Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s01e02 Episode Script

Jerry Lee Lewis

1 (country music plays) This guy here, Jerry Lee Lewis, some of you may have a problem with.
Many people have, actually.
There are reasons not to like him.
For example, he once slammed his car into the gates of Graceland with a gun on the dashboard and may have threatened to kill Elvis Presley.
And then there was the time he fired a machine gun over the heads of a bunch of people to get them to wake up and party with him.
But there are also plenty of reasons to like him, so let's try to keep this positive.
He was, after all, one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.
Thank you very, very much.
("Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" playing) (cheering) Come on over, baby, whole Lotta shakin' goin' on Yeah, come on over, baby Baby, you can't go wrong Honey, I ain't fakin' Whole lot of shaking going on One thing you may not know is that the Killer, which is what he called himself, quit rock and roll and went on to become one of country music's greatest singers.
The Killer.
You know, if you look at Jerry Lee long enough, that nickname takes on a whole new meaning (theme music playing) The Killer, he loved to perform.
Mike: Morris "Tarp" Tarrant spent about 15 years on the road with Jerry Lee, playing drums and occasionally pouring the drinks.
From 1961 up to '76, when I caught that armed robbery charge.
If that hadn't happened, I'd have still been with him today.
I remember a time we was coming from Fort Worth, Texas, going to Oklahoma City.
We were 90 miles out and had a flat tire on that Lincoln limousine.
(tires screech) We didn't have a jack or a new tire, so he told Cecil, our manager, "Get behind the wheel "and drive this son of a bitch just as fast as it'll go all the way to Oklahoma City.
" Cecil said, "Killer, I can't do that.
It'll burn up the rim.
It'll, like, catch the car on fire.
" Jerry said, "I don't give a goddamn if it blows the whole car up.
We got a show to make.
" This is when we was making $200-$300 a night, you know.
"All right, any of you motherfuckers that want to go with me, do this show, "better get your ass in the car, 'cause I'm fixing to take this Lincoln to Oklahoma City.
" - (engine starts) - Well, he cranked it up.
(tires screech) He said, "Tarp, get over there and pour drinks.
" I said, "Okay," and he drove that car just as fast as it would go.
(screeching) And sparks was flying.
You could smell it smoking.
And when we got there, the club owner called the fire department to spray the car down because it was so red hot.
And there was no rim there.
There was hardly There wasn't no axle there.
It was pretty crazy, actually, but he made his show.
(piano plays) Jerry Lee: Let me tell you something about Jerry Lee Lewis, ladies and gentlemen.
I am a rock and rolling, country and western, rhythm and blues singing mother.
He just, uh, knew he was the greatest, man, and he actually could back it up.
My dad would even tell you that he was one of the most phenomenal piano players that there ever was.
Mike: Jerry Phillips' dad, Sam Phillips, signed Elvis Presley at Sun Records.
He also signed Jerry Lee when he was just 21.
I mean, Elvis was a great entertainer, and I think he, you know, will always be the King, but there's no doubt had he not married his 13-year-old second cousin, he would probably have been the king of rock and roll.
Mike: There's that.
Might as well get to it now.
I was the 13-year-old child bride who was married to the wild, crazy man, Jerry Lee Lewis.
My daddy, J.
W.
Brown, he played bass with Jerry, and Daddy's Jerry's first cousin.
We survived it.
That's about the way it was.
Daddy was probably one of like 60 or 70 first cousins.
Mike: Three of the cousins actually became pretty big names Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart.
(crying) I have sinned against you, my Lord.
The three cousins, they set on front porches and played guitars and mandolins and whatever instrument they had.
He lived down on Black River.
There was an old rented house down there his uncle had.
Man, you wouldn't believe it.
Sometimes snakes would fall out of the ceiling.
(hissing) But somehow, they got a hold of a piano, and that's how he learned to play.
Mike: They grew up in Ferriday, Louisiana, a dirt-poor town along the Mississippi Delta.
We were very poor.
We didn't even have a bathroom on the inside of the house.
Mike: Linda Gail Lewis, also a singer and performer, was born 12 years after her brother, Jerry Lee.
Jerry would sneak off and go down to Haney's Big House and listen to all those great blues players coming down from Memphis, on their way to New Orleans, and they called it the chitlin' circuit.
And Jerry was definitely influenced by that.
Mike: He was torn from the get-go between the forbidden world of rock and roll and the word of God.
Jerry was out of a Pentecostal background.
Mike: J.
M.
Van Eaton was also a drummer for Jerry Lee.
