Jerry Lee Lewis story from Bluegrass musician

Jerry Lee Lewis story from Bluegrass musician

Postby bailbath » Fri Jun 12, 2020 6:06 am

Ask Sonny Anything is a recurring feature where our readers pose questions to the great Sonny Osborne, one half of the iconic Osborne Brothers who redefined bluegrass music in the 1960s, and noted banjo maven and collector of fine prewar instruments. Everyone is encouraged to pose queries of your own each week in the comments, about his history in the music, his wealth of banjo knowledge, or regarding any life advice you might be needing.

Sonny, I’ve been reading Hellfire, a biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. A true madman and a great, great singer, although not bluegrass of course. There’s a hair-raising account of his appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in January 1973. I’m wondering if you happened to witness this or if you ever encountered “the killer.”

A fan for more than 60 (!) years,
Fred G.

Fred G….I knew Jerry pretty well…first name basis. Although I have been present at some of his crazy antics, he always treated me with the greatest respect. I was never a big fan of Jerry’s music although I respected it, and him to the utmost…and I don’t suppose he was much of a fan of our music, but we seemed to co-exist and become pretty good friends.

For sure, I witnessed a lot. Macon, Georgia coliseum… The show promoters went to him before the show started and called him MR Lewis. Explaining that they had just received their Steinway piano back from a complete overhaul and it had been tuned just before it was returned that afternoon, and would he please be gentle with it. He said “why of course!” With that reply, I figured school was out for that Steinway. Sure enough, when he was introduced and with both hands just started beating on the keyboard of the aforementioned Steinway who had been tuned, etc that day. Piano, Jerry, bench, all were mounted on a platform with rollers. Stage hands appeared and proceeded to roll piano and all passengers aboard the platform, right off the stage. I’ll stop right there because it got ugly during the following 20 minutes.

BOWIE MARYLAND RACE TRACK IN THE RAIN. They moved the show to the bleachers. We played to 40 people, Jerry was introduced to the same disgruntled 40. He hit a chord on this antique upright piano which was as out of tune, if not more so than any piano I’ve ever seen or heard…and that includes the Kimball sitting in my living room as we speak. Jerry called a band member to come down and help and they proceeded to literally climb inside that old relic and did a number on the hammers and pieces of felt among what ever else was in there. All 40 people were in the aisle laughing, as was I. When he was finished he said..”Well, nobody else will ever have a problem with that thang!” Only Jerry made that statement a bit more colorful, actually, a whole bunch more!

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