Jerry Lee Lewis

The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings

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"Get the Killer down on tape right and we'll make millions," growls Jerry Lee Lewis at the beginning of The Knox Phillips Session. Jerry Lee proceeds to slide into an exceptionally sleazy version of Jim Croce's "Big Bad Leroy Brown," which he riddles with references to strippers and Watergate. He calls himself a motherhumper, he calls Nixon a motherhumper, but he doesn't hesitate to sing "shit," he sounds about five sheets to the wind and concludes the whole shambling thing by slurring "I have struck again with a 14-million-selling underground record." That's a pretty good tip-off to what The Knox Phillips Sessions are. Recorded by Knox Phillips, the son of Sun founder Sam, in either the mid- or late '70s -- roughly around the time Killer was concluding or had concluded his contract with Mercury -- it's hard to imagine there were ever commercial considerations for these sessions. They're too loose, Jerry Lee sounds too rough (which is just a kind way of saying he often sounds drunk), he spends a fair amount of time threatening to kick his band's ass, the repertoire draws heavily from songs he's sung many, many times before, including songs by Chuck Berry, Stephen Foster, hymns, and "Room Full of Roses," the old George Morgan tune he takes at a speed similar to his cousin Mickey Gilley's hit version. All of these things doomed these recordings to stay unreleased for years but they're also the reason to hear The Knox Phillips Sessions now that they've been released from the vaults. It's hard to say that this record captures Jerry Lee Lewis at either his purest or best -- it doesn't have the fury of either his live '60s sessions or his Sun sessions, while the finesse of the studio Mercury sides are missed; here, his playing is sloppy and his rhythm section has a tendency to plod -- but it is thoroughly him in its attitude and aesthetic. He bends all these songs to suit where he's at in the moment, the songs finding a different life according to when he sings them, and he just happened to be soused, vulgar, and nasty at this point in the '70s. Lewis isn't as demented on this "underground" record as David Allan Coe is on his, but that's because the Killer wasn't trolling: he was just recording songs he wanted to sing when he was half blitzed in the studio late at night. This makes it a throwaway but one that's special: it's Jerry Lee Lewis performing for no one but himself and no matter how ragged it is, that's something to cherish.

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