Another J.
W.
, J.
W.
Whitten, managed the Killer for decades.
Jerry was going to What's it called? - Bible college.
- Bible college.
And, uh, he was playing piano and "My God Is Real.
" And Jerry said, "Don't you think it sounds better like this?" (boogie-woogie music playing) Up-tempo it, played boogie-woogie.
Well, the, uh, music director slapped him.
(music stops) Mike: Jerry Lee put his Bible down, left school, and set his sights on Memphis to break into rock and roll.
He told his daddy he said, "Daddy, I want to go to Memphis.
"This guy, Elvis Presley, went to Sun Records, "and and stormin' with a song on the radio.
I want to go there and cut me a song.
" Now, we didn't have money for the trip, so me and my momma and daddy went in the henhouse and gathered as many eggs as we could.
And they sold 33 dozen eggs and came to Memphis.
Mike: Jerry Lee moved to Memphis for good.
Luckily, his cousin, J.
W.
Brown, already lived there with his 12-year-old daughter, Myra.
The first time I met Jerry, he was really kind of a funny-looking guy.
He had one tooth smaller than the other.
His hair was cut way too short.
His ears were kind of sticking out a lot, and he just sort of looked like a good ol' goofy country boy to me.
It was like, "Oh, hi there.
" (laughs) And Jerry meandered over to Daddy's piano.
(boogie-woogie music plays) And I thought, "Oh my God.
" Mike: Jerry Lee moved pretty fast in Memphis, on all fronts.
He and J.
W.
started a band, and the very first day they set foot in Sun Records, they turned out results.
Before we got out of the studio that day, we had cut his first release, "Crazy Arms.
" Cut it one time, never dreamed it would be a release, but that was his first record.
("Crazy Arms" plays) Jerry: Some day your crazy arms Will hold somebody new But now I'm so lonely all the time Back then, we had a show on radio called Red Hot & Blue.
And I heard it and, of course, I started screaming.
And everybody in the house ran to my bedroom, and we all knew, this is it.
And it was just like a rocket about to take off.
So here is the jolting, jamboreeing, jumping Jerry Lee Lewis! (cheers, applause) ("Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" playing) Come on over, baby A whole Lotta shakin' going on Ah, come on over, baby Baby, you can't go wrong We ain't fakin' Whole Lotta shakin' going on Mike: The Killer played the kind of music you'd hear in Haney's Big House, with an evangelical conviction that was hard to resist.
Come on over, we got a bull by the horn Linda Gail: "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" is a naughty song.
It's a song about making love, or as the kids nowadays say, having sex, which to me sounds (laughs) absolutely horrible.
Just, you know, it drove those girls wild.
You know, it was dangerous, man.
He was a dangerous cat, and that came off on stage.
"This guy is dangerous.
"This is the guy you probably don't want your daughter to be (laughs) hanging around.
" It changed all of our lives.
We were holding our breath, just waiting for the next thing to happen.
You can shake one time for me Well, I said come over, baby A whole Lotta shakin' goin' on Linda Gail: In the early years, he was really torn between wanting to go church and just do gospel music.
He felt like it was wrong for him to do songs like "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On.
" He was fighting that back and forth every day.
Shake! Oh! Shake, baby! Mike: Despite Jerry's very real fear of eternal damnation, "Great Balls of Fire" sold a million copies in 10 days.
He celebrated by sweeping young Myra off her feet.
He comes home and here it is, and I looked at it.
It said, "Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Gale Brown.
" It had "Marriage License" at the top.
I said, "Jerry, I'm just a kid.
" He said, "No, you're not.
You're a grown woman.
" "Oh, no, I'm not.
" I was a little more mature than Jerry was.
He was 22, and I was 13.
I was the thinking adult in that relationship.
Mike: The next day, Jerry Lee told J.
W.
he was taking Myra into town to see a movie.
By that evening, Jerry's first cousin was also his father-in-law.
Well, I found some rice in their clothes.
- In Myra's clothes.
- Dead giveaway.
- (laughs) - Yeah, that was a big giveaway that.
And I said, "I'm taking my gun I'm going up there, and I'm gonna kill him.
" I said (laughs) I was so mad to think that my cousin had married my 13-year-old daughter.
That was enough to make anybody mad.
Mike: It seems the money, the fame, and the glory of rock and roll helped the family heal.
Myra: All the sudden, everything was just exploding for Jerry bigger shows were coming in, more money was coming in, and that's where the problems began.
J.
W.
Brown: Our booking agent then, he had booked us on a tour to go to England.
