LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “The Killer” is running low on ammo as he marks his 75th birthday on Wednesday.
Jerry Lee Lewis can still pound out “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire” on his piano, and he just released a new album with help from the likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Kid Rock and Willie Nelson.
But a Q&A session with the rock ‘n’ roll legend at the Grammy Museum on Tuesday was an uncomfortable experience as a blank-faced Lewis sat at a piano and mumbled brief answers to a moderator’s questions that he had heard a million times before.
How was his Sun Records labelmate Carl Perkins? “A great guy, a very dear friend.”
How about Chuck Berry? “Awesome, fantastic.”
His reaction to meeting the Beatles? “Those boys are gonna be big.”
Does he play piano at home? “A little bit.”
Lewis is on the promotional trail for the album, “Mean Old Man,” whose Kris Kristofferson-written title track has generated some laughs. Lewis was quite the hellraiser back in the 1950s, and modern-day fans would still like to picture him as a wild child spreading the devil’s music.
Is he, in fact, a mean old man? “No,” he said to laughs. “I just heard the demo on it and I said, ‘That is a hit.’”
Moreover he did not even know that the song, featuring Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, would become the album title.
At any rate, the CD artwork suggests that a better title might have been “Dirty Old Man.” Lewis, seated in an old limo, is greeted by four fresh-faced young women evidently eager to get their hands on him. Lewis is smiling.
One imagines his collaboration with Sheryl Crow on “You Are My Sunshine” was a personal highlight. He described the 48-year-old rocker as “a good looking little girl.”
He struggled to remember the names of any of his other guest collaborators, and brushed off a lengthy question about his cover of Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” saying its inclusion was a management decision.
The brains behind the project were Phoebe Lewis, his daughter and manager, and its producers, session drummer Jim Keltner and property heir Steve Bing.
Just as Lewis does not like to waste words, he also wasted little time in the studio, Keltner said. Most of the songs were done in one take, just like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” both of which Lewis performed on Tuesday.
“When we got into studio with Jerry Lee he took over,” Keltner said. “He sat down and played, we fell in with him and God help the guitar players, see if they could make all ... the chord changes happen.”
Referring to the title of Lewis’ previous all-star album from 2006, Keltner described him as “the last man standing ... There’s three guys from that era left. There’s Chuck, Little Richard and Jerry Lee, and that’s getting slim.
“When you have these great original guys that created this stuff still alive and you’re asked to be a part of it, or if there’s an opportunity for you to ask to be a part of it, you don’t pass that up,” Keltner said.
Editing by Doina Chiacu