I first met Linda Gail Lewis when she came to Cleveland in September of 2018 for a tour date in support of her new album with Robbie Fulks, Wild! Wild! Wild!
Lewis carries forth the tradition of 1950s rock and roll. Her technique was learned in part from her brother Jerry Lee Lewis, and it shows: by the end of the night, she was playing the keyboard standing up with one foot in the air. Her current repertoire is a mix of early rock and roll classics—she reports that “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” are always crowd favorites—and songs from her more recent albums.
My cell phone video from a favorite moment of the show.
When we had a chance to speak in greater depth, Lewis told me more about being a witness to the birth of rock and roll from following her brother on the road and beginning to perform and record herself in her teens. In the 1980s, however, inspired by figures like Wanda Jackson, Lewis embraced her own ability to rock “like a man” and forged a solo career for herself:
I had never done a vocal on a rock and roll song like “Whole Lotta shakin’ Goin’ On” or “Great Balls of Fire” and had it sound… I’d never done them. But then when I started doing them after being on the road with Wanda [Jackson] on that tour, and seeing how she sang and the way she approached—I guess it’s the way you approach the song. And the only way I can describe it, is just that it’s just balls to the wall. And I am a woman, but I do have balls. And if you are going to be a woman in this business and if you are going to sing rock and roll or play rock and roll or be a rocker—you’ve got to be a woman with balls.
Listen to more excerpts from the interview.