A Lewis canon on deck for whole lotta fakin' goin' on
Ezra Lee, shakin' but not stirred, as Jerry Lee Lewis. Photo: Wayne Taylor
WHEN Ezra Lee makes his theatrical debut in the Jerry Lee Lewis tribute show Last Man Standing next April there won't be a whole lotta shakin' goin' on - not from nerves, anyway.
At 26, Lee is a musical veteran. He was born and bred in the country capital, Tamworth (he now lives on the family turf farm in Newcastle) and has played in countless blues and rockabilly bands over the years, including in a trio with his 15-year-old brother on drums and their father on bass.
In fact, his Wikipedia entry claims he started playing aged four. Is that true? ''It's true,'' he says. ''But I was s---house.''
His direction was set early. Visiting his uncle's house, he says, he heard a 78rpm recording of Memphis Slim, fell in love with his blues piano, and ''I've been into it ever since''.
Live, Lee pounds the keyboard and stomps his foot and backside on it in true Jerry Lee Lewis style. But despite the physical resemblance and musical similarities, he will not be playing ''the Killer'' in Last Man Standing so much as channelling him.
That's a pragmatic decision as much as an artistic one, writer-producer Jim McPherson, 78, confesses. ''We can perform the songs and all we need to do is pay the APRA fees. But the minute you have someone on stage saying, 'I'm Jerry Lee Lewis', you have to get permissions, you have to pay publisher royalties, which are much higher, and it all takes so much longer. It's a nightmare.''
As writer-producer of the Johnny Cash tribute show Man in Black (as well as tributes to John Denver, Dudley Moore and Eva Cassidy) McPherson is clearly an expert in the distinction between playing a star and paying tribute to them.
In Last Man Standing, Lee gets to play some of his own songs as well as Lewis ones. It is, says McPherson, less a narrative than his earlier shows and more an attempt to join the dots between gospel music and rock'n'roll, between black American ''church'' music and the white ''devil's music'' it helped spawn. ''It's a gospel rock opera,'' he says, ''complete with libretto.''
It's hard to know what Jerry Lee Lewis would make of that, but he may yet share his thoughts.
At 77, Lewis is still playing. In fact, he and Lee shared the bill at a rockabilly convention in Las Vegas last year.
Lee recalls seeing Lewis come on stage to calm a crowd of Hells Angels, who were throwing bottles at the support act - Lewis' sister. He says he saw Lewis open with a beautiful rendition of Georgia, despite the rowdiness of the bikies he'd just told to ''shut the f--- up'', and then kick the piano stool away just like he did in his glory days to launch into Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.
And the old foot on the keyboard stunt - does he still do that too? ''He does,'' Lee says. ''But these days he has a guy who comes out and helps to put his leg up there. But he still played great, man.''