“Great Balls of Fire” passed over Linville - Part I

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No, I’m not talking about the meteor which streaked through the Russian sky, exploding and injuring 1,000 people. I’m talking about Jerry Lee Lewis exploding upon the scene at Linville School. Yes, that Jerry Lee Lewis.

The rumors are true… Jerry Lee Lewis did attend Linville School in 1952 at the age of 17, while in the eighth grade. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935, at Turtle Lake on the Calhoun Plantation, the second son of Elmo and Mary Ethel (Mamie) Lewis. He grew up on his parent’s farm in Ferriday. At an early age, his parents realized that Jerry Lee was really good on a piano, so they mortgaged their farm (and lost it) to buy Jerry Lee his first piano, a Stark upright. Jerry Lee played by ear.

Soon Jerry Lee discovered a new type of music along with his to be well-known cousins, Jimmy Lee Swaggart (Baton Rouge evangelist) and Mickey Gilley (Gilley’s Bar in Houston, made famous in Urban Cowboy). Jerry Lee started frequenting Haney´s Big House with Jimmy Swaggart, hiding behind the bar and watching the plantation workers moving to the blues.

While still young, Jerry Lee`s erratic behavior worried his mother. She finally decided to send him to the Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas. He was almost immediately expelled for playing a rock boogie version of “My God Is Real” on piano.

Around this same time, the Lewis family packed up and moved to Sterlington.

Gloria Dawn Love: “Jerry Lee was in the eighth grade when he came to Linville. Bobby Joe Garland claimed to have hauled Jerry Lee and his family’s possessions from Ferriday when they moved to Sterlington. Bobby Joe moved them in the back of an old borrowed pick-up truck, including Jerry Lee’s old battered piano. His family went to the same church that the Garlands attended, and the Lewis Family lived close to them at Sterlington. That is how he met Dorothy Barton.”

Faye Franklin: “I remember riding the school bus to Linville with Jerry Lee and Dorothy.”

Jerry Lee brought a sound and worldly presence that had never been heard or seen at Linville or anywhere else. Linville experienced the beginning stages of Jerry Lee Lewis’ open rebelliousness, his raw sexuality and unrepentant arrogance, which would galvanize his image in the public’s perception, typifying the very change that American society itself was undergoing in the 1950’s. More so than James Dean, or even Elvis himself, Jerry Lee Lewis was seen by the elder generations as a dangerously delinquent influence on the minds and psyches of innocent American youth.

Fred Franklin: “When I was in the first grade, I saw Jerry Lee playing the piano, which had been brought out on the gym floor (I assume it was up close to the bleachers for some sort of a program that afternoon). Anyway, it was on our lunch break when I heard the most unusual music I had ever heard, so I eased the gym door open enough to stick my head inside. There were high school girls dancing behind the piano, and that music was so great.

But Mr. Alton Hollis, the principal, collared me and scolded me. “Boy, what are you doing in here? You get back out on that playground where you belong!” He just about scared me to death, and before I had taken three steps, he commenced to come down on Jerry Lee severely, “If I ever see this again, I am going to...” I don’t remember the rest, but I will never forget that scene.”

Sue Phillips: “Jerry Lee was older than I, but I don’t know how much. Every day at lunch period, all of us girls ate fast so we could climb up on the stage in the gym behind that heavy velveteen curtain and watch him bang on the piano and sing. By the time he left Linville, the ivory on the piano keys was gone!”

Gloria Dawn Love: “Jerry Lee was always playing the piano in the gym and in the old music room with a few of us dancing. I remember Gracie Reppond and I were part of that group. We called it dancing. I’m sure I did not know much about dancing, but we had lots of fun.”

Union Parish native, Jon R McKinnie’s career has taken him throughout the world. Jon & his wife, Phyllis Richardson, moved back to Union Parish about four years ago. Jon currently serves as President/CEO of Union Parish’s Chamber of Commerce. Jon can be reached at president@unionparishchamber.org