'Jerry has no right to privacy'
Jerry Lee Lewis's baby sister may be his biggest fan, but she just
adores dishing the dirt. Maureen Paton meets her.
LINDA GAIL LEWIS flicks back her hennaed mane and takes charge of the
teapot that sits between us. This is a little disconcerting: I had
been half-expecting her to pour me a slug of Southern Comfort. Can the
demure, middle-aged woman here before me really be related to Jerry
Lee Lewis, a man whose own mother used to call him The Killer?
Linda Gail is in London to promote Great Balls of Fire, a new musical
about her brother's life, for which she has acted as consultant. It
is, she says, the first attempt to tell the unvarnished truth about
the "Louisiana fireball" since the 1989 Hollywood film of the same
name, which starred Dennis Quaid and was a notable flop.
Nuclear family: Linda Gail is following up her wickedly indiscreet
book, The Devil, Me and Jerry Lee, with a West End musical of her
brother's chequered career
"That film was written by one of Jerry Lee's ex-wives, Myra, and she
didn't know what was going on," says Linda Gail in her Southern lilt.
"Dennis Quaid acted goofy in the role of Jerry Lee; now, mah brother
has his faults, but he's never been goofy. He has always had this
dignified air. He's a human being - although he's a complicated one.
He's a musical genius: he doesn't live in the same world as the rest
of us, or even on the same planet."
At 52, Linda Gail is 12 years younger than Jerry Lee, but she is so
devoted and protective that she sometimes seems more like his mother
than his sister. A dutiful bad-mouther of each and every one of Jerry
Lee's ex-wives, she is now the loyal guardian of her brother's
infamous reputation (while her sister, Frankie Jean, keeps the Lewis
museum in their home town, Ferriday).
Thanks to her poor relationship with her brother's current wife and
manager, Kerrie, Linda Gail is no longer Jerry Lee's backing singer.
But this hasn't stopped her from regularly stepping in to defend the
old reprobate with a barrage of well-chosen words - most recently in
her gossipy autobiography, The Devil, Me And Jerry Lee.
Given that she shares almost all her brother's excesses, perhaps her
blind devotion is understandable. Why, for instance, would she censure
Jerry Lee for having married his 13-year-old cousin Myra - a scandal
that nearly ruined his career in 1958 - when she was a child bride
herself at 14? And why would she condemn his seven marriages, two of
them bigamous, when she has notched up eight (seven if you don't count
marrying the same man twice).
"I had been married three times by the time I was 16," she tells me.
"It was crazy. I was a woman when I was 11, driving a car and smoking
cigarettes, with a boyfriend who was 19. I was in love with being in
love. What led me astray was all those Gothic romances, like Daphne du
Jerry Lee and Linda Gail were raised by their often absent,
bootlegger, tenant farmer father and deeply religious mother in the
same Pentecostal faith as Elvis Presley. As children, they were
encouraged to speak in tongues; but as teenagers, the devilish lure of
rock 'n' roll proved too much of a temptation to keep them quietly at
The two have a shared history of addiction - to whisky, prescription
drugs - such as methadone - and wedding cake. Together, they have come
through marital hell: one of Jerry Lee's wives took a drug overdose
and another drowned, while Linda Gail's first husband, a
schizophrenic, "blew his brains out" after they parted. In rapid
succession, she then married a sailor, Jerry Lee's road manager
(twice), Jerry Lee's band manager, an Elvis Presley impersonator and,
in a rare deviation from the music business, "a regular guy".
A recording artist in her own right, she has four grown-up children by
two of her six ex-husbands, and is now happily married to record
promoter Eddie Braddock. But for many years, the only constant in her
life was Jerry Lee. "He was like a father to me," she says.
When she first went on the road with his band at the age of 14, Jerry
Lee would escort his little sister back to her hotel room before the
serious hell-raising began. Later, in the Seventies, he paid her bills
when she went into detox after developing a dependency on Quaaludes -
an addiction that nearly killed her. As a result, Linda Gail, who
claims to have fought off the advances of both Rod Stewart and Mick
Jagger in her younger days, is now on an evangelical mission to out
the "phoneys" and sycophants who refuse to "stand up" to her brother.
She is the only one, she says, who has ever been willing to tell the
honky-tonk star the truth.
"Jerry still doesn't understand he has no right to privacy," she says,
shaking her head. "He gets so offended at the personal questions, but
he's a public figure. We have really argued about this. If he has
three or four women in his car and no insurance on the Rolls-Royce, he
doesn't think anyone should say anything about it."
She wrote her book to set the record straight after an avalanche of
other biographies. In it, she fiercely defends her brother's marriage
to his teenage cousin.
"It's interesting to me that the marriage didn't jar the press in the
United States," she writes. "It was on Jerry's first visit to England
that the British press corps blew it up into a national scandal. It's
funny how such a repressed, tight-assed, kinky country became so
obsessed... Obviously, they had never studied the sleeping habits of
their own royalty. All the kings and queens of Europe were married to
their first cousins."
