Rock & roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis is set to have a big year, as the 78-year-old Killer will release Rock & Roll Time, his third album in a decade, and Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, a biography written by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, on October 28th.
In advance of the album, his first for Vanguard Records, Lewis is sharing the title track below — what he tells Rolling Stone is the “best one on there” — originally co-written and recorded by Kris Kristofferson in 1974. Lewis’ version features an all-star lineup, including guitarists Doyle Bramhall II, Jon Brion and Kenny Lovelace and vocalists Vonda Shepard and Bernard Fowler. Overall, Lewis says the track is emblematic of all of the LP’s 11 tracks. “This is a rock & roll record,” he says. “That’s just the way it came out.”
As with Lewis’ last two records, 2006’s Last Man Standing and 2010’s Mean Old Man, Lewis teamed with a who’s who of artists he inspired, including the Rolling Stones‘ Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Neil Young, former Band guitarist Robbie Robertson, E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren, country singer Shelby Lynne and more.
The selection of songs draws from the catalogues of Chuck Berry (“Little Queenie,” “Promised Land”), Bob Dylan (“Stepchild”), Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Mississippi Kid”), Jimmie Rodgers (“Blues Like Midnight”) and even a track by one of his Million Dollar Quartet buddies, Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”), one of two songs that finds him playing guitar. “My wife stepped in and asked me to do that one,” he says. “Johnny Cash was just one of the finest people in the world. He’s a great guy. I have lots of fond memories of Johnny.”
In reverence to his past, the album cover sports a shot of Lewis in front of the old Sun Studios building, located in Memphis about eight minutes from the studio where the Killer recorded most of Rock & Roll Time. “It was all right,” he says of visiting his old haunt. “It brought back a lot of memories: Pretty good memories, bad memories, semi memories.”
Lewis has been spending a lot of time remembering lately. Over the past two years, he has been sitting for interviews with Bragg, who has written Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story as a third-person recount of the Killer’s life. The book will cover the making of Lewis’ biggest hits, as well as address the many controversies that have surrounded Lewis’ life, from his numerous marriages to his feuds with other rockers.
Lewis calls the book “magnificent” and is quick to say that he “forgot nothing” and remembered everything exactly how it was. “All these other books have come out, and there wasn’t no truth in any of them,” he says. “I just waited ’til the right time [to do mine]. I just thought I’d set the record straight.”
And even though Lewis has these two big releases slated for the end of 2014, he’s continuing business as usual with two gigs planned in the U.S. On July 5th, he’ll play Harrah’s Rincon in Valley Center, California, and on October 30th – two days after the album and book release – he will perform at B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill in New York City. “I just get up off my lazy behind and get on with it,” he says of performing.
As he looks back on six decades of music and what the future holds, Lewis says he’s grateful. “I just think it’s a blessing from God that I’m still living,” he says, “and I’m still rocking.”