We thought we'd be all right, but we wasn't planning on any of the family going.
And Jerry said, "No, I'm not going unless Myra goes.
" Everybody was going to Jerry, saying, "Please don't take Myra.
Let's just keep this private.
" Nobody would tell me anything.
I didn't know to lie, so when we arrived in London, reporters came over, said, "Oh, who are you, miss?" And I said, "Oh, I'm Jerry's wife.
" And he said (gasps) "How old are you?" And I said, "Uh" I did know to lie about that "15.
" (reporters shouting) And all of the sudden, reporters are all around both of us, and it's like, "What happened? What What'd I do? What'd I do?" I didn't know that this was gonna set off an explosion heard round the world.
When they found out that, uh, that was his second cousin but they assumed first, or whatever.
It really doesn't matter, a cousin's a cousin.
Mike: Eddie Kilroy is a country music producer who became a confidant over the years.
I think the one that really drove the nail in the coffin for him on that whole deal was when they started hammering on him about Myra.
And he said, "It ain't no big deal.
I got two more back in Louisiana just like her.
" He was like, "I cannot believe these people are so upset about something so silly.
" Then it came out that Jerry had been married a couple of times before and didn't bother getting divorces.
He married one girl, he didn't get a divorce from her.
And then he married another girl, he didn't get a divorce from her.
And then he married me.
I don't know what it is about the people in Louisiana.
They just don't think divorces are necessary evils.
When that awful publicity came out in all those tabloids, that was very hard for him.
And they were just heckling and harassing him and all that.
And it just got worse.
We could not go outside of the hotel.
If you looked out the window, every building around us had people in the windows, hanging out the windows, looking.
J.
W.
Brown: Scotland Yard said they'd like for us to leave because they were afraid that they couldn't protect us.
Myra: When we arrived back to Memphis, we were certain they were gonna be like, "Come to Mama," you know? Well, the papers reported that you were greeted with silence over there and with catcalls from the audience.
Is that right? Well, I I can't agree with you on that, sir.
- Uh-huh.
- Our audience was very nice and very good.
Were you there, Mrs.
Lewis? I was there, but I wasn't at the shows.
- Oh, you weren't at the shows.
- No.
Did you notice anything like that? That sort of reception? No, it was a very good reception, I thought.
Uh, when were you married? - Pardon? - When were you married? Why don't we leave our personal questions out of this, sir? (chuckles) All right.
Well, good luck.
Thank you.
Jerry had been making $10,000 a show.
He's back to making $200.
We were playing (clears throat) chitlin' circuit.
- (piano music plays) - Red Rooster, Bloody Bucket you know, them kind of joints.
They had chicken wire around the bandstand.
(glass shatters) Those clubs is his stomping ground, you know.
He said, "I'll tell you one thing, Tarp.
I'm the Killer.
I'll make it back to the top.
" Jerry and I used to go downtown to the Malco Theater and watch a lot of horror movies.
So we watched Lon Chaney in The Werewolf.
We got ready to leave, and went out the back and got in that Rolls Royce out there, and we were pulling up to the main street.
Well, this cat come walking down the sidewalk, and he was dressed in full makeup and full showbiz.
Liberace is who it was, and Libby always dressed, you know, to the hilt.
Jerry looked at me, he said, "You know what I ought to do?" I said, "What's that, Killer?" He said, "I ought to run over that motherfucker.
There'd be one less piano player to worry about.
" I said, "Well, go ahead.
Go ahead, run over him.
" He revved the motor up - (engine revving) - put the car in gear.
He said, "No, I reckon I'll let him live this time.
" Mike: The Killer could be impulsive.
He liked to have a good time, remembers Rusty Brown, Myra's brother, also a drummer for Jerry Lee.
Well, after a show, he expected everybody to come to his room, and, like, you'd either party there or you'd go out to a club somewhere.
That was every night.
Then he rented him a a little office in Memphis, so he could have a place to go to till the clubs opened back up that evening.
The cocaine he used and the pills and the drinking, like to killed him.
Amphetamines, biphetamines, what you called Black Widows, the same thing everybody Johnny Cash would call for, everybody was taking.
We got to the point where the colors were the thing.
"I'll give you two black ones for one of the red and white ones.
" That's the way that was.
And we we never knew at a point in time what we were taking and how much we were taking.
(chattering) Tarp: He'd been up, wired to the max, for two, three days, shooting up the joint (gunfire) - throwing knives.
- (gasps) Raising hell, you know? So after like the third night, people were falling asleep on sofas and stuff.
