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    ‘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 okay. 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 variety. 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, but it surely 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 pay attention again to Terry’s interview with Myra Lewis Williams, who was married to Jerry Lee when she was 13. They had been cousins. The scandal which adopted their marriage ended Jerry Lee’s profession as a rock ‘n’ roll celebrity, 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 grew to become 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 Nineteen 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. They’d simply put out a document collectively referred to as “Wild! Wild! Wild!” Here 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    LINDA GAIL LEWIS: (Singing) I am the sister of a hell raiser, the daughter of an outdated tomcat. I used to be playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk earlier than you bragged about that. If it is a tune about exhausting, exhausting livin’ (ph), it is a tune I am livin’ in. If a tough highway goes there, you’ll be able to wager I have been. When the ladies had been playin’ at soar rope, I used to be playin’ (ph) the lads for fools. I used to be drownin’ in a sea of whiskey after they had been dreamin’ about Liverpool. Ever since I used to be a toddler, I used to be quick and wild. I assume I am a wild one nonetheless. ‘Trigger after they say you’ll be able to’t, I’ll. I am like a document that will not put on out. I am like a wheel that spins on. You’ll be able to’t hardly cease rollin’ after 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 taking part in till you had been 30 or 40 or one thing.

    L LEWIS: I used to be really 40. You recognize, I knew the fundamental chords on the piano, , 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 learn how to play rock ‘n’ roll or boogie-woogie as a result of I might been on the highway with my brother. In order that wasn’t wanted in our act. After I left his band, it was obligatory for me to determine it out. And thank goodness he had proven me plenty of issues that I happily may bear in mind.

    GROSS: What did he present you?

    L LEWIS: He confirmed me principally this – I name it the Jerry Lee Lewis invention as a result of it is sort 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 gradual after which work in control, then it would open up every part for you, and you can 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 totally 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 sort of, like, holes in it in locations. And we did not have a toilet 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 powerful. It was exhausting dwelling there. And it was embarrassing for me after I’d get off the college bus as a result of…

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

    L LEWIS: I did not see every other shacks precisely like that one, possibly one or two. However nonetheless, when it is you getting off the bus and it is your shack, it is embarrassing. So it was exhausting for me. However, , I used to be capable of depart there fairly early as a result of, , my brother received us out of there after I was 10 years outdated.

    GROSS: Nicely, yeah, as a result of, , he grew to become well-known as Jerry Lee Lewis. He signed with Solar Data, and folks understand how that story went. So it should have actually profoundly affected your loved ones life when there was cash coming in and he grew to become well-known.

    L LEWIS: Oh, it was great. We went to Memphis. I bear in mind our first journey to Memphis. It was so nice. However, in fact, the primary factor that I bear in mind is that Jerry purchased us a brand new home on the town, a pleasant brick residence with every part, rest room on the within. It was beautiful. And he gave us $1,000 to buy groceries. My mama had two clothes, one to put on to church and one to put on at residence. That is all she had. And we took $1,000 to Doris’ Gown Store (ph) in Ferriday, La., and purchased every part they’d in our sizes.

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

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

    GROSS: So one factor you’ve gotten in widespread when it comes to your background is I believe, , you each grew up in musical households, though, Linda, there was a well-known particular person 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 reveals, too – did not he? – like, sing and play.

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

    ROBBIE FULKS: Nice singer.

    L LEWIS: Yeah, he is a terrific singer, and he is a terrific 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 believe so.


    FULKS: Hiya.

    L LEWIS: Though there are some little outdated 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 believe that is far-fetched.

    GROSS: OK.

    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 quite a bit, too?

    FULKS: I did a bit bit, yeah.

    L LEWIS: And I did quite a bit.

    FULKS: Yeah.

    GROSS: Did you sing plenty of church songs at residence regardless that you simply did a bit singing in church, Robbie?

