On This Day: Jerry Lee Lewis Makes His Grand Ole Opry Debut in 1973

by Matthew Wilson

Jerry Lee Lewis broke all of the rules when he made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1973. The artist brought his signature brand of rebel and high-wire acts on the piano. It was like someone unleashed a demon in the middle of the Circle. And for 40 minutes, this one appeared here to say.

To both his benefit and his detriment, Lewis made a career in both shock and awe. He was known as the Killer because he could knock the audience dead. His manner would make a conservative audience blush. So, perhaps the Opry wasn’t the best place for the singer. After-all, this was the establishment that scorned Elvis Presley for his over-sexed antics. But Lewis made sure Nashville never forgot him.

For instance, the Opry gave Lewis two rules to perform at their coveted halls. One of the rules was that Lewis couldn’t curse. The artist was a bit like a sailor in that regard. Lewis broke the rule almost immediately.

“Let me tell ya something about Jerry Lee Lewis, ladies and gentlemen: I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherf–ker,” Lewis said to the audience.

Jerry Lee Lewis Broke All the Rules

The other rule was no rock n’ roll. Of course, Lewis almost entirely ignored that rule. In fact, he played many of his electrifying rock n’ roll hits that first made a name for him. He treated audiences to “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” on the piano. He did also play one of his country hits “Another Place, Another Tim” as well. Lewis had found a resurgence in the 1970s in the country genre. The controversy of marrying his underaged cousin had previously killed his rising rock n’ roll career.

Lewis also filled the time with covers of Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues,” Kris Kristofferson’s “Once More With Feeling” and Elvis Presley’s “Mean Woman Blues.” The singer ignored time constraints playing for 40 minutes. Usually, a performer plays two songs for around eight minutes of stage time.

But Lewis got the audience up on their feet to jam along with him. He even treated them to a softer, slower tempo side of him, performing a moving rendition of “Down Yonder.” And despite his penchant for rule-breaking, the Opry actually invited Lewis back.