The saga of Jerry Lee Lewis is well known. The rockabilly star was blacklisted from radio play and concerts back in 1958 when news of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gayle Brown hit the stands. Lewis’ behavior may have been shocking to middle-class America back in the day, but it was not abnormal in his hometown of Ferriday, Louisiana. In fact, the 22-year-old rocker had already been married twice before, and it wasn’t exactly clear if he was divorced from wife number two.
But that is old news. The 82-year-old musician is still around, and so is his little sister Linda Gail. She released her first record (with her sister Frankie Jean) when she was just 13 years old and got married for the first time when she was just 14 years old. She spent much of the 1960s and early 1970s touring with her brother and got married several more times. She gave up music professionally for a decade and then started playing and touring again in the 1980s and has continued to perform to this day, collaborating with artists such as Van Morrison and her brother Jerry Lee.
The 70-year-old rockabilly gal has just teamed up with alt-country legend Robbie Fulks on the appropriately titled Wild! Wild! Wild! Fulks is a freaking mad genius whose professional career has never been matched by marketable success. Some may say he sabotaged himself by releasing songs such as his 1997 ode to Nashville, “Fuck This Town”, but he self-admittedly has always been an outsider and used his art as a way of experimentation. He’s done things such as record a batch of Michael Jackson covers as a country album as well as a rendition of one of Bob Dylan’s least respected albums, Street Legal, to compare analog and digital recording techniques. Last year’s Upland Stories earned him Grammy Award nominations (Best Folk Album and Best Americana Roots Song), but as this teaming up with Linda Gail shows, he’s far from the mainstream and still following his muse wherever it takes him.
Fulks wrote most of the material on Wild! Wild! Wild! and most of the songs seem to be about Linda Gail’s personal experiences. The album begins with her singing the lines, “I’m the sister of a hellraiser / a daughter of an old tomcat / I was playing the piano in a honky tonk / before you bragged about that.” Linda Gail has never been shy about exposing herself to the public. Her 1998 autobiography The Devil, Me, and Jerry Lee intimately described her rowdy and bawdy behaviors in no uncertain terms. Fulks turns her life story into an oracle to see the past as it really was—when Southern rock was down and dirty and set the prim nation on its head, as they explain via a duet on the rocking title track.
Of course, Fulks and Linda Gail aren’t constrained by the facts. He takes the lead on the slow tear in your beer ballad, “I Just Lived a Country Song” and moans about the life he could have led. Linda Gail joins in the chorus about the dangers of hard living. The two sing together on Fulks’ Oscar Wilde-ish “That’s Why They Call it Temptation”. Presumably, these songs came out of Fulks’ imagination even as they seem rooted in real life. And on tracks like “Till Death”, Linda Gail takes Fulks’ colorful lyrics into their homicidal conclusion. The song ends with a gunshot blast. On the more positive side, she celebrates the Home of the Blues on “Memphis Never Falls From Style” for “the great insight that music is a drag if it’s too fucking white.” Fulks’ lyrics nail the truth as Linda Gail delivers the punch.
The pair also does some inspired covers, including Don Gibson’s “Who Cares” that features Telecaster master Redd Volkaert on a 1959 Gibson L5 guitar. Linda Gail sings the self-pitying lyrics with an ache in her voice that shows she understands she alone is the reason for her lonesome predicament. If you care for no one else, why would anyone care for you? Linda Gail’s piano playing speeds through Troy Seals’ “Boogie Woogie Country Gal” like a house afire before she spits out the words with a folk authenticity. You believe the girl really likes to boogie!
Fulks and Linda Gail understand how to challenge each other’s persona on the swinging “Your Red Wagon”, but individually keep things real on tunes about the harsh times such as Linda Gail’s rendition of Fulks’ “Hardluck, Louisiana”. She may be nostalgic, but the truth comes out loud and clear.
Wild! Wild! Wild! offers an inspired pairing of two creative individuals whose lives may have followed different paths but whose Southern hearts and souls are bound together in music. Their strong love for their shared culture comes through loud and clear.