Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock Legend Keeps Rolling With his 75th birthday right around the corner, Jerry Lee Lewis has not strayed from his piano, the instrument that made him a legend. Now, with the help of a wide range of well-respected artists, he's put out a new album, Mean Old Man..

Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock Legend Keeps Rolling

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(Soundbite of song, "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On")

Mr. JERRY LEE LEWIS (Rock 'n' roll, country music singer, pianist): (Singing) Come on over baby, whole lot of shakin' goin' on...

HANSEN: Jerry Lee Lewis has earned his rock 'n' roll nickname, "The Killer." As a young man in the 1950s, his cinematic good looks and impossibly wavy blond hair killed the ladies. And his energetic pounding on the piano keys killed his audiences. And because of Lewis and other rock pioneers, there indeed was a whole lot of shakin' goin on.

(Soundbite of song, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) I said shake it, baby, shake it. Let it shake, baby, shake. Come on over, whole lot of shakin goin' on...

His wavy hair now bares streaks of gray and his face is etched with lines, but Jerry Lee Lewis can still bring the house down. He's been performing in support of his new record, called "Mean Old Man," and he joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

Mr. LEWIS: Well, thank you very much, Liane. Happy to be here.

HANSEN: I'm glad to have you. And I should mention that in the studio with you is a legendary drummer and producer, whose name may not be as familiar to our listeners as Jerry Lee Lewis. But for decades, I know that theyve heard his work on countless recordings. Jim Keltner, who is a producer of Jerry Lee's new CD, welcome to the program.

Mr. JIM KELTNER (Drummer): Thank you, and nice to be here.

HANSEN: Great to have you.

Mr. Lewis, you have a birthday coming up, September 29th, right?

Mr. LEWIS: Yes, I have a birthday coming up. I'll be 35.

HANSEN: You'll be 35. Well, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: happens to be my birthday, too, on September 29th. And I was going to say, tell you how many candles are on my cake if you'll tell me how many candles are on yours.

Mr. LEWIS: Well, it'll be 75 on mine.

HANSEN: Well, it's going to be 59 on mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: So now that weve got all that straightened out, you know something? You dont hear the 75 years on this new recording.

(Soundbite of song, "Mean Old Man")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) If I look like a mean old man, that's what I am. If I look like a mean old man, that's what I am. If I look like a mean old man, take you any way he can. Break your heart and kiss your hand, that's what I am.

HANSEN: The opening track itself, which is the title track, "Mean Old Man," a song written by Kris Kristofferson.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Why do you like this song, Mr. Lewis?

Mr. LEWIS: I dont know. I just heard it, and I just figured it would be a hit.

(Soundbite of song, "Mean Old Man")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) If I look like a good old friend who's good at bending with the wind, to be your friend right to the end, that's what I am. And if I look like a voodoo doll, that's what I am...

HANSEN: What is it about you that makes you so mean?

Mr. LEWIS: Oh, I'm not a mean old man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KELTNER: He's not mean.

Mr. LEWIS: That's just a saying.

HANSEN: Yeah. Jerry Lee Lewis, what's it like for you, I mean working with the young kids? I mean, I'm looking down the 18-track list, and you play with people like Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow and Shelby Lynne and, you know, some of the old folks, too, like Solomon Burke and Mick Jagger. Talk about recording with Mick Jagger, his and Keith Richards' tune "Dead Flowers," where you duet with Jagger.

Mr. LEWIS: It was a lot of fun listening and watching Mick do his bit, sing his song. It was thrilling.

(Soundbite of song, "Dead Flowers")

Mr. LEWIS and Mr. MICK JAGGER: (Singing) Take me down little Susie, take me down. I know you think you're the queen of the underground.

HANSEN: Jim, was it your idea? Jim Keltner, to bring the...

Mr. KELTNER: No, that was Steve's idea.

HANSEN: Steve Bing, your co-producer.

Mr. KELTNER: Yeah. Steve was great with picking songs, and he picked a whole bunch of songs, and we actually recorded about 50 songs. "Dead Flowers" is one of my favorites, of course. "Dead Flowers" is great. And to hear Jerry Lee and Mick together is just a thrill.

Mr. LEWIS and Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) Send me dead flowers by the mail. Send me dead flowers to my wedding. And I won't forget to put roses on your grave...

HANSEN: How, Jim, did you convince you and your co-producer, Steve Bing, all of these musicians, to appear with Jerry Lee Lewis? Did it take a lot of convincing?

