Friends, here’s one of my favorite gospel songs by Jerry Lee Lewis called My God Is Real. It is a traditional gospel song performed by many artists and in many born-again, Baptist, Pentecostal, “saved” churches of the southeast. However, Jerry’s version has his unique voice, phrasing and piano playing in his rockabilly/rock-and-roll/country style.
Here’s the backstory of this song. Jerry Lee was born in a small town in eastern Louisiana. His mother, Mary, whom Jerry affectionately called Mamie (Jerry was a mama’s boy, just like Elvis), was a devoted born again/saved Christian woman. She wanted her beloved son to become a Christian minister.
Jerry started singing and playing the piano when he was just 8 years old. His Mama taught him his first gospel songs. He learned to play piano with two of his cousins: Mickey Gilley who became a popular country music singer, and Jimmy Swaggart who became a well-known televangelist. They played so much that that wore the ivory right off the piano keys. When Jerry Lee was a teenager, his mother enrolled him in the Southwest Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas, to prepare him to become a minister and to thereby focus his music on gospel, religious, sacred songs.
However, at a church assembly there at the school, he sang My God Is Real that he played on the piano in boogie hillbilly or boogie woogie style. The school leaders were not pleased with this Devil-inspired or Satanic version, his profane, secular style. The next morning they kicked him out of the school.
He came back and played in local clubs and developed his own unique style of piano playing and singing. In 1956, he traveled to Memphis to record some of his songs at Sun Studio there. Also there at this time were Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, all of whom would go on to great fame.
In 1956, Jerry Lee recorded “Whole Lotta Shakin Going On,” which became his first big hit with his raucous, soaring voice and rambunctious piano playing. He was dubbed the Wild Man of early rock-and-roll and was nicknamed the “Killer” for his sexually oriented music with its decided affect on young and not-so-young ladies. His next big hit was “Great Balls of Fire” in 1957. Goodness gracious!
By 1957, Jerry had been married and divorced two times. That year he met and fell in love with his first cousin, 13-year old Myra Gale Brown, although Jerry Lee later claimed she was 15 at the time. After a whirlwind 3-month courtship, Jerry Lee somehow convinced her parents to let her marry him. So they got hitched. See the picture to the right of the two of them in 1957 — she sure looks like a very young girl.
Thirteen years later, in 1970, Myra caught Jerry Lee having sex with another woman, which apparently was not the first time this had happened. She therefore separated from him and began to file for divorce, in which she claimed that he had subjected her to all kinds of mental and physical abuse during their marriage.
At this same time, Jerry Lee’s mother was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Jerry was deeply despondent about these two events. Moreover, his popularity as a singer had reached a low ebb.
So, as Jerry Lee tells it, one dark night he got down on his knees and prayed to God and Jesus to save him, to take his many sins away, to wash him in the blood of Jesus. And he had some kind of religious awakening/conversion. He promised to no longer play rock-and-roll, secular music but only to play and sing gospel, sacred songs.
Two and one-half weeks water, in December 1970, Jerry went to the local church in Memphis that Myra had attended. (You have to wonder if he hoped that by doing so, he could influence Myra to stop the divorce proceedings.) He brought his band with him. He came to testify to his born-again conversion and to praise God by singing gospel songs. He once was lost, but now he was found.
At the start of this little over one-hour concert or testimonial, Jerry proclaimed he was “saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.” And he let out a whoop and a hallelujah in born-again fashion. I wish I had been there for this and the following music!
Then he proceeded to play twenty of his favorite gospel songs in his typical Jerry Lee style. In between the songs he talked about being saved, what it meant to him, why others should do the same, the whole nine yards. He certainly seems authentic while doing so. He is not just mothing things and putting on a show, although it must have been quite a show in its own right. He obviously believes and feels what he is saying.
Of these 20 songs, my favorite is “My God Is Real,” the very song in boogie style that got him kicked out of Bible School. Only now, he played a more low-key version of it, but which still had his characteristic stamp and qualities. I love this song. My favorite line in the chorus of this song is: “His [God’s] love for me, is like pure gold.” So, in terms of my recent Jupiterian blogs, you might say that God had electroplated him with golden energy! Whoo! Hallelujah! Hah, hah, hah! As Jerry Lee proclaimed.
The whole concert is now on CD and on YouTube after not being known about or made public for a long time. So, you can click on the YouTube link below if you want to hear parts or all of it. But do go first to the time that he started singing “My God is Real” at 47:40. (It’s song number 17.) Just move the red dot or button on the timeline at the bottom of the YouTube video to the right until you get to this 47 minutes, 40 seconds place in the video.
And enjoy. Indeed, our God is real, we can feel Him-Her in our soul. He has washed and made us whole. Hallelujah. Amen! And then, if you wish, check out some of the other songs.
Addendum: Five months later, his mother died of her lung cancer. Myra got her final divorce papers. One month after that Jerry Lee was back in the studio recording another rock-and-roll album. He later would tell Johnny Cash that throughout his life, he always had felt guilty about his rock-and-roll music that he thought might be leading people to Hell! But he never stopped, although he many times recorded other gospel music and moved into the country-and-western genre. He mellowed as he aged, like we all do. Recently he recorded a CD with Jimmy Swaggert.
He is now 87 years old and still kicking. He had a stoke a couple years ago but has recovered. However, he now stays home with his seventh wife. Before that he was still doing concerts all around the world where he was more popular than ever.
What a story, huh!? Jerry Lee, God loves you and forgives you. And so do I. And I still love your music! Fly high, brother. Fly high! His-Her love for you and me is real, it’s like pure gold. So be it!
By the way, you can order the CD from Amazon: The Gospel Church Concert 1970.
DJ Doc Pure Gold