Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Recordings, vol. 5

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Cut between 1960 and 1963, these were the last sides Jerry Lee recorded for Sun. By now it was apparent even to him that he wasn't going to beat the blacklist, but his heart is still in a surprising amount of the material.

The song called either "Keep Your Hands Off of It" or "Birthday Cake" is defiantly double-entendre, with prickly guitar from Roland Janes to match. Jerry Lee overcomes a whole horn section on the working-man "When I Get Paid" (which keenly synthesizes the rockabilly he's coming from and the hard country he's heading toward). Clearly inspired by the Fats Domino version, the Killer is rock-steady on the standard "My Blue Heaven," and gets a similar New Orleans feel on "Rockin 'the Boat of Love" (though it could do without the background chorus).

On the other hand, "C.C. Rider" gets a relaxed, Charlie-Rich-like reading with a simpatico sax solo, and with its elegaic, deeply and distinctly Southern feel, "Waiting for a Train" is probably Lewis 'greatest Jimmie Rodgers interpretation (and this may be the Singing Brakeman's greatest song).

Producer Sam Phillips is reaching out here, sometimes effectively and sometimes not: the bluesy "Set My Mind at Ease" and "Be Bop a Lula," for no apparent reason, both put Shirley Sisk's organ in competition with Jerry Lee's piano, and the final two tracks feature a string section and vocal chorus. The strings ain't bad, either, certainly more imaginative than those in Nashville, if you like that sort of thing. But it wasn't enough: frustrated with his lack of commensurate chart success, Jerry Lee soon signed with Mercury/Smash and went country.