Memphis magic that rocks the fans

Granada’s music special Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On hits the air

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 26 September 1964

FOURTEEN stone of Memphis muscle stretched over a 6ft. 2in. frame is slumped lazily on the edge of a piano stool.

We’re in Granada’s vast Studio Six and Jerry Lee Lewis, at 29 an “old timer” from the rock ’n’ roll scene of the ’fifties, drives his audience to hysteria as he winds up the spectacular beat show Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On on Wednesday.

Suddenly the fans are unable to contain their emotion any longer. They cut loose from their seats and swarm on the platform, reaching out to touch their idol.

Three out of four cameras are useless now. Hemmed in by the crowd, Jerry, who has just given an extraordinary performance on the keyboard with his feet, seeks safety in the last place of refuge — on top of the piano.

Director Phil Casson’s lone camera just manages to hold out through the finale.

Jerry Lee Lewis at the piano
Jerry gets ready to launch out on keyboard magic

Afterwards I talked to Granada’s light entertainment chief, Johnny Hamp [sic – Johnnie], and asked him how a man who was at the top almost a decade ago is able to drive a new generation to hysteria.

Said Johnny: “Jerry has the gift of the real performer. Like the Judy Garlands and Frank Sinatras of show business, he knows everything there is to know about audience reactions and emotions.

“In his own field, Jerry Lee Lewis is just as great. He is capable of lifting his performance to that tremendous pitch where the fans are eating out of his hand.

“He’s typical of Tennessee, which today is America’s undisputed centre of popular music and has produced world names like Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison and the late Jim Reeves.”

As a successor to the Little Richard show, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On is one of the wildest musical spectaculars ever seen on television.

The build-up starts with the Animals. Then comes Gene Vincent, another pioneer of the rock ’n’ roll era, clad from head to toe in shiny black leather.

“There were 60,000 letters requesting a repeat of our Little Richard show,” said Johnny Hamp, “and I forecast an even bigger response to Gene and Jerry.

“As far as technique goes and knowing the business, they have no masters. Almost every modern beat group and singer have modelled themselves on performers like Vincent and Lewis.”

It was in 1957 that Jerry Lee Lewis sold a million copies each of two records called “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’” — a staggering sale in those days.

Gerry Lee Lewis at the piano with a crowd of fans
Fans rocking to the Old Master’s playing

“Great Balls of Fire” sums up the story of Jerry’s career. He flashed on the scene like a thunderbolt, then disappeared just as rapidly when he incurred the rage of the British public for marrying his 14-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown.

Artists of the Lee Lewis calibre, however, are seldom down for long. His prolific performance at the keyboard and at the microphone would move the soul of most music lovers.

He’s a music machine who can take on any juke box.

But then enthusiasm never was a weak point with Jerry. Rather the reverse.

Like the time he studied as a youth at the Bible Institute in Waxahatchie, Texas.

He was asked to play the organ and was sent down the same day for jazzing up “The Old Rugged Cross.”

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