Placing Jerry Lee Lewis in a studio with a working piano and rolling tape machine is a recipe for interesting results. Deep at night in the midst of the late-‘70s that’s just what happened; after nearly four decades in the can, The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings documents the Killer colluding with Sam’s son. The finished product, grooved into 180gm wax by the Saguaro Road label, is an at-times fascinating historical curiosity falling significantly short of Lewis’ finest moments, though flashes of brilliance are in evidence.
By now, the amount of combined ink and bytes employed to describe, discuss, and evaluate Jerry Lee Lewis is immense. A truly bedrock rock ‘n’ roll figure, when Lewis exploded out of Sun Studios in 1957 with “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” Elvis suddenly seemed considerably less threatening.
Attaining status as a rockabilly crossover with a ten ton personality substantially wilder than Presley’s is enough to ensconce one in the tomes of history, but inspection of Jerry Lee’s ‘50s sides, and there are many, reveals deeper substance. For starters, the piano; along with his partner in pounded-ivories Little Richard, Lewis embodied a legitimate lead-instrument alternative in the years when R&R’s fate was uncertain.
No doubt Lewis will bristle at getting lumped in with Richard Wayne Penniman. Even casual fans of the Killer know that he self-assesses into a class, if not by himself, then including only a select few. Specifically cited on this LP; Stephen Foster, Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams. But in truth, outside of a pure oldies context, there are hardly any casual Jerry Lee Lewis fans, in part due to his oversized ego; many simply can’t accept the man’s arrogance, a manner that has frequently bypassed swagger to reach a level of borderline hostility.