Mr. KELTNER: Not at all. I mean, that was kind of - it was sort of worked out in the beginning that it wasnt going to be a duets record, this record, not like "The Last Man Standing." It was really going to just be maybe a few people who had asked, could they participate. Before we knew it, other people were asking, and it became more like a, like as Steve put it at one point: Its just really a group of outstanding side musicians backing Jerry Lee.

HANSEN: I love that the 16th cut, the track, it's another Kris Kristofferson song. He wrote "Mean Old Man" - but "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

Mr. LEWIS: Right.

HANSEN: It seemed so appropriate for this program, you know, that goes out on a Sunday morning. And I imagine some Sunday mornings have come down pretty hard on you over the years. What do you like about this song?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, I take it just like a man with a hangover.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. KELTNER: That's true.

HANSEN: It's really not two ways to look at what this song is about, right?

Mr. LEWIS: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Sunday Morning Coming Down")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert.

Mr. KELTNER: I've got to say that when Steve brought that - the idea for that song up, I said I just could not hear Jerry Lee singing that song, for some reason. And when we got to the point where we were actually recording, I could feel it all throughout my bones. And then when we heard the track back, the basic track, it was - it just floors you how much he got into it and owned the song.

Every one of those lines that he sings, he just takes you right there. He just tells you a story and tells you exactly what this guy is thinking, where he is. And it's just amazing, I think, how he made that song his own.

(Soundbite of song, "Sunday Morning Coming Down")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) 'Cause on a Sunday morning sidewalk, wishing, Lord, that I was stoned. 'Cause there's nothing like a Sunday that makes the body feel alone.

HANSEN: I'm speaking with Jerry Lee Lewis and Jim Keltner, who produced Lewis' new CD, called "Mean Old Man." Well, Jerry Lee Lewis, would you describe yourself as a storyteller?

Mr. LEWIS: Yeah, I think so. I tell a story through the song when I'm singing. And youve got to do it different, and you got to do it your own way. And that's the way I did it.

HANSEN: Could you have imagined, after all the hard living that you have done, that not only would you be a survivor in the music business but actually make it to 75?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEWIS: Yeah...

Mr. KELTNER: Good question.

Mr. LEWIS: I kind of felt like I'd still be around. I've got a ways to go yet.

HANSEN: But there was some hard living there, and not everybody made it.

Mr. LEWIS: No, that's true. I've been up and down the road.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEWIS: And I've done some hard living and some hard rockin' and some hard rollin.' But I'm still rockin' on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KELTNER: He ain't rocked his life all the way.

HANSEN: You made an appearance on September 10th in the hit Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet," which is about a 1956 jam session with you, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. First of all, does any picture stay in your mind about the actual night you all played together?

Mr. LEWIS: Yes. There are flashbacks of me and Elvis and Johnny and Carl. It was a long time ago.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The jam session actually occurred 54 years ago.]

HANSEN: Oh, sure. Yeah, 44 years ago.

(Soundbite of song, "Brown Handsome Man")

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET: (Singing) He hit a high fly into the stand. Around the third, he was headed for home, he was a brown-eyed, handsome man. Once again, he was a brown-eyed, handsome man...

Mr. KELTNER: I'll just say something real quick. Sitting there watching this thing, I mean, it just hit me how amazing it must be for Jerry Lee to be the actual last one of those guys. They showed this beautiful picture of them during the show, of all those guys together. What an amazing thing that Jerry Lee actually got to be around to see something like this, like an actual hit Broadway show of his life, basically, or a part of his life.

And out of that whole thing, that whole magical thing, Jerry Lee is still here to see it. I just asked him a minute ago, you know, what that felt like, you know. And he is...

Mr. LEWIS: And I took a hard look at it, too.

HANSEN: What did it feel like?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, it brought back a lot of memories. It was touching.

HANSEN: Jerry Lee Lewis - his new CD, "Mean Old Man," is just out on Verve Records. Jim Keltner, along with Steve Bing, produced the record. Jerry Lee Lewis and Jim Keltner joined us from the studios in our New York bureau. Thank you very much, both of you.

Mr. KELTNER: Thank you.

Mr. LEWIS: Thank you, baby.

HANSEN: And happy birthday, Killer.

Mr. LEWIS: Thank you. And happy birthday to you.

HANSEN: You can hear songs from Jerry Lee Lewis' new album at

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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