About a half hour south of Memphis is Nesbit, Mississippi. It’s a rural area with very little development. But Nesbit sports the home of one of rock’s early masters, Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis.
Before going to Tennessee, I read that you could go to Nesbit and visit Jerry Lee’s home, called the Lewis Ranch, and I was intrigued. Jerry Lee is still alive, and still lives part-time at the ranch. What star opens up their home for tours while they are still living in the home? It doesn’t happen in Hollywood, or Nashville or anyplace else. It’s highly unusual and an interesting opportunity. I couldn’t resist.
Unlike Graceland, the home isn’t just open – you have to make an appointment and you get a private tour. Two people give the tour – Jerry Lee’s son and Jerry’s Lee’s security guy. We got the security guy (Alex?) and we were the only two on the tour. We learned a lot about the Killer and how he lived, and got to see a ton of personal items. We even went into Jerry Lee’s bedroom. It was intimate.
I think it’s cool that Elvis is the King, but Jerry Lee is the Killer. JLL got that nickname because he was gonzo when playing the piano, and because of his wild personal life. There’s no sugar coating how influential JLL is in so many ways, including how to live the crazy rock ‘n’ roll life.
Unfortunately, the Killer wasn’t there when we toured. Apparently, he’ll show up on occasion. He reportedly has another house about 20 minutes away that is more modern, and he spends a fair amount of time there. And Jerry Lee suffered a stroke a bit ago, and so his health may not be top-notch. But I was bummed that we didn’t get to meet him personally. I’m not much of a star-chaser, but how often do you get to meet one of the original rockers and the inspiration for thousands who followed his lead? It would have been nice to say hi and tell him to read BRP, the best damn rock ‘n’ roll blog published in my house.
It wasn’t hard to find the house. You get the address, and it has a gate with a piano prominently built into it. You hit the button, the gate opens up, and off you go. Unlike Graceland, JLL doesn’t care if you take pictures and post them (except for his bedroom) and so I’ve got a ton of shots inside the house. Want to see them? Of course you do. But first, let's see the Killer in action.
This house is not opulent. JLL has had some financial issues with the IRS and maybe that has something to do with it. But what the house lacks in luxuries, it makes up for in accessibility and memorabilia. Like a lot of southern dudes, the Killer likes his guns and knives, and we got to see an armoire that he shot and the back of his bedroom door which was riddled with hundreds of knife cuts. Apparently, the Killer likes to throw his knives. And just so you know, it’s not that easy to get a knife to stick in a door. Once in college, I went to a buddy’s apartment where the boys were throwing kitchen knives into the back of a door. They were having trouble getting the knife to stick, and when I walked in, they demanded that I try. I took the knife, never having done this before, and on my first (and only) throw, I put that bitch right into the door where it stuck and wiggled. American bad ass! Haha, anyway, I watched for a while, and I’ll bet only about 30-40% of the throws resulted in a stick, and so Jerry’s door was impressive. Well, that and that he did it in his bedroom.
We saw a lot of other stuff, too. There’s a grand piano used by the Killer, and we were allowed to pose with it. Hey, just so you know, I can throw a knife, but I can’t play a lick on the piano.
There were the gold records.
There was the bar where luminaries like Johnny Cash passed out after a few too many (and few more gold records, too).
And there was the couch where Jerry Lee posed for an album cover.
We saw a lot of other items, too, much of which qualified as mementos from a long and lustrous career. Like the Jerry Lee and Skooby Doo sketch, or the keys to the jail.
Or how about Jerry Lee’s first electric piano?
He’s got a nice lake outside, and has a Rolls Royce sitting in the carport. Unfortunately, his “piano key” swimming pool is being repaired, so we couldn’t check that out. But we did go out on the back patio with a nice view of the lake. And we saw the kitchen, dining room and living room.
Let’s be real: this is not luxury living, but it’s homey and comfortable the way a normal person would live. Yeah, it needs updating, but it was cool getting to stroll around the house, hear stories of the Killer and see pictures and mementos of his life, and to do it on a very small tour. There was no need for an iPad or jitney bus here, and we hung out until we had run out of questions.
The Lewis Ranch is just another piece of the Memphis music story that hangs all over the region. You see pictures of Jerry Lee at Sun Studios, go to his house, and then hit his Beale Street honky-tonk. The presence of these influential and seminal musical personalities is universal in Memphis, and it makes it cool and different.
The Killer rocked it. Given how inspirational and influential he was on subsequent keyboard frontmen, right down to modern guys like Adam Weiner in Low Cut Connie, it was a privilege to get this kind of experience. Keep rolling, Jerry Lee, and live that rock ‘n’ roll life!
I've got so much more on Memphis - Stax Records, Jason James, Beale Street - plus some surprise stuff, too. You've just got to keep coming back and checking it out. I'll be here whenever you get the inkling.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.