Phoebe Lewis picked up the phone on the first ring. "I just put Jerry Lee on a plane," she said. "If you need a quote, it's probably not gonna happen. I'm so sorry, honey. I forgot. I don't feel so good. Dealing with all this IRS bull—unfucking believable."
"Yeah, those sons of bitches are the worst," I said.
"Amen," she sighed.
The needle had been grinding at the center groove of my Gino Washington LP all night, but it didn't wake me up till about 2. My covers were sticky from a beautiful Wild Turkey sour served by a shapely, less-than-wholesome blonde. She was gone, I think. I felt about how I felt when I walked home from that party with three broken ribs and a punctured lung, and as I stuffed the record back into its sleeve, I decided to call Billy Miller and Miriam Linna from Norton Records because they knew everyone who was anyone in rock & roll sleaze.
"Hey, Billy, I'm doing a thing on Jerry Lee, and I wanted to get a story from you," I said, after Miriam had passed the phone over.
"I got nothin'," he said. He sounded tired and old.
"You gotta be kidding me."
"Well, I once met him in 1980. He was nice, so I was respectful."
"I was hoping for something more on par with Hasil Adkins staying at your place and eating the can of Campbell's soup that was autographed by Andy Warhol," I said. "Or Esquerita screaming into your answering machine, 'WHA'S LIL RITCHUD DOIN' ON YER ARCACON?'"
"Yeah," said Billy. "I'm sorry."
The Jerry Lee Lewis and Friends video was pancaked with dust when I fished it out of the bottom of a box in the back of my closet. It was a set from 1987 in England; 1987 was the worst year that ever existed. Let's start with how many mustaches were onstage. Jerry Lee was yelling "Guitar time!" across the top of his piano any time he wanted a lead played, and James Burton would twitch his fat hairy lip and accompany him. At one point, I spit out the Tab I was drinking because Jerry Lee started in on the mic about himself in the third person: "Jerry Lee is 54 years old, and thank God he's still here!"
I drank three bottles of orange Mad Dog and watched five episodes of Green Acres. I wanted to throw around some horseshoes. During a commercial, I tried calling Phoebe. "Call me back, cupcake," I told the answering machine. That next morning, I didn't know where my pants went and I had a hickey. I figured I blacked out and called the first name in my book. April or something.
I had Billy Lee Riley jerking out a wobbly tune about spaceships on my portable record player as I showered. Jerry Lee banged the keys on this. He sounded like he wanted to be playing lead instead of sitting around in the background. I wanted to ask him how he got on with guitarist Roland James at the Sun Records sessions. So I rang up Phoebe and got the answering machine.
"Hi, muffin, this is James from California," I said. "I just wanted to ask your dad a couple of questions about stuff. Call me when you get your head screwed on straight."
Then I picked up this cute religious gal for a date later that night. I took her to the Crystal Cathedral parking lot. It didn't occur to me that the church was closed until the officer tapped on my steamed-up window with his flashlight and asked my date to put her shirt back on. "Don't tell anyone," she said. "I'm supposed to be a good Mormon."
My band was watching the weeds grow in the parking lot at 3 for a soundcheck that didn't really happen till 7. The single bottle of vodka in our dressing room was gone, and the headlining dinosaurs were still making sure their flip-flops were on just right. It was totally worth it to use our time onstage as a standup act. Thank god we got kicked off the next night's show. Made me think fondly of the time Jerry Lee set fire to his piano, walked over to closing act Chuck Berry, smirked like an alligator and—legend has it—said, "I'd like to see you follow that!"
"Hi, is Phoebe there? Hi, my name's James. I'm writing a piece about your dad because he's playing out here on the 28th."
"Oh, honey, my daddy doesn't do phone interviews," she said. But I could hear Jerry Lee mumbling something in the background. Phoebe put her hand on the receiver and asked him what he wanted.
"It won't really be an interview," I said. "It'll just be a phone conversation between two gentlemen."
"He doesn't do conversations either, honey."
"So," I said, "how's your music career going?"
"I haven't done that in years!," she said, laughing. "I'm running around with my head cut off today. Gotta take my daughter to the dentist. Can you call me back tomorrow?"
"Sure thing, beautiful. Isn't music the worst invention ever?"
"You got that right, cupcake!" she said. "You're sweet!"
Jerry Lee Lewis performs with the Supersuckers (acoustic) at The House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Sat., 8 p.m. $40. All ages.
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