Jerry Lee Lewis - Live at the Star Club, Hamburg (Phillips Records, 1964)
Vinyl Treasures: Jerry Lee Lewis - Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
Matt Stocks selects another cornerstone in the history of rock 'n' roll
"Thank you. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to say it's a pleasure; a great honour to be back, at the fabulous, most beautiful, I mean really swinging Star Club, alright!"
That's how Jerry Lee Lewis addresses the adoring crowd present at the Star Club in Hamburg on April 5, 1964, and everybody who's ever listened to this live album undoubtedly wishes they were there that night to have witnessed what is arguably the purest, rawest rock show ever committed to record. In the first four minutes alone The Killer lives up to his moniker by decimating all other live albums during his opening gambit Mean Woman Blues.
After the aforementioned formality he launches straight into a ferocious rendition of familiar hit High School Confidential, at the end of which the crowd breaks out into hysterical screams of "JERRY JERRY JERRY!” From there on in Jerry Lee has everyone lucky enough to have been in the room that night (and anyone listening to this album, some fifty years later) in the palm of his hands, and the remaining half an hour is the most relentless rock 'n' roll ride money can buy.
Of all the original rock stars, Jerry Lee Lewis was by far the most radical, dangerous and damn right out of control. He’s responsible for introducing Elvis and Johnny Cash to narcotics, which we cannot condone, but his wild side by all accounts made his performances the most exciting and unpredictable on the scene. He was essentially a one man tour-de-force that embodied the very essence of rock 'n' roll, hence the nickname The Killer.
By the end of the 1950s however, he’d all but disappeared from the live circuits after the controversy surrounding his marriage to his thirteen year old cousin had driven him underground. But as history has taught us, from the underground often emerges the most urgent and visceral art, and Live at the Star Club is both those things and more.
The album sees Jerry Lee take on the biggest popular hits of the day, songs by Carl Perkins, aka the man with the Blue Suede Shoes, the genius of Ray Charles, and the illustrious Little Richard with not only absolute ease but also sheer disregard for the originals. The reckless abandon with which he attacks each composition deems all other versions irrelevant, for the course of this record at least. You can actually hear his backing band The Nashville Teens struggling to keep up with The Killer from the opening to the final note played. That's what makes this live album so vital, even by today’s standards; there’s no count-ins, synchronised endings or even flow to procedures. The music is fast, loud and loose as rock 'n' roll should be, and the driving force is the demonic juggernaut that is Jerry Lee Lewis.
By the end of this blistering set you can only imagine what sort of a smashed up state his piano was left in. All the competition was left similarly slaughtered by the time The Killer left the stage that night, and the world wouldn’t hear anything as primal or punk as this until the arrival of the Ramones in 1976. The untamed fire of pure unadulterated rock 'n' roll burns so fiercely on this album, no amount of words or praise can really do it justice or convey just how feral the sonic experience of Live at the Star Club truly is. Just stick it on, turn it up to 11 and bask in the glory of the wildest, most eccentric live performer in the history of rock.