Mad, Hard and Wild Bastards of Rock N Roll. Part One.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis, a renowned hell raiser, is famed for turning up at Elvis Presley’s house in 1976 wielding a loaded pistol and demanding to see him. He never got to the King of Rock N Roll but a year later he was dead anyway so at least saved on bullets, not that we condone the actions. This incident was just one of a host in the life of Jerry Lee Lewis aka The Ferriday Fireball aka The Killer. Arguably the wildest of all Sun Records performers on and off the stage, he was almost too hot for anyone to handle. The UK didn’t want him, thrown out in 1958 for bringing along his 14 year old wife cousin on tour. Sam Phillips, Sun head honcho, couldn’t handle him, in fact nobody could handle him but the fans loved it. The Killer was a million-seller and had an ego to match. One infamous tale at a show in New York in 1958 it was decided that Chuck Berry would headline over our hero, Jerry Lee was not best pleased but went along with it. As his incendiary set was coming to an end he produced a can of petrol, poured it over his piano and set fire to it while bursting into an insane rendition of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’, the place went wild as he played the song to its climax while the piano burned. As he left the stage, piano still ablaze, it’s said that as he passed the stunned Chuck Berry he spat the infamous words, “Follow that Nigger!”
Sonny Burgess has gone down in rocking lore as the Arkansas wild man who dyed his hair flame red to match his red suit and Fender to make his mentalist stage show even more mental. The first Rockabilly Punk? Well the story is true, Albuquerque never knew what hit them as Sonny Burgess, head to toe in red and his group The Pacers opened a show for a youthful Roy Orbison in 1956. The story behind the story isn’t quite as wild as Sonny Burgess told me himself back in 1984. He wanted to go blonde, his wife took on the bleaching duties, messed it up and his hair turned flame red by accident. There was no time to try and fix it out so out came the red suit for maximum effect. It obviously worked because 52 years later it’s still a legend. The story may not have been so wild but Sonny Burgess’ records certainly were. Check out ‘We Wanna Boogie’ and ‘Red Headed Woman’ on the Sun label, total mayhem with note-bending guitar, rasping trumpet and pumping piano pounding the pace behind Burgess’s howling vocals make for two of the all-time wildest tracks ever. He reckons the Sun recordings don’t capture the wildness of the band live, if that’s true, fuck me it must have been crazy.
By all accounts Tooter Boatman was a lover and a scrapper, he liked a fight and a shag but it’s not certain in what order. He looks like a hard bastard in the photos that survive of him. Inked up, surely one of the first tattooed rockers, and looks so mean you can believe stories of him giving bulls a kicking and having running off in fear and taking on three big blokes in bar at the same time and giving them a whooping. He is also said to have had ‘more girlfriends than Elvis had gold records’, had a girl in every town and was even married, but just for the day. Tooter Boatman and his band The Chapperals released a rip roaring slab of scream laden, snare jangling, piano mudering, slap bass rockabilly in the shape of ‘Thunder and Lightning’ and ‘The Will Of Love’ which you really need to hear before you die. Hard as he may have been Tooter was killed by a hit and run driver in 1964 aged 28, that’s the only way they’d have had him.
Very little is known about Billy Taylor, there appears to be a good reason for that. He recorded a loopy little track entitled ‘Wombie Zombie’ for Felco Records then apparently decided to celebrate by carrying out an armed robbery, a career move that proved as short lived as his Rockabilly one. He was caught and sentenced to a long real life version of Jailhouse Rock. True or not, you gotta love him.