Some audiences are easier to please than others. The small but enthusiastic crowd that turned out to witness the only London show on Linda Gail Lewis's European tour were determined to enjoy themselves and she provided them with a massive dose of exactly what they wanted - a little bit of country and a whole lotta rock'n'roll.
Opening with an energetic Boogie Woogie Country Girl and Rockin' My Life Away, she got the proceedings off to a roaring start, and the pace rarely dropped below wild and frantic throughout the entire set. With a piano playing technique based closely on the style of her brother, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a voice sufficiently powerful that, on occasions, use of the microphone was almost rendered unnecessary, this was not an evening for the fainthearted.
Linda was obviously enjoying herself as much as her audience as she accelerated through Matchbox and the Brenda Lee classic, Let's Jump The Broomstick.
The tempo stackened as she performed her own composition, the bluesy
I'll Take Memphis, and then it was back to full throttle for
an interesting arrangement of Cottonfields and a run through
the Jerry Lee hit list with High School Confidential, Great
Balls Of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin'.
Linda was backed by the evergreen Johnny & The Roccos, fronted by guitarist Bob Fish and ably assisted by drummer Dave Machin and new slap bass man Mick Ginzel from Germany.
The years have been kind to Linda, who does not seem to age at anything approaching the same rate as the rest of us. Maybe a contented marriage with her eighth - or is it ninth? - husband has something to do with it. Anyway, she hit the spot perfectly at the 100 Club.
The audience wouldn't let her finish even after the scheduled encores, Long Tall Sally and Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Back she came again, making four encores in all, eventually closing with a slow and soulful Dark End Of The Street which is destined to be heard again on her forthcoming album release.
The Killer would have been proud of his little sister: nothing too subtle, just food, honest entertainment - and a lot of fun.
Van Morrison first met Linda Gail Lewis at a Jerry Lee Lewis convention at the King's Hotel in Newport in south Wales in 1993. She was performing and he was just hanging out but there was an immediate rapport.
But it was several years before they met again. "He invited me to have dinner with him. We talked over dinner and found we appreciated a lot of the same music," Linda Gail recalls.
"Then I went to see him play in Cardiff. My brother Jerry Lee is such a great performer and musician that you imagine you've heard everything. But I stood on the side of the stage and when Van started singing it was incredible. He has such a magic in his voice."
After the show, Van suggested they got together and played some songs. "But I didn't realise I was going to be singing with him. He did a couple of blues songs and I played piano for him. It was just a private room. We'd been talking about one of my brother's songs we both loved called "Let's Talk About Us". It was written by Otis Blackwell who wrote "Great Balls of Fire" but it wasn't really well known. Van asked if I knew the words so I wrote them down for him and he asked me to sing it with him. Suddenly I was rehearsing duets with Van Morrison."
Van was so impressed he asked Linda Gail if she was free the following week and booked a studio on his mobile phone there and then. "I didn't imagine much would come of it. My hope was that maybe one song might be good enough to emerge on one of his albums," Linda Gail says.
And she was not used to Van's way of working. "He likes to cut everything live. I'd never done that since I made a duets album with my brother back in 1969, I honestly didn't think I could do it. I was convinced I was going to mess it up so I didn't have high expectations.
"I was supposed to be playing the piano, reading the lyrics, watching Van and singing - all in one live take. Everybody's feeding off each other and you've got all this engery and chemistry. I didn't realise what a genius he is until I saw how he works. Even the harmonica solos he did live and he's cueing the band at the same time. It's all spontaneous and so it's very exciting."
Yet she found similarities between Van and Jerry Lee's approaches. "Van's a performer in the studio like my brother is. Those guys aren't just in there recording, they're giving a performance. That's what you end up getting on the tape and that's why it's magic. I just relaxed and decided to have a good time - which is maybe why it worked so well."
They cut nine songs together before Linda Gail returned home to Tennessee, not expecting to hear any more about it. When she returned to Britain, Van invited her to tea and told her he planned to release an album of their duets. They went back into the studio and cut seven more songs.
"The song selection was easy because we both loved the same stuff," she says. "I love "Jambalaya" and I play that in my set, so we did that. And there were more Hank Williams' songs like "You Win Again" and "Why Don't You Love Me". We did a great version of "A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues". Then we cut "Old Black Joe" by Stephen Foster. In our research we came across a Smiley Lewis album in Van's collection and picked "Real Gone Lover" off that."
They also cut one new Van Morrison composition called "No Way Pedro". "Most of the songs are covers but in a way they're not because Van totally reinvents them. We played the songs once before we recorded; that's Van's idea of rehearsal. It's a very real and honest album and I think people are starving for this kind of music. You could say that it's country or rock 'n' roll or blues or r&b, because it's all those things," Linda Gail says.
"Van is a genius as a vocalist and I didn't know if I would be able to phrase and harmonise with him because his style is so unique. But I did it. I don't totally understand what happened but when we sang together we seemed to know what each other was going to do. People have said he's hard to work with. But he's not. It's a challenge at times but if you're going to be creative you need that. I was amazed at what a good country singer he is. It was incredible. It's like you're listening to Hank Williams."
