Review: Jerry Lee Lewis – The Essential Sun Country Hits (Varese Sarabande, 2010)
Few remember that Jerry Lee Lewis’ first recording for Sun was a 1956 cover of Ray Price’s classic, “Crazy Arms.” Lewis’ country roots were largely overshadowed by the string of incendiary rock ‘n’ roll sides he recorded in the late 50s, and all but buried by the scandal that derailed his career in 1958. It wasn’t until the mid-60s, at Smash Records, that Lewis once again found sustained commercial success, but this time on the country chart as a balladeer. His renewed popularity led then-Sun owner Shelby Singleton to dig up earlier unreleased country sides, including three from Lewis’ last Sun session in 1963, and release them as singles. Varese’s fourteen-track collection pulls together three sides released at the time of Lewis’ tenure with Sun, eight sides first released by Singleton between 1969 and 1972, and three sides that went unreleased as singles, but have turned up on various compilations over the years. Tht titles include several top-10s, 20s and 40s, but more interestingly, it shows that Sun had tried Lewis out on the country chart with a 1958 cover of Charlie Rich’s “I’ll Make it All Up to You” and used “It Hurt Me So” as a B-side. Lewis’ success at Smash comes as no surprise once you’ve heard these tracks he waxed at Sun in the late 50s and early 60s. He’s a talented and nuanced country singer and honky-tonk pianist whose love of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams is born out in covers of the former’s “Waiting for a Train” and the latter’s “I Could Never Be Ashamed of You.” What does remain surprising is how easily he dropped his outsized rock ‘n’ roll persona to sing these more intimate songs of woe. To complete the picture of Lewis’ country career you’ll need to pick up a collection of his Smash hits, such as Killer Country, but the roots were clearly planted with these efforts at Sun.