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Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock's 'Last Man Standing'

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Jerry Lee Lewis.

Any history of rock 'n' roll is sure to acknowledge the influence of piano master Jerry Lee Lewis, who popularized his own brand of rock, often getting so enthusiastic that he'd kick the piano bench out from under him and play standing up.

Lewis was born in Louisiana in 1935 and mostly taught himself to play piano. He was too willful a student for his local piano teacher — he was even expelled from Bible school for reworking a hymn with his own personal piano style. As a young man, Lewis set off to Memphis with his father to pursue a music career and was quickly signed to Sun Records, which had just lost Elvis Presley to RCA but still had Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.

Lewis' massive hits "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" were both released in 1957. His subsequent tour, however, revealed that he had married his 13-year-old cousin, and his reputation never fully recovered. Though he was shunned from the world of popular music, Lewis was eventually accepted again by the country scene and released several chart-topping songs. His latest studio album, his first in more than 10 years, is Last Man Standing. Released in September, it features duets with such music legends as Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen.

This segment originally aired on Oct. 12, 2006.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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