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Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found

By By Joe Bonomo

Continuum Books, 208 pages, $19.95 hard cover

Reviewed by Andy Turner, November 2009

Find it on Amazon
Have you ever left a concert buzzing and beaming, sweaty and soul-fried, awakened, made a true believer - an overwhelming feeling in your gut that you just witnessed musical history? Joe Bonomo certainly has and he's never forgotten. It's with this spirit he skillfully investigates what some call one of the greatest rock-n-roll performances of all time, Jerry Lee Lewis' April 4, 1964 show at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany.

The resulting album, "Live at the Star-Club Hamburg," despite being highly revered by fans and other musicians alike, is currently not in print in the U.S. (it is available from Germany-based Bear Family on compact disc and on a newly released vinyl version). The performance, dubbed the "very essence of rock & roll" by allmusic.com, serves as the centerpiece of Bonomo's book, which follows Lewis mostly from the period after his 1958 wedding scandal to a pre-teen cousin through his success on the country charts in the late 1960s and early '70s.

A professor at Northern Illinois University and author of a wildly entertaining book on The Fleshtones, Bonomo is a capable researcher and engaging writer who often shares his experiences as a music fan to good effect. His introduction to Lewis as a pre-teen in the 1970s came through a budget-line LP compilation with a lifeless, re-recorded version of Breathless that left Bonomo with little appreciation of the Killer, who he decided was "strictly Fifties and strictly out of it." He would later learn, of course, to appreciate Jerry Lee, but the youthful experience helps him consider the theme of "sincerity" and Lewis' "battles" with it, which he explores throughout "Lost and Found."

Bonomo also recalls great live shows he's attended from the Rolling Stones to the New Bomb Turks and the small number of great live albums he's listened to. He writes, "Until a live album ... can replicate tinnitus or a chest full of illicit smoke or the helpless urge to grope the painted-on Jordache ass of the girl standing in front of you, a live album risks failure." The celebrated Star-Club performance is detailed extensively from the seedy section of Hamburg where it occurred to the career of Lewis' backing band that night, the Nashville Teens.

Enlightening interviews abound including producer Jerry Kennedy, the recently departed Shelby Singleton and Jim Dickinson, and contemporary artists such as Dave Alvin, John Doe and Jim (Reverend Horton Heat) Heath. The Killer himself would not agree to be interviewed for "Lost and Found," and while his audacious voice is certainly missed, Bonomo has managed a thoroughly exciting and thoughtful story that should delight both Jerry Lee Lewis fans and anyone who's had their world shook up by a live performance.