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Published: March 25th 2020
DELTA MUSIC MUSEUMA PASSEL OF COUSINS
Place was locked up tighter than a bull's ass when I was there on a Saturday morning. Jerry's childhood home is also a local museum. It is on 8th Street north of Hwy 84.
If you somehow find yourself bored and at loose ends with yourself during a visit to Natchez, Mississippi drive across the bridge and take Hwy 425 a few miles up into Louisiana to a little place called Ferriday. It is a pretty quiet little place nowadays but in earlier times it was much more lively. On September 29, 1935 a fellow named Jerry Lee Lewis was born in Ferriday and might be creaking around yet, although he no longer lives there. I hope he is still with us. When his light finally goes out we will have lost a good bit of vibrant color from our lives.
Jerry Lee’s mom started him out as child banging away at the piano in hopes that he would someday sing gospel tunes at the church. By the time he was 12 he could play pretty darn well. His folks sent him off to Waxahachie, Texas to attend a bible school. but he quickly got expelled for playing gospel tunes to a boogie-woogie beat. It was the devil’s music. He was influenced by a piano playing cousin named Carl McVoy who played with the Bill Black Combo, and by
JERRY LEE LEWIS
Jerry's sign board in front of the Delta Music Museum.
music he heard being played at Haney’s Big House, a black juke joint in Ferriday. In 1949 he made ahis first public appearance playing a car dealership in town. In 1954 he cut a demo record, but the music world was not quite ready for him yet. In 1956 he went up to Memphis for an audition with Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Pretty soon he was tearing the house down. In 1957 Jerry Lee and Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were finishing up a session at Sun when Elvis Presley sauntered in off the street. Elvis was a big deal too by then and the four of them started in jamming out some gospel tunes. It was a legendary session for all of them, but ‘cept Johnny and Carl were Baptists and so deprived of the influence of popular songs that Elvis and Jerry Lee knew from services at the Assembly of God.
BY 1958 Jerry Lee had already blown through his first two marriages and was just starting out on his third marriage when he began a tour in England. His third wife was Myra Dale Brown. She was a thirteen year old first cousin once removed.
JIMMY LEE SWAGGERT
Jimmy's mom and Jerry's mom were sisters.
She created such a scandal in Europe that the tour was canceled after three shows. Myra and Jerry had two children that were also his first cousins twice removed, and was not only their dad, but their great uncle too. Myra was not only their mom, but also their aunt. The marriage scandal took a big juicy bite out of Jerry’s popularity in America but it rebounded after Myra divorced him. By then he had some crossover hits in country and western music. He was a fantastically talented showman.
In the meantime Jerry had two other first cousins from back in Ferriday who he grew up with that were also talented musicians and showmen. One of them was Jimmy Swaggart, who emerged as a hugely popular TV evangelist. The other was Mickey Gilley, country singer and notorious honky-tonker down in Texas.
Jerry will be 85 years old this year, and is in his seventh marriage. The happy couple live in Nesbit, Mississippi a few miles south of Memphis. The seventh wife, Judith, was once married to Myra’s brother. Think of her as a sister-in-law, and yet another in a passel of cousins.
While in Ferriday visit the
Mickey's mom was a sister too. I bet those family reunions are a hoot.
Delta Music Museum. It is housed in the old post office.
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