jerry was gone as a result of Jerry didn’t like me going to highschool. So I’d go at night time when he wasn’t there. Or I’d go on a weekend when he was gone. I had repeatedly gone again and tried to get an schooling. I wasn’t after any explicit designation. I simply loved studying issues. I loved studying. I loved realizing what occurred in several areas. And, sure, I ended up going again to highschool. And I ended up getting my actual property license. I have been in actual property virtually 10 years now.

GROSS: Do you see Jerry Lee Lewis in any respect anymore?

WILLIAMS: I noticed Jerry about 4 or 5 months in the past. I noticed him at a celebration that Dennis Quaid had in Memphis, a Thanksgiving celebration. And once I noticed him by the gang, he noticed me, and I noticed him. And I began towards him. And once I acquired near him, I put my arms out, and I hugged him.

GROSS: Myra Lewis Williams, thanks very a lot for speaking with us.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Terry. I’ve loved it.

BIANCULLI: Myra Lewis Williams talking to Terry Gross in 1989. Myra married Jerry Lee Lewis, her second cousin, when she was 13 years previous in 1958 and divorced him 13 years later in 1971, and went on to a profession in actual property in Atlanta, Ga. Jerry Lee Lewis died October 28 at age 87. And to proceed our remembrance of him, we’ll conclude with rock critic Ken Tucker, who has an appreciation of the rock ‘n’ curler’s nation music facet. That is FRESH AIR.


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