|"We cut that live, and the audience wanted to tear up the stage." The Star-Club, April 5, 1964|
That Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, was a wild deal. We cut that live, and the audience wanted to tear up the stage. It was a big hall and wide open as a case knife. The best thing about playing there was the equipment—the mics, the amplifiers, guitars, fiddles and piano. We didn’t have that kind of high-quality gear back home. In other places where they’d give me a bad piano, I’d usually finish it off anyway.I couldn't agree more.
In related news, I was pleased to have been invited by archivist Cary O’Dell to write an essay about "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," Lewis's epochal second single, released in 1957. The song—rightfully so—has been selected for the National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board at the Library of Congress. My essay will stand side-by-side with the song in perpetuity. You can read the full essay here. It begins:
The opening two minutes of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” are so striking and irrepressible that they all but guaranteed the song would be a major hit. The second half ensured that the song, and “The Killer,” would become unforgettable.And while you're there, peruse the fascinating list of National Recording Registry titles—from Thomas Edison's Talking Doll cylinder, Jesse Walter Fewkes's field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians, and "Star Spangled Banner" to Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong's broadcast from the moon, Parliament's Mothership Connection, and Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet—here.
Released in April 1957, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was Lewis’s second single, following “Crazy Arms,” which had failed to chart. But Lewis, well aware of his own potency, and his singular talent, and buoyed by producer Sam Phillips’s intuitive work in Sun Studio, brought “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” into the recording sessions confident that it could be a hit. How Lewis came to know the song is a predictably murky tale. Sources suggest that he’d learned it from Big Maybelle’s or Roy Hall’s earlier versions; Lewis himself claimed to have heard it from the singer Johnny Littlejohn at the Wagon Wheel nightclub in Natchez, Mississippi. Force of nature that he is, Lewis usually transforms the landscape of any tune he moves through, and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was no different.
Meanwhile, here's a spectacular version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" from a March 19, 1964 U.K. television special titled after the song, filmed just a few weeks before Lewis headed down to West Germany to record that "wild deal."