Photo: Marty Stuart and Jerry Lee Lewis chat at the Lewis Ranch in Nesbit when the house received a Mississippi Country Music Trail marker. (file photo by Bob Bakken)
There is one person in DeSoto County who had a unique perspective on the life of rock and roll and country music legend Jerry Lee Lewis, who died Friday at age 87.
DeSoto County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Lee was Jerry Lee’s personal bodyguard and later road manager for the music legend in the early 1990s and fondly remembers the legend music. Michael Lee Friday reminisced about the first time he met and worked for Jerry Lee Lewis.
“The first time I went to work for him, I came home all excited because I flew in a Lear jet for the first time, rode in a limo, met Chubby Checker and Wolfman Jack,” Lee said. “I thought it was something I would never, ever do. I think he paid me $200 and I thought it was unreal. The next week they called me and wanted whether I could do it again because Jerry liked me.
Lee went to work for Lewis for 17 years, first as a personal bodyguard and then as a road manager.
“Every time we went on a trip somewhere, I made sure the company was taken care of,” Lee said. “We made sure everything we signed up for was there and everyone was taken care of, the group got to where it was supposed to be. I stayed with Jerry and made sure no one came into the room and made sure he got on stage safely.
Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis would go on to become one of rock’s last creators, with a generational band that included Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, the group that eventually became known as the Million Dollar Quartet for their session private music company at Sun Records of Memphis. He would settle and live at his home on Malone Road in Nesbit, known as the Lewis Ranch.
As Lewis’s life was ragged with addictions and personal and relationship issues, the piano-banging, give it all you got performer was also known for producing several big hits, such as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. , Great Balls of Fire and who became known as “The Killer”,
Of the many awards Lewis won, his last, an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, came just before his passing. Too ill to travel to Nashville to attend the ceremony, he sent a letter which was read at the induction by Hank Williams Jr. The award was later presented to him personally by Kris Kristofferson.
During the 1970s, Lewis won an Academy of Country Music award for keyboard/piano. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and has his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Three years ago, Lewis was given a Mississippi Country Music Trail marker at the Lewis Ranch by former Governor Phil Bryant and artist Marty Stuart.
However, Lewis’ health had deteriorated in recent months, and in the obituary published on his website, his wife Judith admitted that Jerry Lee had said he was ready to die.
“I spoke to him on Tuesday when he was at Olive Branch Hospital and he was talking then, but a few days later he fell into a coma,” Michael Lee said. “He had a good life.”
Lewis himself added in his 2014 biography: “I’ve had an interesting life, haven’t I?”
The Jerry Lee website states that Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, his sister Linda Gail Lewis, his cousin Jimmy Swaggart and many little ones – children, nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents Elmo and Mamie Lewis, his sons Steve Allen Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., his siblings Elmo Lewis Jr. and Frankie Jean Lewis and his cousin Mickey Gilley.
Arrangements have yet to be announced, but according to their website, the family is requesting that donations in their honor be made to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares – the nonprofit foundation of the GRAMMYs/National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
UPDATE: On Sunday, the Jerry Lee Lewis Facebook page posted the following photo, from which all services would be open to the public as space permits. “Jerry Lee Lewis loved his fans and we want them to be able to celebrate his life with us,” the post read.