Uncut Editor's Diary
Jerry Lee Lewis, King Of Rock'N'Roll
I’ve just finished reading Nick Tosches’ Hellfire, a jaw-dropping biography of Jerry Lee Lewis that is by common agreement the best book about rock’n’roll ever written. I’m reviewing it for next month’s Uncut, and can’t recommend it highly enough.
As you might expect given its subject, it’s a wild story about one of the music’s wildest characters, written by someone who is in perfect tune with the elemental ferocity of early rock’n’roll and the people who made it.
I was particularly taken by the exploits of Robert “Tarp” Tarrant, Jerry Lee’s drummer, who was just 22 when he fell in with The Killer and his relentless pursuit of roaring oblivion, via booze and drugs.
Tarrant was at first impressed by Jerry Lee’s prodigious intake, then purely frightened.
“Jerry was getting farther and farther out,” he tells Tosches. “We’d get back to Memphis after a long haul, he’d say, ‘The first one of you motherfuckin’ bastards that leaves is fired. We’re gonna party for five fuckin’ days.”
And they would, everyone too scared to leave because Jerry Lee was usually armed and in Tarp’s opinion not beyond putting a bullet in someone.
It all ended very badly for the unfortunate Tarrant a couple of years later, when he found himself strung out and broke, with no money to feed his family.
“I was in bad way,” he remembered. “I was doin’ Placidyl and amphetamines, Biphetamines, Dexedrine, snortin’ a lot of cocaine, and drinkin’ wine and Jack Daniel’s all week. This particular night I had taken seven or eight Black Widows, and I was drinkin’ beer.
“I kept my pistol in the car. It was a little old.22 target pistol, nine-shot revolver. I drove by this store. I saw this girl in there by herself, behind the counter.Everything just sorta snapped – just like that; it was like I had been needin’ some money and I had a gun in the car.
“So I just pulled up there, y’know. It was a real stupid thing, because I was so high, and I was wearin’ a Stetson cowboy hat, a black leather suit, black boots with spurs. I backed the car up there where she could see the license plate. Left the car runnin’. Walked in there. . .I got 58 dollars.
“I got back in the car, turned left off Highland, doin’ 80 miles an hour in a 40-mile zone. A squad car passed me. Turned out that the APB was out and there was a six-car roadblock set up further down on Central. I smashed right into it, knocked a squad car over. They dropped eight or nine shotguns on me, started screamin’ ‘Get out of the car!’ I was wavin’ my pistol around. Some rookie ran up, grabbed me by the collar – I still had the gun in my hand – and he hit me over the head with the butt end of his shotgun.
“I got eight to ten.”
Absolute genius – and so is this: Jerry Lee unleashed on YouTube. The clip is time coded and watermarked, but truly and wonderfully demented.