    FULKS: You recognize, I am making an attempt to recollect. I did plenty of singing with my household, and I went to – I ended going to church, partly as a result of we had been dwelling so removed from something and I did not have transportation. My dad and mom had been churchgoers, however I believe I ended going to church round age 13, and so they had been largely, like, Methodist church buildings with uninteresting hymnal singing. They weren’t, like, the true cool music that Linda was in all probability doing.

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

    L LEWIS: Nicely, they did. You recognize, it was a Holy Curler church, so it wasn’t so common. In our little city of Ferriday, you’d have, like, a thousand folks attending the Baptist church and possibly 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, ?

    GROSS: (Laughter).

    L LEWIS: He’d in all probability have been discovering a solution to get to church if he was going to that one. It was simply – , it was great 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 after they did these songs like “I am going to Fly Away” and stuff like that, it was completely great.

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

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

    GROSS: Within the shack?

    L LEWIS: Yeah, in – I assume, yeah. We had been nonetheless…

    GROSS: Within the shack with the holes in it?

    L LEWIS: Oh, we had 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…

    GROSS: No.

    L LEWIS: …As a result of they lived up over their cafe that they’d. They’d a restaurant. And so they lived up over it, so it was upstairs. And Jerry informed me, he stated, I can not consider how Daddy may transfer that piano down these stairs by himself. It was an upright piano. My brother nonetheless has it.

    GROSS: Wow.

    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 had 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 plenty of harmonies along with your brother previously.

    L LEWIS: Nicely, I’ve. You recognize, my brother’s a terrific singer, and so is Robbie. So it jogs my memory of doing duets with my brother. And it wasn’t exhausting 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 Highway.” 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 received an electronic mail from Robbie saying, nicely, we have to do some gospel. And I steered “Jericho Highway.” 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 taking part in 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: Not likely, however I requested you to.

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

    (Vocalizing, taking part in guitar).

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

    FULKS: (Singing) On the Jericho Highway…

    L LEWIS: (Singing) On the Jericho Highway…

    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. Valuable Jesus is there. There’s by no means a care. Valuable Jesus is there.

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

    FULKS: Warts and all.


    GROSS: Oh, it was great. And let me reintroduce you. My company 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 Highway,” which is a really Christian tune. And Linda, I believe 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 not discovered one that may agree with every part 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 religious, and I like the Lord.

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

    FULKS: Yeah. I am an atheist, which I have not 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, , that is what makes a love tune nice ‘trigger you consider it while 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, sort of blasphemous in all probability inside your church? So how did that go over within the household? Now, granted, he was bringing in some huge cash and received the household out of poverty, so I am certain they preferred that. However there was quite a bit that went together with that.

    L LEWIS: Nicely, , my dad and mom defended my brother all the time. And so they did not essentially agree together with his idea, 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 she or he’d take me together with her plenty of occasions. And folks weren’t all that good to us within the church anymore. However Jerry looks like – , he used to really feel like that was the satan’s music. I do not know if he feels that approach a lot now. I believe he is mellowed on that.

    GROSS: Did you ever really feel such as you had been going to go to hell due to the music you had been taking part in or the life you had been dwelling?

    L LEWIS: I by no means felt that approach.

    GROSS: Even while you had been younger and…

    L LEWIS: Nicely, after I was younger, I used to be scared to loss of life. I imply…

    GROSS: Of hell?

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

    GROSS: Positive. However then you definately’re going from that to – I imply, you had been married on the age of 14. You – I imply, you had been consuming. You had been on the highway along with your brother. I imply, that isn’t, like, what can be outlined because the righteous life, if you would like – have you learnt 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, , not being redeemed?

    L LEWIS: Possibly a bit bit after I wasn’t consuming Wild Turkey and 7UP…


    L LEWIS: …And had an opportunity to consider it. However sure, I in all probability 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’ll’t do.

    GROSS: Inform us a bit bit about what it was wish to be performing along with your brother while you had been in your early teenagers.

    L LEWIS: It was great. It was completely nice. I needed a lot to go on the highway with him. And naturally, I used to be at school. However then I met this man and fell in love with him. And we received married. Nevertheless it solely lasted for, I believe, a couple of months. It wasn’t lengthy in any respect. And I ended up with a divorce. After which I stated, nicely, I can not actually return to highschool as a result of I’ve simply gone via this divorce. So how about me happening the highway with you, Jerry?


