[7 April 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found, though not necessarily a biography of The Killer, or exactly some sort of late-career retrospective cataloging of his music, has moments of being both of those things. But it’s really more of a nostalgic, fact-finding journey mixed with a before-and-after dissection of Lewis’ cultural influence.
When most people think of “before” and “after” in regard to Jerry Lee Lewis, the pivotal incident in question is the 1958 scandal in the British press surrounding the revelation that Lewis had married his 13-year-old second cousin, Myra, which totally derailed his career at the time. Joe Bonomo (Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band) touches on the details of that and other infamous tabloid legends about Lewis, because they are such an integral part of The Killer’s history and persona, but then he leaves the gossip in the wings in order to shine the spotlight on the 1964 recording Jerry Lee Lewis “Live” At the Star-Club. This disc is Lost and Found‘s true focal point, much like David Kirby’s recent Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, hinges on the recording of “Tutti Frutti”.
Unlike the Little Richard book, which is pure, unabashed-and-slightly-rambling fan letter, Lost and Found follows a more structured, almost academic, form. It documents the many rises and falls of the “Ferriday Fireball” that led up to those shows in Hamburg in the spring of 1964. Exploring the hits and misses on the charts, the trials and tribulations on the road and the and changes in management and record companies alongside the scandalous marriages, divorces, drinking and drug abuse, Bonomo paints a picture of a man with nothing to lose and everything to prove. If you think about it, that’s who Jerry Lee Lewis is, that’s who he’s always been. That’s the man you hear on “Live” At the Star-Club.
In addition to new interviews with “Live” At the Star-Club producer Siggi Loch, members of The Nashville Teens (the British group who had a chart hit with"Tobacco Road” and were Lewis’ backing band for these dates) and others who were at the Star-Club, Bonomo quotes extensively from a review of the show in the daily paper Hamburger Abendblatt, which is amusing in historical context because the journalist was clearly unprepared for the primal power of a Wild One. Then Bonomo describes the show in great depth, with its 16 incendiary songs and the later re-sequencing of the night’s two sets into the 13 tracks on the album. The lengthy description of the lead track, “Mean Woman Blues”, is so vivid, you can almost smell the Pilsener and feel the pounding of the piano.
After an exhaustive and exhilarating analysis of what has been called one of the greatest live albums of all time, Bonomo ties up Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found, not too hastily, by reviewing Lewis’ multiple career comebacks and the wider influence he’s had on all the people who’ve found him over the years: in the ‘60s and ‘70s when he was embraced by the country music community and made some of his most popular records, in the late ‘70s and ‘80s when punks and rockabilly revivalists rediscovered his classic Sun sides and lost Mercury tracks, and in recent years when artists of every genre pay tribute to his legacy, while Jerry Lee just keeps singing and playing like he’s always done.