Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock Legend Keeps Rolling

Correction Oct. 1, 2010

The audio version of this story incorrectly stated that Million Dollar Quartet, which took place in 1956, happened 44 years ago. We made an arithmetic error; it was 54 years ago.

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Olaf Heine
Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis.

Olaf Heine

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  • "Sunday Morning Coming Down"
  • Album: Mean Old Man
  • Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Released: 2010
 

Jerry Lee Lewis was often referred to as "The Killer" in his 1950s heyday. He'd slay audiences with his rambunctious piano playing, while his striking looks sent female fans keeling over.

His wildest days may be behind him, but old age hasn't kept him from his keys. On Sept. 29, Lewis will celebrate his 75th birthday in the afterglow of a new album, Mean Old Man.

"I got a ways to go yet," Lewis tells Weekend Edition host Liane Hansen. "I've been up and down the road. It's been some hard living, some hard rocking and some hard rolling. But I'm still rocking on."

Lewis recorded about 50 songs for the record. With the help of co-producers Jim Keltner and Steve Bing, 18 were selected for the final mix. Initially, the three were intent on avoiding a duets record, but there was an outpouring of requests to join in on their music-making.

Among the collaborators was Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones' frontman who, like Lewis, enjoyed plenty of crazy days in the past. The two recorded a cover of the Stones' track "Dead Flowers."

"It was a lot of fun, listening and watching Mick do his bit," Lewis says. "Singing the song was thrilling."

Lewis goes solo for three tracks on Mean Old Man. One of these is his cover of the Kris Kristofferson classic "Sunday Morning Coming Down." In pre-production, Keltner felt uneasy about the track. He wasn't sure if the bluesy tune was a good fit for Lewis. But then they started laying it down in the studio.

"When we got to the point where we were actually recording, I could feel it all throughout my bones," Keltner says. "He just takes you right there, tells you exactly what this guy is thinking and where he is. It's just amazing how he made that song his own."

Outside the studio, Lewis hasn't avoided the spotlight. On Sept. 10, he made an appearance in Million Dollar Quartet, the hit Broadway musical based on the legendary jam session among Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.

"What an amazing thing that Jerry Lee actually got to be around to see something like this, a hit Broadway show of his life," Keltner says.

"It brought back a lot of memories," Lewis says. "It was touching."

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  • Album: Mean Old Man
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