    L LEWIS: And he took me on the highway.

    FULKS: (Laughter).

    GROSS: So that you had been – you met Elvis Presley. You in all probability met all of the rockabilly performers and plenty of different now-famous performers, too.

    L LEWIS: It has been completely great. 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 quite a bit solo. What are a number of the pleasures of singing concord?

    FULKS: I really feel it is sort of exhausting to explain. It is just like the pleasure, as I used to be saying earlier, of dancing with a wonderful accomplice. And it is just like the pleasure of falling down on a pleasant, mushy mattress, ? And while you sing with a terrific accomplice, like I get to do with Linda, it actually is sort of like falling right into a mattress in its thoughtlessness and luxury and the great feeling. And I want I might be extra scientific about it. It is a good feeling.

    L LEWIS: I actually – I get pleasure from 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 plenty of enjoyable after we try this.

    GROSS: Oh, that is nice.

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

    L LEWIS: Oh, sure, in fact. And the factor that principally that I might do with my children can be like gospel or folks music or one thing. However, yeah, the nation songs with a person and a lady singing a duet, I believe it is actually nice.

    GROSS: It has been so nice to have you ever each right here. Thanks for being so beneficiant, taking part in 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 a terrific 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. Here is a duet from a document they put out in 1969. The identify 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 concern.

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

    L LEWIS: (Singing) Why do we now have to cover our love after 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 celebrity. Myra’s memoir, titled “Nice Balls Of Fireplace,” grew to become the idea of the film of the identical identify. 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 arising 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 identified. 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 present with interviews from our archive. Lewis was 87 when he died on October 28. Together with his large hits “Entire Lot Of Shakin’ Going On” and “Nice Balls Of Fireplace,” he was the most important 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 referred to as Myra Lewis Williams. The movie “Nice Balls Of “Fireplace!,” starring Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee, had simply come out. It was primarily based on Myra’s memoir of the identical identify. In 2016, Myra printed 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 let you know plenty of info. However it’s a yr and a half in our life, and my e book lined 30 years. And there are plenty of issues which are 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 particular person did.

    GROSS: Nicely, let’s discuss your story as you really 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 searching for 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 together with his brothers, , when he was a child. And he needed to kind 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 grew to become a scandal since you had been 13 and he was 22 and also you had 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 bear 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 common. 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 completely too younger.

    GROSS: And I believe 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 believe, when she was 16. In fact, my mom married when she was 16. However they’d left that a part of the nation, and I had not been raised in that surroundings. So it was – , it was approach out of the abnormal for me. However in Jerry’s household, it was nonetheless taking place.

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

    WILLIAMS: Nicely, Jerry went to the courthouse in Mississippi. He took a lady 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 outdated. 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 automotive, and stated, sit down. I need to let you know one thing. I need to present you one thing. And he pulled out the wedding license.

    And after I first noticed it, I believed we had gotten married. I couldn’t perceive how an individual might be married and never comprehend it. And when he stated, no, we’ll get married – and that is after 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 loads cash, and every part will likely be OK. And that is the purpose the place I jumped out of the automotive 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 need to marry you. And I stated, nicely, I like you, too, Jerry. However I do not need 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 had been in what grade while you received married?

    WILLIAMS: The eighth.

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

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

    GROSS: You recognize, I am fascinated about what it should have been wish to be married – you had been 13, and he was 22 – however not solely to be married, to be married to this, like, super-libidinous husband, ?


    GROSS: I imply, your husband was somebody who was singing essentially the most sort of wild, attractive lyrics, ? And he actually had a really sort 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 alleged to do or how I used to be alleged to do it. I didn’t develop up and get married. I received married and grew up. And to me, it was essentially the most pure factor on this planet, and essentially the most regular, though I did understand that there was nobody else on the face of the earth that was dwelling life the identical approach I used to be dwelling it.

