Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire

Jerry Lee Lewis is 80 today.

When he was 14, he made his public debut, playing with a local country & western band at a car dealer’s parking lot. In 1956, he went to Memphis to audition for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records label, whose stable of talent also included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. After a country-flavored audition for Philips in 1956, Lewis was told that if he could come up with some rock and roll, “we could probably do something.” Lewis didn’t write much himself, but he transformed other people’s songs into unbridled rock and roll that even he called “the devil’s music.”

Lewis’ debut single was a rocking recasting of Ray Price’s country hit “Crazy Arms.” He followed it with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which sold 6 million copies and went to Number Three, and “Great Balls of Fire,” a 5-million seller that reached Number Two. Both songs were from 1957, a watershed year for Lewis, and both songs also made it to the Top Five on the pop, country and R&B charts. The next year yielded more hits – “Breathless” and “High School Confidential” – and a role in a movie titled after the latter song. …

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame