August 8, 2022

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On The Beat: Jerry Lee Lewis at long last gets into the Country Music Hall of Fame | Music

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The Killer, at long last, made it into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And, perhaps surprisingly, he’s still around to be inducted.

Now 86, Jerry Lee Lewis, the wildest of the bunch, is the last man standing among the original ’50s rock ‘n’ rollers.

But he’s been making country music from the beginning. His first single was a cover of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms” and “Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” both the top of the country chart.

After his career was derailed by the discovery of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra, and early rock ‘n’ roll faded away post-Beatles, he made his comeback as a country artist.

After a decade-long purgatory in out-of-the-way honky tonks and dinner theaters, in 1968 Lewis recorded the classic shuffle “Another Place, Another Time” which shot up the country charts to No. 4 on the singles chart. Then came “What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” and the No. 1 hit., “To Make Love Sweeter Than This.”

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If you’ve got some doubt about Lewis’s country bonafides, get on your favorite service and stream “Killer Country,” the 1995 compilation of 20 of his best songs from his Smash and Mercury albums of the 70s and 80s.

To be sure, he takes “Walking the Floor Over You” into pumpin’ piano rock ‘n’ roll territory. But the likes of “The Hole He Said He’d Dig For Me” are pure country. One of the great interpreters of popular song ever, he puts his distinctive stamp on his covers of Merle Haggard’s “Workingman’s Blues” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”

In 1975, he rolled his biography into a song that asserts Jerry Lee’s life would make “A Damn Good Country Song” and two years later, he crafted a final classic, “Middle Age Crazy”

That would be 45 years ago – which woulc seem like plenty of time for the county hall to induct him.

“I was wondering if they were ever going to induct me,” Lewis said at the Tuesday press conference announcing this year’s inductions. “But they’ve come around and I was really glad and grateful.”

Much of the reason that Jerry Lee has had to wait so long is the Country Music Hall of Fame’s very restrictive inductions policy.

Unlike the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which, with all its categories, inducts a dozen or more artists, bands and industry movers and shaker, the country hall only inducts three a year – one in the “Veteran Era Artist” – this year, Jerry Lee, one “Modern Era Artist,” – this year, the late Keith Whitley and a non-performer category – this year RCA Records executive Joe Galante.

The Country Music Hall of Fame, established in 1961, now has 169 inductees. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which added its first class, including Lewis, in 1986, now has 351 members with 14 more set for induction in November.

It’s not likely that we’ll get a chance to see Jerry Lee perform again.

The last time I saw him, more than a decade ago, he had to be helped to the piano bench, then lit up and rocked the Kansas City theater like he was 21. But a 2017 stroke has him using a walker and, according to the Tennessean, saying “I really don’t stick with the piano as much as I used to. I miss it.”

But the Killer’s going to make it to Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony in October, where he’ll hear the testimonials and musical tributes he’s long deserved.

That, along with the upcoming release of a T Bone Burnett produced album recorded two years ago is not a bad way to cap the career of the legend, who’s finally been recognized as a country great as well as one of the kings of rock ‘n’ roll.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or [email protected] On Twitter @KentWolgamott  

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