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Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

3.8 5
by Rick Bragg

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The greatest Southern storyteller of our time, New York Times bestselling author Rick Bragg, tracks down the greatest rock and roller of all time, Jerry Lee Lewis—and gets his own story, from the source, for the very first time.

A monumental figure on the American landscape, Jerry Lee Lewis spent his childhood raising hell in Ferriday, Louisiana


The greatest Southern storyteller of our time, New York Times bestselling author Rick Bragg, tracks down the greatest rock and roller of all time, Jerry Lee Lewis—and gets his own story, from the source, for the very first time.

A monumental figure on the American landscape, Jerry Lee Lewis spent his childhood raising hell in Ferriday, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi; galvanized the world with hit records like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” that gave rock and roll its devil’s edge; caused riots and boycotts with his incendiary performances; nearly scuttled his career by marrying his thirteen-year-old second cousin—his third wife of seven; ran a decades-long marathon of drugs, drinking, and women; nearly met his maker, twice; suffered the deaths of two sons and two wives, and the indignity of an IRS raid that left him with nothing but the broken-down piano he started with; performed with everyone from Elvis Presley to Keith Richards to Bruce Springsteen to Kid Rock—and survived it all to be hailed as “one of the most creative and important figures in American popular culture and a paradigm of the Southern experience.”

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story is the Killer’s life as he lived it, and as he shared it over two years with our greatest bard of Southern life: Rick Bragg. Rich with Lewis’s own words, framed by Bragg’s richly atmospheric narrative, , this is the last great untold rock-and-roll story, come to life on the page.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/20/2014
Bragg, writing closely with Lewis, offers this rollicking, incendiary tale of the man who kick-started rock and roll and blazed a fiery trail strewn with heartache, happiness, regret, and memorable music. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bragg (All Over but the Shouting) sat down with Lewis over a period of two years and simply let Lewis tell his own story. From his childhood in Ferriday, La., and Natchez, Miss., Lewis chased music, discovering at age five his reason for being born when he sees the piano in his aunt’s house. He couldn’t sit still—”I come out jumpin’, an’ I been jumpin’ ever since”—and he conducts us on a journey through his short-lived career at a Bible college, his discovery by Cowboy Jack Clement, his years at Sun Studio—including that now-famous, brief session with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis—his seven marriages, his children’s deaths, his descent into drugs and alcohol, and his burning desire to play music above all else. “For Jerry Lee,” writes Bragg, “fame was a thing that sometimes flogged him and sometimes let him be; he was capable, in the dark times, of losing all sight of the good in his music, of believing it was evil, until suddenly things would be just clear and he’d see it all so much better. The thing about rock and roll, he said, was that it made people crazy bad, but it more often made them happy, made them forget life for a while.” As his song “Thirty-Nine and Holding”illustrates, Lewis hypnotizes with his tale, and Bragg stands back and lets him fly. (Nov.)
Library Journal
An epic life deserves an epic narrative, and Pulitzer Prize winner Bragg (All Over but the Shoutin') delivers such with this major work on rock and roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis. Bragg conducted multiple long interviews with the musician, providing the framework for the book, which uses novelistic style and detail while richly describing Lewis's early life in Louisiana and Mississippi, his youthful musical forays, and his meteoric rise to fame in the late 1950s, by way of his own memories and recollections. Bragg chronicles recordings with Sun Records, whirlwind tours, and interactions with music legends as well as a chaotic personal life, problems with drugs and drink, and reckless behavior that early on derailed Lewis's career until a comeback and his eventual ascension to elder rock statesman who here ruminates on the blazing trail that he created.
Verdict With Lewis's reminiscences and thoughts filtered and examined through Bragg's evocative writing, readers get an original look at an innovator of rock music as well as an examination of a specific time and place during a thrilling and tumultuous period in the cultural history of the late 20th century. [See Prepub Alert, 6/2/14.]—James Collins, Morristown—Morris Twp. P.L., NJ

