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Jerry Lee Lewis by the rivers of Louisiana

Jerry Lee Lewis is 80 years old but also his entire summer calendar covered with performances in Mississippi, Oklahoma or London. Rock music and religious fanaticism have always had a very close relationship. Jerry Lee Lewis, for example, shared much more than his own blood with television preacher Jimmy Swaggart. He also shared his weakness for women, his fondness for hiding reality and his deep conviction that rock and roll belongs to the devil.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Monday, January 13th 2020 ·.·★ Reading takes 12 minutes or 2444 words.

In 1900, 47% of Louisiana′s population was African-American. Industrialization, pests and lynchings produced during the post-war period, however, caused many of that population to emigrate to large cities and many of Louisiana′s farms were ruined. His influence, however, had remained in white youth: ′Through rock n′ roll - said Asa Carter -, the white man is lowered to the lower level of the black man. Rock n ′roll is an integral part of a plot to undermine the morale of our country′s youth. It has a sexual, immoral character, and is the best way to merge both races.′

At that time Elmo Lewis was repeatedly locked up for trafficking with whiskey and the Swaggart took care of his family. Mary Ethel, his wife, had one of those farms along the Mississippi River but she certainly believed she had more hope in her son Jerry. He and his cousin Jimmy had demonstrated remarkable skills playing piano and preaching in the small Pentecostal church of the Assemblies of God. In order to prevent him from developing those same skills outside the church, Mary Ethel mortgaged his farm, bought him a piano and sent him to a seminar in Texas in 1950.

Jerry would soon show off the influence he had received from black music and in a meeting he surprised everyone with a boogie woogie adaptation of the hymn ′My God is Real′. The boogie woogie had not only been a traditional black music since the 19th century, but a particularly appropriate one for the dance that had become popular since 1920. It was also performed with a piano, which was then an instrument of the Religious music! The dean of the school had good reasons to expel him the next morning.


Many years later, Jerry met Pearry Green, one of his classmates who was involved. Jerry assured him that after so many years he was still surprising that the music that cost him then the expulsion from the seminary was precisely the same music that was most commonly performed in churches. ′The difference,′ he added, sure of himself, ′is that I play for the devil and they don′t.′ Although many might doubt it, Jerry had a very high concept of himself as a Bible scholar: ′I was a good preacher, I know my Bible well ... and I look very far from the glory of God.′

Little could really imagine that dean, that his gesture would be a catapult to turn Jerry into the popular Jerry Lee Lewis, ′the first savage of rock n ′roll.′ Sam Philips, of Sun Records, had already discovered Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Jerry Lee Lewis also contributed to his catalog a target capable of composing his own songs and playing them with the piano, a totally innovative instrument within rock n ′roll. After recording ′Great Balls of Fire′ on October 8, 1957, in his studios in Menphis, Tennessee, the song automatically reached # 1 on the country charts, # 2 on the pop charts and # 3 on R&B charts in the United States, as well as # 1 on the UK singles charts. Jerry Lee Lewis then charged $ 10,000 for each performance!

The title of the song ′Great Balls of Fire′ was an explicit reference to the Pentecostal experience, where the fire of the Holy Spirit is supposedly manifested, causing church members to develop supernatural behavior. In this song the experience is escalated to a purely pagan context, so it is not surprising that Sam Philips himself feared the extent of its blasphemous content: ′You shake my nerves and my mind / So much love can drive a man crazy / You finished with my will, oh what a thrill! / Glorious exquisiteness of the great fireballs ′- the song repeats compulsively.


A photograph has immortalized a session on December 4, 1956, in which Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins performed Christian piano hymns at the Sun Records studios. Jerry Lee Lewis stated in 2011 that Elvis Presley sought his support because Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were Baptists, and they didn′t know the lyrics as well as the two of them, who were Pentecostals.

Sam Philips sought in parallel to launch a new business line with gospel music, as he had seen other companies like RCA Victor or Columbia do. He extended his offer to the aforementioned cousin Jimmy, with whom Jerry Lee Lewis had spent so many hours at the Assemblies of God. Jimmy Lee Swaggart, which was his full name, could hardly afford a rent with the $ 30 per week he received. He and his family wandered from one place to another thanks to the solidarity of the churches and their gospel performances; but Jimmy rejected Sam Philips′ offer, claiming that his mission was preaching. It was really already an early manifestation of the usual exclusivist line, which will characterize in general the Contemporary Christian Music industry described in our article on Nashville.


Despite what he told Sam Philips, Jimmy Swaggart has not stopped recording his own gospel records to this day. At the end of the 1960s he broadcast his songs and preaching through numerous radio networks, which he had to sell as the cristiana contemporary Christian music ′ grew large. During the 1980s, however, he had become one of the most popular tele-preachers in the United States, reaching his preaching to be broadcast on around 3000 channels every week.

During that time many, like Michael Sweet, of Stryper, supported him by declaring that he had been transformed by his tele-preaching. Jimmy Swaggart, however, sought on his own to discover wolves in sheep′s clothing. For this he published ′Religious rock n′ roll: a wolf in sheep ′s clothing′ in June 1987, wrapped in a vivid violet cover with fluorescent fuchsia letters, where he explicitly lashed out against musicians such as Larry Norman, Petra or Stryper - the same as they had taken away from him the role in radio stations. Michael Sweet, who was personally mentioned by his way of dancing and singing, could not give credit to his eyes when he read it!