Her hilarious indiscretions were greeted with theatrical groans from
Jerry Lee ("he always says I talk too much") and the big freeze from
his current wife, Kerrie, a Southern belle nonchalantly described in
print by Linda Gail as having "no body parts small enough for me to
get my hands around - and I have pretty damned big hands". Laughing,
she spreads out her fingers to show me. "I may have said a few unkind
things in my book, but I kinda had to," she sighs. "You have to tell
the truth. The pen is mightier than the sword."
She clearly yearns to be Jerry Lee's manager. There is bad and badder
in the rackety world of rock music, but Jerry Lee Lewis remains, by
reputation, one of the baddest; he still tours, an occasional menace
to whisky bottles and defenceless pianos everywhere. But this gnarled
survivor, who suffered a suspected heart attack three years ago, will
be 64 tomorrow - and Linda Gail worries about his welfare.
"He wants people to think he's tough and mean, but the only thing he's
a killer of is a piano. He would run away from a dead body. A lot of
women have said he hit them, but the only thing he did was to be
The submachine-gun that Jerry Lee once kept by his bed was stolen by a
burglar; now he spends his time on an exercise machine trying to keep
fit. Linda Gail frets about his isolation. Her brother lives on a
35-acre estate in Nesbitt, near Memphis in Tennessee, which he shares
- sometimes - with Kerrie, a former singer, 12-year-old Lee and 50
rescued dogs. ("He's in all kindsa lawsuits with Nesbitt," Linda Gail
confides. "The town don't like him because of all the stray dogs.")
By all accounts a tempestuous marriage, the union between Jerry Lee
and Kerrie has apparently lasted because the Killer's devotion to his
only surviving son, Lee, has made him vulnerable. His first-born,
Steve Allen, died at the age of three in a swimming-pool accident; and
his second, Jerry Jnr, was killed in a car crash at 19.
"Kerrie's not scared of anything; you have to be normal and sane to be
afraid. And Jerry Lee is probably a little bit afraid of her, of what
she can do - such as taking Lee away. I doubt if the courts would give
my brother visitation rights to his child in a divorce because of his
wild past, although I know he's a wonderful father.
"But she can never take away from him the fact that he's the one with
the talent and the name. She'd like to cut him down to size. She will
even go out on stage and announce he'll be on as soon as he gets his
wig on and his teeth in. Well, mah brother's teeth may have been
crowned, but they're not false."
She makes a point of publicising her dislike of Kerrie and her
influential father, who styles himself the General as if to outrank
Elvis Presley's former manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
"I want them to be very afraid," she says, melodramatically. "In some
ways, I think he would be worth more dead than alive. Kerrie would
like to have another Graceland. Somebody has to stand up to her.
Sometimes I'm frightened - I look over my shoulder - but you have to
take a chance.
"Kerrie wants to be in total control of Jerry Lee, but to be in love
with a rock and roller is crazy. If we want the music, we have got to
cut them some slack in their private life. They are under so much
pressure that they play just as hard as they work."
But could any wife ever compete with the affection between brother and
"There might have been one or two wives who didn't hate me. I have
tried to be nice to all of them, but they were jealous of me and Jerry
Lee, because he rescued me from poverty and showed me the world."
Great Balls Of Fire opens at the Cambridge Theatre, London, on October
6; box office: 0171-494 5080. Linda Gail Lewis's eponymous new album
is available from Sire Records/Warner Bros
Robert J. Boyne. Your North Vancouver/British Columbia Realtor. (cell. 604-644-6973)
" I have the good sense to know that unheard songs are often sweeter".
Email - rjb...@home.com
Home page - http://www.sutton.com/sg/rboyne/
(about an interview with Jerry Lee's sister Linda Gail Lewis)
>She wrote her book to set the record straight after an avalanche of
>other biographies. In it, she fiercely defends her brother's marriage
>to his teenage cousin.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE!
From the Linda Gail interview :-
>"It's interesting to me that the marriage didn't jar the press in the
>United States," she writes. "It was on Jerry's first visit to England
>that the British press corps blew it up into a national scandal. It's
>funny how such a repressed, tight-assed, kinky country became so
Quote from several Linda Gail appearances in various venues here
"Hello England and its great to be back in your wonderful country"
>Obviously, they had never studied the sleeping habits of
>their own royalty. All the kings and queens of Europe were married to
>their first cousins."
Why do the words "pot","kettle" and "black" come to mind here?
I think we ought to apologize,Robert don't you,that Linda is quite
right and that our Kings and Queens in the past were far from being
the paragons of virtue and high moral standards that American
Presidents always are :-)
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address (mari...@ddircon.co.uk).Please remove same to respond,thanks!