(snoring) And they were saying, "Jerry, we're just so tired.
We can't stay awake.
" He'd bought a machine gun that belonged to Machine Gun Kelly.
He got it from a collector, so, man, he was proud of that old machine gun.
So he picked up that machine gun and just sprayed the ceiling with all these bullets.
- (gunfire) - (screaming) So everybody kind of woke up then.
Next day, boy, I mean, they they they were having a fit.
He shot up a dental lab that was next-door to him.
Shot up $50,000 worth of false teeth.
- (gunfire) - (laughs) That was the end of his little office right there.
Mike: Over time, Jerry was able to climb over the chicken wire and make his way back to the top, in part by playing gigs on the bill with some of his best friends and biggest rivals, like Chuck Berry.
Eddie: They were two really good showman Chuck Berry was a good showman, too, but Chuck Berry had a big ego, Jerry had ego, and the promoter worked it out to where one would close the show.
The next night, the other one would close the show.
Well, Jerry, obviously, didn't want Chuck Berry to be able to follow Jerry Lee Lewis.
So they argued back and forth, and Jerry goes, "Okay, Killer, you know, you can close the show.
" So, Jerry, he goes out there and does, of course, a great show.
It was right after he did "Great Balls of Fire," and he pulled a can of lighter fluid out of his pocket, and squirted it inside the piano, threw a match in there, and caught the damn piano on fire.
He walks off stage and says, "Follow that, motherfucker.
" (laughs) You know.
It's hard to follow a burning piano.
Mike: Not too long after that, the Killer's dad, Elmo Lewis, apparently inserted himself into the rivalry.
Elmo was kind of an outlaw.
He had been in prison, what have you.
Elmo, felt that Chuck was degrading Jerry, and said, "I'll I'll throw you in the Blue Hole," which is some kind of Louisiana swamp name or something.
I don't know what.
Had a Barlow knife, and Chuck took off running.
And he was getting ready to go up there and cut Chuck Berry.
There was no doubt about it, and Jerry stopped him.
"Don't cut him.
Daddy, don't cut him.
" And then everything settled down, nobody saw anybody, but the next morning, come downstairs, Chuck and Elmo was sitting there having breakfast together like nothing had happened.
Mike: While Chuck escaped unharmed, the apple didn't fall too far from the tree in the Lewis family when it came to issuing threats of violence.
Butch Owens, you know, he was playing bass for us at that time.
He was mad at Butch, and he kept telling Butch he was gonna kill him.
Butch walks in ahead of me, and Butch said, "Jerry, if you don't mind, we come to get our money, our back pay.
" And Jerry Lee said, "Well, I got you boys' money.
" When he pulled that pistol out, I immediately exited.
I knew he was fixing to shoot, and I didn't want to be in the line of fire.
Immediately, I hear bam! (screaming) Bullet fragments went through him, right out his back.
But was bad (laughs) was Jerry had just put in new white carpet.
He didn't like it because he was bleeding on the carpet.
- (laughs) - So, they drug Butch outside and put him on the sidewalk.
They were able to get him in a helicopter and get him to the hospital and save him.
What a blessing that was.
But you know, Jerry fired him.
(laughs) And I said, "Well, should we fire him? I mean, I know it was an accident, but you did shoot him.
" And he said, "Well, I I've got a tour coming up, and I have to have a bass player, and he can't play.
" (laughter) Mike: Ultimately, the shooting was ruled an accident by a court of law and Jerry Lee was charged with a misdemeanor.
By the time poor Butch got shot, the Killer had quite a following all over the world.
Despite Elvis, Jerry Lee was living out his own personal dream of wearing the crown, King of Rock and Roll.
We went out to Los Angeles on Jerry's airplane, and we go out there, and we go to the Roxy Theater, and somebody had told me that John Lennon was there, and he was up in the balcony.
(rock music plays) And we go out on stage to do the show, and there's all these clouds of marijuana smoke coming from the balcony.
Somebody is smoking a lot of dope up in the balcony.
(laughs) So I go back to the dressing room, and I'm sitting there with Jerry and a couple of guys from the band, and we're just sitting there, and somebody knocks on the door.
(knocks) Well, they open the door and John Lennon is standing there.
He didn't say a word.
He walked in that dressing room, and he knelt down, right beside Jerry, and he kissed the bottom of his shoe.
He didn't like the Beatles.
He said, "Every time I turn on the radio, "it's a Beatle here and a Beatle there.
I don't like them haircuts there.