Jimmy Swaggart was encouraged because he had recently uncovered real scandals, which ended the career of other preachers like Jim Bakker and Marvin Gorman. It was precisely in revenge for these actions against Marvin Gorman, that he himself was watched and photographed very soon after with a prostitute, as he himself confessed crying on February 21, 1988. In October 1991 Jimmy Swaggart was found again in the company of a prostitute, but this time the words she addressed to the church were very different: ′The Lord has told me that this is not your business.′


Another of the people who received the most accusations from Jimmy Swaggart, was of course his own cousin Jerry Lee Lewis. The seven weddings of Jerry Lee Lewis followed one another, sometimes without the previous ones having been declared void officially. The most famous of them has been without a doubt that of her own cousin Myra Gale Brown. The wedding took place when she was 13 years old and was kept secret until the English press uncovered it in full tour in May 1958. The scandal that this news produced led Jerry Lee Lewis to charge $ 250 per performance, ... instead of the $ 10,000 he was used to. It is no accident that a year later, his ex-wife Jane Mithcam Lewis, brought him to trial for the non-payment of $ 1,000 of alimony.

The history of human beings seems like a vicious circle when it is not adorned. In the 1970s, coinciding with the loss of his mother, Jerry Lee Lewis began to include Christian hymns in his repertoire. It is not difficult today to hear him performing The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace or My God is Real, often including between songs and songs Pentecostal cheers like ′Glory!′ or ′Hallelujah!′ ′I believe in the religion of the old days, it was the one I grew up in!′ - also shouted from his piano, to the delight of many of the spectators.

Especially significant sounds that other one, entitled ′Will the circle be unbroken?′, which said: ′In the happy days of childhood / they always talked to me about a wonderful love / pointing to the suffering savior / Now they live with him Up there / Do you remember the songs of heaven / that you sang with a childish voice? / Do you like the hymns that were taught to you? / Or do you prefer the songs of the Earth? / Will the circle be unbreakable? And then? And then? / Are you waiting for a home? / In the skies ?, in the skies? ′

It is not surprising that Flannery O ′Connor specialized in writing stories based on that ′biblical belt′ of the southern United States. It was clear to her that unlike what they believed, the evangelicals there were′ obsessed with -Christ ′more than′ Christ-centered. ′That led them to be more interested in God as a superstitious form, than as a real guide of conduct; and inevitably repeat, again and again, everything that is purely human. < / p>

Only Christ can add something unique or supernatural in people′s lives. Both for those who believed they could achieve glory for themselves, and for those who believed they could not achieve it in any way, there is only one truth: and this is, that ′all have sinned, and are destitute of the glory of God,′ said the Apostle Paul to the Romans- ′being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put as propitiation through faith in his blood, to manifest his justice, because of having overlooked , in his patience, past sins, with the aim of manifesting his justice at this time, so that he may be just, and he who justifies the one who is of the faith of Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? Why the works? No, but by the law of faith. ′


Grace is a scandal. That salvation is by grace, of course, does not mean that God is obliged to extend it to someone in particular. Elvis Presley had also been raised by his mother, in an Assembly of God; but his nickname of ‘king of rock ′ placed him in a position without competitors in his profession.

The musicians of Led Zeppelin say that they were very surprised with the double standards of Elvis Presley, when they visited him in his mythical Graceland mansion. There it was easy to observe him surrounded by drugs and half-naked women, however they say that he was very angry to hear them say swear words. CLIE Books published an amazing biography of ‘Elvis ′ (Terrassa, 1980), where its author, Richard Mann, seemed to give Elvis Presley′s music almost magical attributes.

Richard Mann believed that Elvis Presley′s music had supernatural powers by virtue of the classic hymns he recorded throughout his life. For his religious songs, Elvis Presley used classical or gospel hymn music because he believed that doing it with rock music was an abomination - rock n ′roll was, after all, a devil′s music. He then used special musicians for his hymns like Jake Hess or The Imperials, as evidenced during the entire 1970 documentary ′Elvis: That′s the way it is′. The Imperials, on their own, had begun to use rock as a propaganda method since 1966, but Elvis Presley did not support that initiative because of the same prejudices that guided him in his own career.

Elvis Presley was until the end of his days a very hardworking person and spent many hours on stage, where he confessed to always be accompanied by a Bible and a gun. But Elvis was also one of those people who spend many hours in the bathroom. That explained that he had built a comfortable and ostentatious cup, which also served for his extensive readings.

The night of Thursday, August 16, 1977, like many other nights, he spent the night watching his obsessions closely. The abuse of pills he had become accustomed didn′t seem to help either. At 9:00 in the morning he took one of the books he had become fond of, with the title of ‘The scientific search for the face of Jesus ′, and returned to the bathroom. His girlfriend, seeing that at 13:30 had not yet left the bathroom, knocked on the door without getting an answer. Upon entering he found Elvis′s body in front of his cup, on the floor and lifeless.

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Jerry Lee Lewis junto a los ríos de Louisiana

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