Music has always been part of my life. Not the melodious tones of a mother singing lullabies or children’s songs-oh, no-Mother couldn’t carry a tune-but the popular, upbeat rhythms of the fifties, as well as the traditional gospel songs performed in churches across the country. Rock of Ages as well as Rock ‘n Roll were part of my musical education.
Because my parents loved to dance, we owned most of the popular 45s of the day and it wasn’t unusual to come home after school and watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on the black and white TV, while Mother ironed. I remember lying on the bed in my parent’s bedroom watching the show with my mother positioned just at the edge of my peripheral vision, ironing the clothes and tapping her toes. In addition to the newest stars being showcased on Bandstand, we listened to Buddy Holly, the Ames Brothers, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Dion and as always, the King-Elvis, himself. The night Elvis was on the Ed Sullivan Show, the four of us-Mother, Daddy, Sissy and me gathered around the television set and watched history being made. While some parents, I am certain, shielded their children from the gyrations of the boy from Memphis, my parents were teaching us how to Shake, Rattle and Roll.
Along with Elvis, was the ever controversial Jerry Lee Lewis, whose rising star catapulted after his appearance of the Steve Allen Show in 1957. Sometime in that same period and after the introduction of his signature song, Great Balls of Fire, Jerry Lee Lewis performed in our southern Indiana town of Evansville at the Armory.
Alice and Festus, a young couple from Tennessee who lived across the street from us, knew Jerry Lee and invited the four of us to the concert. It was my very first concert, and although I knew little about him, Mother and Daddy were very excited for the opportunity to see “The Killer” live, and on stage.
At the concert, while we watched from wooden folding chairs in our front row seats, Jerry Lee mesmerized the crowd with his talent, his connection to the audience and his wild and fierce banging of the piano keys. His red, curly hair wrapped around his face and when he pushed back his piano bench to play Great Balls of Fire, the audience went wild.
Unlike some memories, I remember his performance quite vividly, but more importantly, I remember when we went back stage to meet “The Killer” in person. Introduced by our neighbors, Jerry Lee leaned down and held out his hand to Sissy and me and said what a pleasure it was to meet us. We weren’t fully in tune with his bad boy celebrity status, but the occasion certainly felt momentous and important to two little girls. And, from that point on there was always a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On in the Strange house. Care to dance?