Wedding kiss, Jerry Lee and Judith, the 7th Mrs Lewis
He’s still very unlikely to match his sister Linda Gail who has married 8 times (but only to 7 husbands as she married one twice.) He’s now married the ex-sister-in-law of Myra, the second cousin who was only 13 when he married her back in 1957. That wasn’t unusual in Louisiana or in Jerry’s family – younger sister Linda Gail first married at 14 and older sister Frankie Jean married at the tender age of 12. Loretta Lynn, the Country singer, was also married at 13, and Elvis was dating Priscilla when she was only 14.
Now some people are confused because Judith Coghlan Brown who he married earlier this month is his and Myra’s daughter Phoebe’s aunt. Someone on one of the Lewis forums remarked: ‘What? He’s now married his sister?’ No, he’s married his cousin’s ex-wife. The cousin, Rusty Brown, is Myra’s brother, so he’s Phoebe’s uncle and Judith is her aunt by marriage, or was, now she’s also her step-mother I guess. Gets complicated doesn’t it?
Added to which cousin Jimmy Swaggart, the evangelist, is a double first cousin of Jerry’s. Keeping it in the family seems to be a trend in the extended Lewis family. The other famous first cousin is Country singer Mickey Gilley who launched the whole New Country thing with the John Travolta film ‘Urban Cowboy’ filmed at Gilley’s former niteclub in Pasadena, Houston, Texas, complete with the famous Gilley’s mechanical bull. Mickey appeared in the movie singing and playing, and has actually had more #1 Country hits than Jerry Lee himself, though The Killer, as he is known, has had quite a few himself.
Jerry Lee’s personal life has tended to overshadow The Killer’s successful and very long musical career which started in the 1950s and continues today. Many people think he only had one or two hits in the 1950s, but in actual fact he’s had, by my reckoning based on research, no less than 70 Top Twenty singles and albums in one or more of the main charts, which include the British Pop charts, and American Billboard/Cashbox Pop, Rock, Country and Indie charts. This includes 14 which reached the #1 spot in at least one of these charts, and 10 Gold disks. The latest #1 and Gold disk was for the album ‘Last Man Standing’ recorded with guest artists and released in 2006 to become the biggest selling album of his career. Since then ‘Mean Old Man’, another album with guest artists, was released and shot straight to #10 in the Billboard Rock charts.
His touring has declined a lot in recent years, and the shows reverted to a standard length of about 45-50 minutes (in the 1950s/1960s he did mainly 30 minute shows). The only time he regularly did shows of over an hour, apart from specials like the Memphis birthday parties in the 1990s/early 00′s, was when he was having loads of Country hits in America and included a lot of slow Country songs in his live performances. Unfortunately many of the rockers in Europe didn’t appreciate the slower material, and heckled for more rock’n'roll.
Lewis, being the cantankerous person he his, tended to do Country to ‘wind-up’ his rock’n'roll audiences of Teddy boys and rockers, saying things like: ‘If you don’t like it you can learn to like it’, or alternatively, ‘If you don’t like it that door swings both ways’ pointing to the entrance/exit. He’d then appear at the Wembley Country Music Festivals and rile the Country fans by singing mainly uptempo rock’n'roll while they walked out in droves.
Always people have had to accept The Killer as he is. He was always uncontrollable, which is why he wrecked his career in 1958 by bringing his 13-year old bride to England and then making things even worse by saying he hadn’t married her bigamously because his bigamous marriage to his second wife, Jane, was never legal and he had long ago divorced his first wife, Dorothy. To the British press this meant Jerry Lee was a double bigamist who incestuously married his cousin who, being only 13, made him a pedophile as well. In actual fact marrying even first cousins is perfectly legal even in England (though discouraged), and whatever you think of the laws/customs of the Southern States at the time, marrying at 13 was not uncommon and was encouraged by the local fundamentalist churches to prevent fornication, i.e. any sexual relations outside of wedlock. An unmarried girl of 15 or 16 without a ‘beau’ in tow was regarded as a social outcast in these rural communities, definitely looked upon as a weirdo and probably a lesbian. Even having a boyfriend would be suspicious in case they were having sex outside of wedlock, so they were encouraged to get married. In short, every girl reaching puberty was expected to find a man and get married at the earliest opportunity, or risk going straight to Hell for either having straight sex out of wedlock or for being a lesbian. So in Jerry’s eyes he was making an honest woman of Myra and saving her from eternal fire and brimstone.
In Jerry’s eyes, using his strange logic, he was free as a bird to marry Myra since his second marriage was invalid. It was a ‘shotgun marriage’ forced on him by Jane Mitcham’s brothers, and he didn’t dare tell them he was still legally married to his first wife Dorothy. As his sister Frankie Jean once put it: ‘Jerry gets confused. He marries people but sometimes forgets to divorce them.’ In fact he did divorce them, but apparently got confused by the requirement to wait for the ‘decree absolute’ before getting hitched again.
Jerry has reportedly recorded quite a lot of material in recent years which has yet to be released. His stage shows have not only become more infrequent, and subject to last-minute cancelation due to health issues, but they’ve also become much less animated and also more predictable. At one time not so long ago Jerry’s stage-act was very wild, jumping up on pianos even in the late 1980s when he was in his 50s and perhaps should have known better than to stomp over beautful Steinways in his cowboy boots. He never worked to a set-list and every show was different. Now he tends to stick to the same repertoire with just a few variations.
It has to be said, however, that Jerry always did and still does stick mainly to singing and playing on stage, without any of the time-wasting antics used by some other performers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. The latter have appeared on several ‘Legends of Rock’n'Roll’ shows with Jerry Lee in the past 20 years and have won over audiences who are under the false impression they were better than Jerry Lee and performed for much longer, doing an hour or hour and a half to Jerry’s 30 minutes or so. However what they did, in fact, was interact with the audience more and waste time. If you took a stopwatch and timed how long the three original 1950s stars actually sang and played their instruments while on stage I bet you wouldn’t find much difference between the three of them. Chuck Berry, who wastes a lot of time picking an out-of-tune guitar and who gets some of his self-penned lyrics wrong, once stood and recited poetry for 10 minutes so he was on stage for as long as Little Richard, who had spent much of the time encouraging the audience to sing instead of himself, doing a striptease act or telling people that religious tracts would be given to them as a gift from the singer on their way out. Jerry, however, all but ignores the audience and just sings and plays solidly for all the time he’s on stage.
The seventh marriage may have raised eyebrows and, as his sister Linda Gail remarked on stage at a Weekender last week, caused another scandal, but whatever other people may think about it Jerry Lee seems happy. The new wife, Judith, was his carer, and this seems to be her main function now, as well as his companion. This is more than many of us can hope for in our old age – a carer and companion, so good luck to Jerry and Judith, and let’s hope his health holds out so he can continue to perform and record.