    GROSS: Did you discover sexuality regular or disturbing while you had 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 might be 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 impartial particular person. And the impression I received is that Jerry Lee Lewis actually was an authority determine within the residence and that he tried to regulate 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 information that you might take heed to. And I used to be actually curious what information he did not need you to take heed to.

    WILLIAMS: If they’d his identify on them, I may take heed to them.

    GROSS: Anything?

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


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

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

    GROSS: Proper.


    GROSS: Have been you conscious of it being that approach? Did you ever object to it while you had been 12? Or did you simply settle for, nicely, that have to be the best way 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 alleged to suppose and what I used to be alleged 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 bear 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 ways girls had been very subservient place to their husbands. So it was not unusual to me.

    I believed every part 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 after I began considering by myself, 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 outdated in 1958 and divorced him 13 years later in 1971.

    GROSS: Nicely, let’s describe the story a bit 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 believe it was.

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

    GROSS: And one reporter requested who you had been, and also you stated that you simply had 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 those who I used to be older, and he was making an attempt to inform those who I used to be older anyway. And as a substitute of being 13, I informed him I used to be 15. I believed, nicely, that’ll make a complete lot of distinction. And the subsequent day, it got here out within the press that Jerry – it stated Jerry Lee Lewis is right here together with his baby bride, Myra, who’s 15 years outdated. And this was an unbelievable scandal. It was dangerous sufficient proper then. Then the subsequent day, it got here out – it stated, Jerry Lee Lewis is right here together with his baby bride, Myra, who is admittedly 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 together with his baby bride, Myra, 13 years outdated, his second cousin, and he isn’t legally divorced from his second spouse. After which we went residence. We had been requested to depart the nation. That was the top.

    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 information had been held off the air. He couldn’t get an honest live performance date. There have been sure radio stations that may 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 earnings plummeted and his profession sort of stopped useless 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 advantage 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 hundreds of thousands 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 residence even when he wasn’t getting good efficiency dates?

    WILLIAMS: Oh, sure. He performed on daily basis. He performed two or thrice on daily basis. Jerry would additionally make chords in the midst of the evening together with his fingers. If his hand was resting on my shoulder, it might be chording and taking part in. You could possibly see him transferring. You recognize, may see his fingers transferring.


    GROSS: You had been pregnant while you had been 15 and – is that proper?

    WILLIAMS: No, my baby was born after 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 buddy’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 approach.

    GROSS: So that you say that Jerry, although, thought that God was punishing him with this loss of life. 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 non secular 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 constantly – 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 alleged to be taking part in that sort of music. He wasn’t alleged to be dwelling the life that he lived. And he was a person who was tormented each day by this – his expectations of what he ought to be doing versus, in actuality, what he was doing. So he was suffering from this. And Jerry believed after we misplaced our son that God was punishing him for not being what he was alleged 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 – , that Jimmy Swaggart has a part of the satan in him and Jerry Lewis is – Jerry Lee Lewis can also be – , has this type of religious drive in him as nicely and is all the time, like, caught between God and the satan. The place had been you in the midst of all of this? Have you ever been doing all of your life like a religious particular person, a believer?

    WILLIAMS: Sure, Terry. I’ve all the time been very – I am not an especially non secular particular person, however I consider I am a really religious particular person. And I’ve all the time principally 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 let you know to reside. However there have been a few years that I lived the life that Jerry informed me to reside. He needed me to be good and pure and straight and, , a Christian and every part. And he needed to have that sort of residence. He needed that surroundings. Though he wasn’t part of it, he needed it there. There have been a few years – nicely, our complete married life, for 13 years, Jerry didn’t permit anybody to come back in our residence 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 complete 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 might go at evening when he wasn’t there. Or I might go on a weekend when he was gone. I had constantly gone again and tried to get an training. I wasn’t after any specific designation. I simply loved studying issues. I loved studying. I loved figuring out what occurred in numerous 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 get together. And after I noticed him via the group, he noticed me, and I noticed him. And I began towards him. And after I received 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 outdated 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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