Fifty years ago this week, Jerry Lee Lewis arrived in Britain and revealed his young companion was his 13-year-old wife, Myra. It destroyed the rock’n’roll sensation and set the pattern for decades of pop excess
Among teenagers of a musical bent, there was much anticipation 50 years ago this week.
Jerry Lee Lewis, an American rock and roll singer with long blond hair who played a frenetic boogie woogie piano while standing up, and often with one foot on the keyboard, was on his way to Britain for a six-week tour.
This may not seem like a big deal today, as rock musicians criss-cross the Atlantic all the time, but in May 1958 it was thrilling.
To us, that first generation of rock fans, this guy was the real thing.
And that was important, because, having been completely overlooked by Elvis Presley who’d never come to Britain (and who was by then in the U.S. Army, anyway), there was a feeling that we were getting everything second-hand and missing all the fun.
True, we’d had a couple of would-be early rock stars of our own, but they were limp counterfeits like Tommy Steele, who already seemed to have one eye on becoming the dreaded all-round entertainers.
Jerry Lee Lewis, however, or, “The Killer”, as he was known, had enjoyed two classic worldwide hits with Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls Of Fire, and had even appeared in a Hollywood rock film, High School Confidential.
Nor was he middle-aged like Bill Haley. He was young and vital.
Could he possibly live up to his advance billing, those of us who bought the music papers wondered, as we read about him on our way to school.
Would he be the wild man of the Louisiana swamps we’d been led to believe?
No sooner had he landed at Heathrow than we had our answer, in no small part due to the inquiries of a Daily Mail reporter called Paul Tanfield.
Meeting the star at the airport, Tanfield noticed that there was a very young girl in The Killer’s party. Tanfield asked whom she might be.
“I’m Myra,” answered the girl. “Jerry’s wife.”
Tanfield was astonished. “And how old is Myra?” he asked Jerry Lee.
Fifteen,” the singer replied, obviously thinking that sounded suitably mature.
It wasn’t. Despite Lewis’s assertions that Myra was “a grown woman”, as far as Britain was concerned, she was below the age of consent.
The headlines the next day were not good for the star’s first day in Britain.
But they were about to get much worse when it was quickly discovered that Lewis, 22 at the time of the wedding, had been lying.
Myra wasn’t 15. She was 13, and, therefore, absolutely not a “grown woman”.
What’s more, she was the singer’s first cousin once removed. [ … ]