" Mike: He had his differences with the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Libby, and lots of others, but the Killer's main rival was always the King himself.
Jerry was out at a nightclub in Memphis, he was drinking champagne, and he was partying with some people.
And he got a phone call.
(phone rings) And somebody said, "You need to come to the phone.
It's for you, and it's Elvis.
" And Jerry goes in, and he takes the phone call.
And Elvis was depressed and unhappy, and Jerry said, "Don't worry about a thing.
"I'm gonna get in my Rolls Royce, I'm coming there, I'll come and get you, and we will go somewhere, and we'll both be better.
" Jerry's about half loaded, and he said, "Well, I said I'd go on down there.
" It was about four or five o'clock in the morning.
So he pulled up to the gate.
(brakes squeak) Tarp: Uncle Vernon walked down, he said, "Tarp, how you doing, boy?" "Jerry Lee, you all right?" "Yeah, yeah, we fine.
Good to see you, Vernon.
" Said, "Open the gate.
We're gonna go up and see Elvis a minute.
" Vernon said, "Killer, I can't do that.
Elvis don't want nobody coming in.
" Made Jerry mad.
He said, "I've been knowing that boy since he started.
Nothing's changed far as I'm concerned.
" And he had a had a gun laying over there on the dash, a big ol' .
45 or something.
And so they asked him says, "What you doing? Going in there to kill Elvis?" And he said, "That's exactly right.
" (both laugh) Just acting crazy and saying crazy stuff.
Vernon said, "Jerry, I can't open the gate.
" Jerry Lee said, "Well, I tell you what.
We'll be back in a little while.
" So he backed the car all the way across Elvis Presley Blvd.
He revved the motor up and put it in drive.
(engine revving) J.
W.
Brown: He just took off and rammed the gate.
Tarp: We got all the way up to the house, and Jerry jumped out of the car, started banging on doors.
And every police officer in Shelby County (siren blares) it looked like they just came out of nowhere.
And they arrested both of us.
(cell door clangs) Mike: Again and again, Jerry Lee turned to country music to soothe the Ferriday rock and roller within him.
He wanted to be on the Grand Ole Opry, worse than anything in the world.
And it just so happened that a dear personal friend of mine managed the Opry.
And I said, "Bud, Jerry, he wants to do the Opry.
" They really didn't want us on the show.
Roy Acuff throwed a fit.
He says, "Kilroy, I don't know.
This is a family deal, you know.
" I said, "I promise you, I give you my word that he won't offend anybody.
" So I told Jerry I said, "Jerry, here's the deal, Cartwheel.
" I said, "No profanity, no vulgar moves.
" He said, "I can handle it.
" (applause) One by one They're turning out the lights Mike: He had vowed to leave rock and roll behind five years earlier, but Jerry Lee was just a man, born to sin just like the rest of us.
When Jerry finished that song, he looked at the audience, and he said, "I just want you all to know one thing: "The Killer's number one, and I am a rock and roll motherfucker.
" (cheering) (rock music plays) Tarp: Then he kicked the stool across the stage, and Roy Acuff was out there hollering, and carrying on, having a fit.
That was the last time we played the Grand Ole Opry.
Mike: Jerry Lee Lewis is the last man standing.
He outlasted Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Liberace, and even Chuck Berry.
That's one of my first recordings on Sun Records, 1956.
(cheering) Now blue Ain't the word For the way That I feel And these little lonesome arms Ain't holding you no more Myra: Jerry had such a natural talent.
He just had it all.
I know It think he was just born to do what he was doing.
He liked it, but he was conflicted, because he felt he wasn't doing what he was supposed to do.
But who knows what they're supposed to do anyway? Crazy arms That reach to hold somebody new He better than Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins Liberace.
He's still the greatest entertainer that ever lived as far as I am concerned.
He was a rock star 24/7.
You can't just put it on and take it off.
You got to live it, eat it, sleep it, dream it, walk it and talk it.
And he did.
All the time He never killed nobody.
Never threatened to kill nobody.
He might have threatened to hurt 'em, but he didn't mean it.
Wouldn't hurt a fly.
Mike: You don't have to believe J.
W.
, or any of the J.
W.
s, just take it from the Killer himself.
Well, I wouldn't want 'em to believe everything they heard, because if they believe and read everything that they heard, I would be locked up in a penitentiary for life.
(laughs) You can't do things like they said about Jerry Lee Lewis and get by with it.
It's against the law.
I'm really a good boy.
(laughs) Right now, ol' Killer's lonesome All the time (vocalizes) (cheers, applause) (theme music playing)