When she first heard the mixes, Linda Gail admits she was reduced to tears. "It took me back to the first time I heard my brother's records. It's got the same magic those old Sun recordings had. In fact the whole experience was a lot like playing with my brother. These two guys have given their whole lives to creating wonderful music and I put Van right up there with Jerry Lee."
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Great balls of fire! It seems Jerry Lee Lewis is not the only member of his family capable of bringing "the Devil's music" to the masses.
His kid sister, Linda Gail Lewis, has teamed up with Van Morrison to record a rockabilly duets album, "You Win Again" (Virgin), and to hit the road with the Irish rock veteran.
Lewis, in fact, is the only person to have sung with both combustible personalities -- and she lived to tell the tales. The secret, she says, is to realize that geniuses require special handling.
"Both of these guys, they've given their all to music," Lewis, 53, told Reuters in an interview. "They put the music first. That's why their personal lives, maybe, have suffered to some degree."
Lewis plays piano, just like her 65-year-old brother, nicknamed "Killer," who helped pioneer rock 'n' roll more than 40 years ago via rollicking anthems such as "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" and "Great Balls of Fire."
But Jerry Lee's career was often derailed by his tempestuous behavior, tax and health problems, not to mention the public fury when he married a 13-year-old cousin.
Morrison, 55, rarely sits down for interviews and says little when he does. During his eclectic 35-year career, the Belfast native has delved into roots music by collaborating with the Chieftains, John Lee Hooker and Lonnie Donegan.
Wedding Bell Blues
Linda Gail Lewis has her own hell-raising past and is now on her eighth marriage. Raised in a strict, poverty-stricken family in Ferriday, Louisiana, she was married when she was 14 and her husband was 25.
He killed himself a year later for unknown reasons. "And my brother was so mean to me about it," she recalled. "He said, 'Well Linda, it's all because of you, I think!'"
But Jerry Lee was mostly generous to his sister, who was about 9 when he hit it big and started sharing the wealth with his family.
"We lived in a shack. My mother had two dresses, that's all she had. And we were very, very poor. As soon as my brother started making money, he immediately brought us a beautiful house, a beautiful brand new Fleetwood Cadillac, thousands of dollars' worth of clothes," Linda Gail said.
She was bitten by the showbiz bug around that time when she performed onstage during a show he headlined with Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, singing the latter's "A White Sport Coat."
But the going got rough a few years later when word belatedly spread about Jerry Lee's 1957 marriage to their distant cousin Myra Gale Brown.
Linda Gail's school chums shunned her, which is why she got married -- so she could drop out. By 16 she had been married three times. She toured with her brother as a backing vocalist for 15 years and recorded a hit duets album with him in 1969.
She also found time to marry her brother's tour director (twice) and his band leader.
"I was brought up to think that if you're going to be with someone you should be married to them, and I was very lonely and a hopeless romantic and just looking for love and trying to be happy," she said.
Flying Solo At 39
The basic piano chords Jerry Lee had shown her when she was a kid came in handy when she decided to launch her own solo career at 39 by playing the rock 'n' roll circuit in Europe. She and her brother cross paths as they venture from one gig to another, and he is supportive of her efforts.
She issued a self-titled album on the U.K. arm of Warner Bros. about 18 months ago and is in talks with several U.S. labels to release the album Stateside next spring.
Separately, Morrison and Jerry Lee have been friends ever since the latter spent time in Ireland to escape the Internal Revenue Service. They were supposed to record together a few years ago but were never able to nail down any sessions because of Lewis' health and tax problems, his sister said.
Morrison and Linda Gail renewed a passing acquaintance last year and he eventually added her to his retinue.
"He actually treats me even better than my brother did, and my brother was always like really good to me," Lewis gushed. "But Van shares his stage with me, he shared this album with me, he really respects me and he likes what I do."
The new album boasts 12 cover tunes including the title track penned by Hank Williams, John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" and the Morrison original "No Way Pedro," which has just been issued as a single.
Their touring schedule will take them to the Royal Albert Hall in April, making Linda Gail the first member of her family to play the famed London venue, and then to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. She is also singing backup vocals on Morrison's next album, which will be a solo effort.
She thinks there is a good chance that Morrison and the Lewis siblings could form a trio since Jerry Lee would likely want a piece of the fun.
"I used to think there was only one really, really great entertainer, and that was Jerry Lee Lewis," she said. "But now I know there's two and I have worked with both of them."
"I strolled down Congress to have a peak inside the Continental Club, the roots-rock mecca where Sirius XM Outlaw Country radio host Mojo Nixon usually holds a Saturday afternoon throwdown. That turned out to be true on this day, and not only was legendary record man Seymour Stein - who signed The Ramones, Madonna and The Replacements, among others - in attendance, but Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee's 68 year old little sister, was sitting at the piano tearing it up in a hard driving boogie woogie style with staggeringly impressive technique, and occasional use of her heel on the keys to strike a note of emphasis .