Jerry Lee Lewis – Live At The Star Club Hamburg (1965)

Live at the Star Club is a 1964 live album by rock and roll pianist Jerry Lee Lewis and The Nashville Teens. The album was recorded at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany on April 5, 1964. It is regarded by many music journalists as one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever, noted for its hard-hitting energy and Lewis’ wild stage presence

Live at the Star Club was produced by Siggi Loch, who was head of the jazz department at Philips Records. In Joe Bonomo’s book Lost And Found, Loch states that “…I realized that there were all of these young, mainly British, bands who were playing Chuck Berry and other white American rock & rollers, their big heroes…And I went to the owner and made a proposal to start recording bands at the Star-Club, which I did.” According to Loch the recording setup was uncomplicated, with microphones placed as close to the instruments as possible with a stereo mike placed in the audience to capture the ambience. The results were sonically astonishing, with Bonomo observing that “Detractors complain of the album’s crashing noisiness, the lack of subtlety with which Jerry Lee revisits the songs, the fact that the piano is mixed too loudly, but what is certain is that Siggi Loch on this spring evening captured something brutally honest about the Killer, about the primal and timeless center of the very best rock & roll…”

Sixteen songs were recorded over two sets, the first set comprising “Down The Line,” “You Win Again,” “High School Confidential,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “What’d I Say (Parts 1 & 2), and “Mean Woman Blues.” The second set featured “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Matchbox,” “Money,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Lewis Boogie,” “Hound Dog,” “Long Tall Sally” and “I’m On Fire.” “Down The Line,” omitted on the original LP due to a sound fault at the beginning, was released on French Mercury single Les Rois du Rock, Vol. 8 : Jerry Lee Lewis and included on later CD and LP releases of Bear Family Records. The tapes for “You Win Again” and “I’m On Fire” are believed to have been lost.

For decades the album was available only in Europe due to legal constraints. In 2014, Lewis told biographer Rick Bragg “Oh, man, that was a big monster record” but that the record company “never paid me a penny.” Speaking to Patrick Doyle of Rolling Stone in 2014, Lewis remained proud that he “stuck with rock & roll when the rest of them didn’t, I kept the ball rollin’ with that.

Track Listing:

High School Confidential
Great Balls of Fire
Good Golly, Miss Molly
Lewis’ Boogie
Your Cheating Heart
Long, Tall Sally
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Review: Words cannot describe — cannot contain — the performance captured on Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, an album that contains the very essence of rock & roll. When Jerry Lee Lewis performed the concert that became this album in the spring of 1964, his career was at its lowest point. Following his scandalous marriage to his teenage cousin, he was virtually blacklisted in the U.S., and by 1964 it had been six years since he had a real hit single, he was starting his recording career again with a new label, and, to make matters worse, America had fallen in love with the Beatles and the bands that followed in the British Invasion, leaving him exiled from the charts. Ironically, he wound up in the Beatles’ old haunt of the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, in the spring of 1964, backed by the Nashville Teens, who still had yet to have a hit with “Tobacco Road” (which would scale the charts later that year). Lewis and the Nashville Teens had been touring throughout the group’s native England for about a month, capped off by a stint at the Star Club, where the band played for two weeks, but was only joined by the Killer for one night, which was what was captured on this incendiary recording. Who knows why this was a night where everything exploded for Jerry Lee Lewis? It sounds like all of his rage at not being the accepted king of rock & roll surfaced that night, but that probably wasn’t a conscious decision on his part — maybe the stars were aligned right, or perhaps he just was in a particularly nasty mood. Or maybe this is the way he sounded on an average night in 1964. —Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Schill Score: 10/10

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