(c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-09-09
An iconic rocker receives a warm, admiring biography from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. Lewis, born in 1935 (delivered by his father) and among the few remaining stars from the early days of rock 'n' roll, cooperated eagerly—if not always accurately—with Bragg (The Most They Ever Had, 2011, etc.), now a professor (Writing/Univ. of Alabama). The author begins with Lewis' earliest memory about the piano, the instrument he would ride into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and throughout this account of a most raucous life, the author returns to remind us of Lewis' enormous gifts as a pianist and showman. He began playing at an early age and has not quit, arthritis and decay notwithstanding. Among his fans and friends were Elvis Presley (who coaxed Lewis into playing for hours on end) and other luminaries of the era, from Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash. Bragg gives us lots of family history (Mickey Gilley and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart are cousins) and offers a gripping account of Lewis' early struggles in the music world, when he would sneak into bars to watch and listen, playing nameless places for endless hours, then finally getting a break at Sun Records and his two biggest hits, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire." Bragg admirably charts Lewis' yo-yo life: seven marriages (including one to a teenage first cousin), wealth and penury and wealth again, run-ins with the law (drunk and armed, he rammed his car into the gate at Elvis' Graceland), and battles with substance abuse (Lewis claims not to have been as big a drinker as rumor insists). Throughout, Bragg displays his characteristic frisky prose. When Lewis played, he writes, "the girls bit their lips and went against their raisin'." From a skilled storyteller comes this entertaining, sympathetic story of a life flaring with fire, shuddering with shakin'.
Ron Rash
“No writer is better suited than Rick Bragg to tell Lewis’s story. The result is a biography with the memorable language and narrative drive we expect only from the finest novels . . . the best book on rock and roll I have ever read.”
“Mesmerizing . . . IRick Bragg illuminates Jerry Lee Lewis’s controversial—but brilliant—life and career in this captivating biography.”
Shelf Awareness
“One of the best rock biographies ever. Lewis has had his fingers in nearly every piece of the 20th century’s popular-music pie, and so Bragg’s biography becomes not just the history of the man but a history of modern American music.”
Ann Patchett
“I loved every amphetamine-laced, whiskey-soaked, gun-shot page of it.
Stephen King
“There’s plenty of richness in Rick Bragg’s retelling of the Killer’s life . . . .Bragg, a former reporter for the New York Times, hits all the legendary moments, both high and low . . . Worth reading.”
Associated Press Staff
Lewis has found the ideal biographer in Alabaman Rick Bragg, an author and former New York Times writer who understands the texture and cadence of Lewis’ life that started in Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana near the Mississippi River.
Entertainment Weekly
“An enthralling look at the birth of rock & roll and the ensuing life of its arguably most colorful exponent.”
Dallas Morning News
“[Bragg] hits upon a perfect mix of humor and gravitas, never trying to over-explain or rationalize the adultery, divorces, pills, booze, guns and relentless arrogance that came to define Jerry Lee Lewis as much as the music and the hellfire showmanship did.”
Chicago Tribune
“This is epic Southern storytelling at its most gripping.”
USA Today
“This is Lewis’ version of his own story, filtered through Bragg’s gift for language and his feel for the South...His Own Story casts one of rock n’ roll’s outlandish lives in a new light, giving Lewis the voice in words that he always had in the notes.”
Wall Street Journal
“It’s Jerry Lee Lewis’s unrepentant outrageousness that makes his life and this book irresistible.”
Tuscaloosa News
“This biography is a brilliant piece of work. Make no mistake: Not only is Rick Bragg the right man for this job, with blue-collar empathy in the marrow of his bones, he is the only writer who could have done it.”
All About Jazz
“Bragg’s account does not pull punches, nor does it need to. Bragg successfully grasps the meaning of Jerry Lee Lewis and the music he begat.”
Vintage Guitar Magazine
[Jerry Lee Lewis] is quite simply one of the best books about rock and roll ever...Rick Bragg has turned it into literature, fitting in somewhere between William Faulkner and Jim Thompson.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.40(d)

Meet the Author

Rick Bragg is the author of a trilogy of bestselling books on the people of the American South. He is a professor of writing at the University of Alabama.

Brief Biography

New Orleans, Louisiana
Date of Birth:
July 26, 1959
Place of Birth:
Possum Trot, Alabama
Attended Jacksonville State University for six months in 1970; attended Harvard University, 1992-1993

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Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
DickensianVA More than 1 year ago
If you grew up with early Rock and Roll and appreciate an award winning Southern writer, then ready yourself for a well written and fascinating biography! Jerry Lee is just as unique and more than you thought!
JustMyTwoCents More than 1 year ago
A well--written and researched biography of a difficult to like subject. I was trying to put my finger on why I both liked and disliked this biography and Judy42NC's comments seemed to hit home.  Jerry Lee Lewis  is, to me, just a very difficult person to even like, let alone admire. Certainly he was talented and certainly he had a particular flair that set him apart from other performers, but he was simply too juvenile, too self-centered, too jealous of his peers, and too much in denial of his short-comings to like him as a person, and there seems like no amount of fine writing can take the reader past the fact that he was a lout. One thing that stood out for me and that I had to remind myself was that while Jerry Lee did not co-write this biography, he did cooperate and so Bragg did his best to balance the depictions of Jerry Lee's drinking, drugging, and treatment of women between how Jerry Lee saw his behavior and the reality of the situation--it probably wasn't an easy task, and I give this author credit in striking that right chord. I would look for more work by this author. 
Judy42NC More than 1 year ago
I am not a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis. I ordered this book for my husband as a gift since he loves reading all Rick Bragg's writing. As usual, Rick wrote a good book. I wish that I could rate his writing only and not the subject matter. My husband did not finish the book, because he did not care for Jerry's mindset of doing whatever he wanted without thought as to how his choices affected those whose lives he touched. His life is not an example to follow. I suffered through the book to the end. I did some research into the cousins and other musicians as well as watching Jerry on YouTube. I was a teenager when he came on the music scene, but I never liked his most famous songs. Give me Elvis any day. I concluded that Jerry's antics were much like some of the current singers who use gimmicks to attract an audience. Bravo to Rick Bragg for all the research that he did to get this long story into print. I hope that he will write some more books like Ava's Man or choose an admirable person as his subject. Jerry's life story is not uplifting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would read anything written by Rick Bragg. He has the most beautiful way of stringing words together. Sometimes I stop and re-read a line just to savor it over again. I've never been a big fan of Jerry Lee Lewis' music and I will say it got a big tiresome reading about his decades of doing whatever he felt like doing and to hell with everyone else. It was an interesting life story and Bragg does a fine job telling it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely one of the finest bios I've read.... the integration of LA history and Jerry's family coupled with the religious influences that inspired him, was a touch of writing creativity.  Jerry's association with Elvis, Buddy, and his band members added much interest in the bio line.   Rick Bragg facilitated an amazing account of Jerry's life that to me, was a real 'page-turner'.   Most interesting was the energy and determination that Jerry always possessed for his music and fans.  Any person that desires to learn about the beginnings of R n' R, should delight in the 'words' Bragg and Jerry Lee composed.    Excellent book.   Rick M.