Jimmy Page on the “extraordinary” and “tribal” beauty of Jerry Lee Lewis

News Jimmy Page on the “extraordinary” and “tribal” beauty of Jerry Lee Lewis

There’s no mathematical equation for being an original in rock and roll. Everyone might wear their influences on their sleeves, but the best in their field know how to take those influences and push themselves further rather than just wear them like a mask in the hope that someone won’t notice where they got their ideas from. In rock’s true Stone Age, there was no real explanation for where the intensity was coming from, but Jimmy Page knew that his mind was being blown seeing Jerry Lee Lewis light up the stage.

For all of the love that’s given to guitar players these days in the world of rock, people tend to forget that pianists were always on an even keel with the rest of the band. Despite it being nearly impossible to look like a rock and roll frontman from behind a piano, every artist from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones spent quality time behind the keyboard trying to parse out different melodies, only to go into defence mode and bring the guitars back out during the concert.

If you were making your living from behind a piano, you still had to entertain a crowd, and Lewis knew just how to do it. Being the flipside of what Little Richard had been doing, Lewis’s way of blending blues, a dash of country, and pure rock and roll mayhem was one of the most intense sounds anyone had ever heard.

Even though Elvis Presley might have received more adulation for his gyrating hips and his delivery of blues songs, Lewis may have done him one better. Presley used his guitar as a prop half the time, but Lewis never let up whenever he performed, kicking his stool across the stage as he played and practically assaulting the keyboard for two and a half minutes at a time.

While Page was a child of the guitar, he knew he saw something when he saw Lewis in person, remarking, “It really was the most extraordinary evening. It felt really tribal: with all the diehard lovers of rock’n’roll paying homage to The Maestro… The technique of Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano throughout his career has been something that was so individual and unequalled like Chuck Berry, you don’t need to hear too many bars to know who it is that’s playing.”

Although Page would spend most of his time with a guitar slung across his back, he may have gotten some of his intensity from watching Lewis play that evening. There were always going to be blues guitarists that he borrowed (or stole) from. Still, it’s not hard to look at how Lewis is playing on a song like ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On’ and draw a straight line to Page’s solo on ‘Heartbreaker’, featuring him flying up and down the fretboard with the same level of fury.

If anything, listening to the way that Lewis played seemed to be more punk in its delivery than any other band could have hoped to be. Sex Pistols may have claimed to be the first major punk outfit to embrace the label, but there’s a good chance even they couldn’t keep up with Lewis’s breakneck speeds.

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