THE DAY TOM JONES UPSTAGED JERRY LEE LEWIS

( Posted on April 19, 2013 by Tim Prosser for iponymous-blog)

images-11 Toward the end of 1966 we were working the club circuit in the North of England. We happened to be playing in Leeds when it was brought to our attention that Tom´s idol, Jerry Lee Lewis, was performing at a hall in the same city. It wasn´t just Tom Jones that idolized Jerry Lee Lewis, we were all great admirers and loved the man and his music. There was hardly any discussion, we all decided to descend on The Killer and take in his show.

Vic Cooper was pressed into service to drive Tom to the gig in his new Rolls. He wanted to make an entrance. The rest of us piled into the van and were driven there by Chris Ellis. The hall was packed to the rafters and we all stood at the back. Jerry Lee made his entrance backed by his four musicians and launched into a cracking start, he went down a storm. jerry-lee-lewis1
Some of the audience noticed Tom standing with the band at the back of the venue, and heads started to turn as the message rippled through the audience. Pretty soon they began chanting for Tom to get up and sing. This didn´t pass unnoticed by Jerry Lee Lewis, he wasn´t called The Killer for nothing. Not only could he beat a piano to death, it was well documented his wild streak ran deep. He was reputed to have a vile temper and at that moment his face was like thunder. But the chanting just got louder and louder.

Finishing *Great Balls Of Fire* midway through the song, he kicked over his chair and glared at the audience, staring them down. It looked as if he was going to reach down into the audience grab someone and throttle them to death. Jerry Lee told the audience they were welcome to Tom Jones and then he stormed off stage.
That was the cue for the audience to push and hustle Tom up on stage. Tom, being Tom, was basking in the attention, it was evident he was relishing it, and allowed himself to be manhandled up onto Jerry´s recently vacated stage. We were all shocked, and even more shocked when he grabbed the mike and called for us all to join him onstage. I was cringing and I turned to the rest of the band and could see they were mortified too. Jerry Lee Lewis was our hero for goodness sake. I remember motioning to the exit and we all started edging toward it.

Then Tom asked the audience to help get The Squires up on stage, and they duly started chanting and hustling us forward. We had no choice but to join him onstage. It was even more embarrassing when Jerry´s band handed over their instruments to us and left the stage to join Jerry in the dressing room. I remember thinking at the time, you just don´t do that sort of thing to a fellow artiste. I think in Tom’s case he wanted to prove that he could outshine his hero.
green-green-grass-of-home We launched into a load of rock n roll songs ending with ‘Not Unusual’ and left the stage to thunderous applause. The audience stayed rooted to the spot waiting for Jerry to come back on, but they would have a long wait. The venue manager had to eventually inform them that Jerry would not be finishing his act. There were loud catcalls and boos all around. But you could hardly blame him, he´d been undermined big-time.

We all felt incredibly guilty and traipsed backstage and knocked on Jerry´s dressing room door. He called us in. There he was sitting in a chair looking utterly miserable. Tom apologized for being ‘forced to override Jerry’ and went on to gush about how he was such a massive fan, and how Jerry had been his inspiration. The Killer responded with a glare that could have peeled paint. Needless to say our visit to the dressing room was very short lived, some of Jerry’s band could see which way the wind was blowing and hustled us out. Jerry obviously never forgot the experience because many years later he confronted Tom and they almost came to blows.
Tom and Gordon were both down in the dumps during that period. There was no sign of another chart hit on the horizon. What had made matters worse was that Wilson Pickett had berated Tom both personally and through the press, telling him to, ´stop recording the crap he´s bringing out and be a soul brother´. Tom´s voice was as soulful as any black singer and if he had taken Pickett´s advice he might have found a real rich niche at the time. Gordon wasn’t convinced and wanted to keep chopping and changing: blues, soul, country and western, rock n roll, jazz, folk and a mixture of mainstream pop. It was pretty dizzying for us, God only knows what it was like for Tom.



In the end, funnily enough, it was Jerry Lee Lewis he had to thank. In the Autumn Tom was going through his record collection and came across an album of country songs by Jerry Lee. He was really taken with one of the tracks and played it over and over. He told me later that he’d played it so many times that the grooves on the vinyl were almost worn right through. The track was called The Green, Green Grass of Home.
I remembered that back in Wales Tom had a yearning for country music, almost as much as he loved rock n roll. The culture of the Welsh valleys identified with that whole mid-west American sound, the open scenery, the psyche, the whole ambience struck a real resonant chord.
The Green, Green Grass of Home, was a track from an album entitled, Country Songs for City Folks. The song had already been covered by a host of stars in America, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis. Most of the earlier arrangements were mild, toned down instrumental affairs. Les Reed on the other hand gave Tom´s version a much lusher makeover, complete with a string section and vocal backing. Tom said at the time,´It was the right song. Some numbers are so personal they can hardly fail. There is an immediate bond between the singer, the lyrics and the audience. What makes me especially proud is that it was chosen by me alone. I knew instinctively that it was right for me.´



The song had been written by Claude Curly Putnam Junior, Inspired by a film called The Asphalt Jungle. The film starred Marilyn Monroe, and one memorable scene depicts a gangster who wants to return home to his farm before he dies. At the end of the movie he collapses, bleeding and shot through with bullet holes, onto the green, green grass of home.
The song was released in November 1966 and went to number one in the charts in December of that year. It sold over one million copies in the UK alone and went onto to eclipse that figure when it was released in America. The song appealed to a far broader audience than previous hits and because of this Gordon decided to ‘spruce up’ Tom’s image. Gordon got him to wear beautifully handmade suits and large bow ties. Colourful shirts, jeans and black trousers were now banned. The Squires were also smartened up with dark blue suits. The jackets had high collars, which was my idea, based on the seventieth century coats that local squires would have originally worn back then. Elvis commented on the suits when we met him in Las Vegas in 1968, he told us he was going to get himself some jumpsuits made with similar collars. He certainly did, I remember seeing his white rhinestone encrusted jump suit and the collar was enormous, it dwarfed ours…

source: Jerry Lee Lewis Forum

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