Lonesome Onry and Mean vaguely remembers someone telling us a couple of years ago that Las Vegas bookies actually had a line on whether Chuck Berry would die that year (we think it was 2007). The macabre factor aside, remembering this Wednesday got LOM to pondering about the Godfathers of Rock and Roll and who would indeed be, per the title of Jerry Lee Lewis' recent album, the Last Man Standing
. Not meaning to demean the contributions of artists like Dave Bartholomew, but in our mind there are only four giants left: Berry, Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard Penniman.
Chuck Berry - Born Oct. 18, 1926 (age 83):
While LOM has a tender spot in our heart for all four of these amazing artists, for us Chuck Berry will always be The Man. We were lucky enough to see the Father of Rock and Roll play with the Rolling Stones at Moody Coliseum in Dallas in 1969. Chuck was riding high on "My Ding-a-Ling" at that time and his antics were, to us, an embarrassment.
But other than that, the guy could still rev it up. For all his showmanship and guitar technique, Berry is one of the truly great American songwriters (Scott Miller once called Berry the best Americana songwriter ever). While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has included three Berry songs - "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," and "Rock and Roll Music," our favorite is and always has been "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." Other favorites include "Nadine," "Oh Carol," and "No Particular Place To Go."
Jerry Lee Lewis - Born Sept. 29, 1935 (age 74):
Elvis was scared shitless of Jerry Lee Lewis. LOM remembers the night Jerry Lee fired a few shots through the gates at Graceland and told the guards to go wake Elvis up: "The Killer is here." A man of public excess, Lewis literally seemed like he was going to explode on stage.
Deeply conflicted between his church upbringing and his career playing "the devil's music," Lewis rose like a meteor with Sun Records hits "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (both of which are in the Grammy Hall of Fame), but by late 1957 had plunged into the depths of public scorn and ridicule with the revelation of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin once removed.
But Lewis battled back in the '60s by switching over to country music. Look at his eyes in this video when he was making his comeback and you can see hunger, wariness and wildman insanity in his eyes. They don't call him "The Killer" for nothing.
Fats Domino - Born Feb. 26, 1928 (age 81):
For Christmas when LOM was seven years old, we received one of those tiny suitcase record players with the player on the bottom half and a speaker in the top half. We also received a 45-rpm record of our favorite song, Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill," which seemed to on every radio in the country.
With his thick, laconic, often Caribbean-influenced New Orleans style of rock and roll, Domino stood apart from all of the other rock and roll idols of the day. With his effusive personality, he was easily one of the most likeable of the early teen rock and roll idols. LOM spent hundreds of hours listening to "I'm Walkin'," "Ain't That A Shame," "Blue Monday," "I Want To Walk You Home," and "My Girl Josephine." Rumors circulated that Domino had drowned during Hurricane Katrina, with one wild anecdote reporting that he had last been seen floating toward the Mississippi River on his piano.
The rumors proved untrue. Domino determined years ago that he would no longer leave New Orleans, declining invitations to both the White House and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Little Richard - Born Dec. 5, 1932 (age 77):
The world had simply never seen a showman like Little Richard Penniman. If you could flaunt it, Richard did in everything from having his band wear makeup to the outlandish (and often quite gay) stage duds that were to become his visual trademark. His music was over-the-top, out-of-control rock and roll and he was a true originator, one of the first to put what we now refer to as "funk" into his music.
He also had maybe the most talented band of all the early rockers. As a six-year-old, LOM remembers being driven wild by our teenage cousin's repeated playing of Richard's dynamite-explosion rockers like "Tutti Fruiti," "Good Golly Miss Molly," and the atomically magnetizing hits "Lucille" and "Long Tall Sally."
Sometimes when LOM plays their records or watches these timeless performances, we feel like our father who lived from the Model T Ford through the invention of television, space travel, computers, and the internet. Certainly it was fate that rock and roll exploded in the national consciousness just as we turned five years old and has lasted our entire lifetime.
We are often amazed that we are still alive, so we are certainly amazed that these artistic giants continue to inhabit our terra firma. They are some of our greatest national musical treasures. We won't see anything else quite like them ever again.