Back in February 1986 I drove to Tumwater to see Jerry Lee Lewis perform at a rodeo arena called The Trails. It all came back when the news came out that he died Friday at age 87.
It was one of my most memorable celebrity interviews.
Jerry Lee Lewis turns to me: “You got a problem?”
Me: “Uh, no.”
Lewis: “I do. Ha-ha.”
I went to see Jerry Lee with Times photographer Alan Berner. We liked working together on these kinds of stories; you know, just a little bit out there.
Lewis had been booked by a guy who was an absolute novice at concert promotion, a local lounge musician who for some reason had decided that his first effort at this sort of thing would be the rock ‘n’ roll legend. Back then, Jerry Lee commanded $10,000 to $15,000 ($27,000 to $41,000 in today’s dollars) for one hour for him and his musicians; you provided the piano, drums, amplification and lighting systems.
The aspiring promoter used all his savings, plus he borrowed a few thousand bucks. The soundstage was built onto a flatbed truck brought right onto the dirt floor.
The promoter, Jim Manning, told me he didn’t mind that at $12.50 a ticket, and with only 2,000 ticket sold, he ate about $6,000.
“I’m 42. I’ve always loved his music. I still remember when I first saw that 1958 movie, ‘High School Confidential,’ that had Jerry Lee playing piano on the back of a truck. It just totally knocked me out.”
The promoter arranged for the handful of media types who showed up to meet with his star booking.
I do remember thinking that Jerry Lee looked like, you know, like he had been drinking: That kind of direct look with boding thoughts swirling that you can get after a few.
I brought my tape recorder and Jerry Lee didn’t seem to like that. He took it and spent some time looking it over.
I thought he was going to punch me out.
Then Jerry Lee rambled for a bit, with comments such as, “The only records I ever listen to is mine. If I ever hear anything better, I’ll listen to it.”
Anyway . . . He gave the crowd a show. The audience hooted, whistled and yelled.
The original Feb. 28, 1986, story is here.