She was driving a car at 11, married (for the first of 8 times) by 14 and joined her brother Jerry Lee Lewis on tour as a teen. She flirted with ‘60s pop stardom after recording a hit duet album with Jerry Lee but remained part of his touring group until middle age, at which point she began building a solid solo career, even while also working with Van Morrison. Now, at 71, she’s working with Robbie Fulks, they have a hot new album (Wild! Wild! Wild!) and she looks back on her career with gratitude and grit, in conversation with Michael Shelley.
A while back I heard
that one of my favorite record makers, Robbie Fulks, was working on an album
with Linda Gail Lewis and I must admit, I had my doubts. Making good recordings
is not easy to do, even without the baggage of “comeback.” I imagined the
result would be typical of the trend of pairing a veteran performer with a younger
more hip producer, usually yielding an unsatisfying, trying-too-hard-to-sound-contemporary,
tampering with what made the artist good in the first place, mess.
I am happy to say I was
The result, Robbie Fulks
& Linda Gail Lewis’ Wild! Wild! Wild!
was my favorite album of 2018. It manages to be reverent to all the right
things while not being bogged down by anachronism. The sound, the vibe, the
performances, the emotional range and the songs (mostly by Fulks) are all
remarkable. There are great harmonies all the way through but it’s the singing
by Linda Gail Lewis that takes the album over the top. Her vocals sound so
natural, so real and so untethered that the listener cannot help but make an
The more I listened, the
more I thought “Why doesn’t everybody sing like this?” Then I realized that
what she does, though she makes it look easy, is a unique thing that most
people just do not have the ability to do.
Lewis is quick to credit
Fulks. She calls him “An absolutely great entertainer, genius on guitar, genius
on vocals, genius on writing songs.” And she says if you saw Fulks perform live and still
didn’t get him, “you’d have to be half brain dead.”
But this record is just another milestone in a career that has been building for almost sixty years. She joined her brother Jerry Lee Lewis’ touring show as a teen. She flirted with ‘60s pop stardom recording one offs for a variety of labels and a great country/pop LP (ala Jeannie C Riley), but she never was ambitious regarding her solo career until, when in middle age, she left her brother’s show, and then, not by choice. In building a solo career, she encountered her share of setbacks and roadblocks, but in retrospect, just bumps in the road.
Linda Gail’s New York
show with Fulks was phenomenal. I walked into the venue with my wife and
daughter and saw Linda Gail standing in a corner watching a just posted
performance that she and Fulks had recorded that afternoon for a music website.
She seemed genuinely thrilled by the video. I had just interviewed her for
radio a few days earlier and I introduced myself and family and was immediately
charmed. As she chatted with us, I was struck by the thought that Linda Gail
Lewis is unlike any person I had ever met. Which makes sense, as her story is
as unique as she is. As you will read below, she is completely comfortable with
who she is, and her wild past, and does not hesitate tell it like it is.
PKM: Let’s start with Wild! Wild! Wild! The more I listen to it, the more I realized that the key to the whole record is your singing. There is a refreshing fearlessness about your vocal performance that is really missing from most recordings. Can you tell me where that fearlessness comes from?
Linda Gail Lewis: Well that’s a very nice compliment! My vocals for country music have just always been kind of the way I sing, although I have improved over the years, but my rock & roll singing I learned from my brother and Wanda Jackson. How that happened was that when Dolly Parton recorded “Great Balls of Fire,” and Jerry and I both love Dolly, but we thought there was something a little bit wrong with her performance. I said to Jerry Lee, “She’s a great singer, but what’s wrong with this?” and Jerry said, “It’s simple, Linda. If you’re a woman and you’re going to sing a song like “Great Balls of Fire,” if you’re going to sing a rock & roll song, you’re going to have to sing it like a man would. Not cute like a girl. You got to rock like a man.” And I thought to myself “Well, I’ll never be able to do that.”
Then we were on tour with Wanda Jackson, touring all over Europe, and I got to know this lovely lady and her husband Wendell. We’d sit together in the breakfast room, and they were the loveliest people. I got to know them and I thought “This is such a nice Christian lady, I just love her.” And then I had the opportunity to see her show, and I just couldn’t believe it because this sweet lovely kind lady walked up to that microphone and she was amazing, and she wasn’t anything like she was at breakfast, not at all. The way she attacked that song! I thought “Oh my God, that’s what Jerry was talking about. That’s how a woman should sing rock & roll.” I’d never heard it done that way, and it inspired me.
“Hard Headed Woman” performed by Wanda Jackson on Town Hall Party in 1958
PKM: Do you think that it takes
guts to sing like that?
Linda Gail Lewis: I guess I’ve got more guts than brains, because I’ll just try
PKM: Tell me what your
parents were like.
Linda Gail Lewis: They were just absolutely wonderful to us. I’m so blessed
because I hear all these horror stories about people’s childhoods and I feel so
bad for them because Mama and Daddy loved us so much, they were just wonderful.
My mother used to discipline us a little bit but my daddy couldn’t, he was too
tender-hearted. No matter what we did, he just couldn’t do it, he was such a
kind person. We had a wonderful childhood except that it bothered me that we
were so poor. I don’t think it bothered my sister, Frankie Jean, as much as it
did me, and of course Jerry was out playing in Natchez, Mississippi, he was
already out and about, but I was kind of embarrassed when I’d go home and have
to get off the school bus at that shack that we lived in, but my parents made
it as special for us as they possibly could.
PKM: What kind of work did
Linda Gail Lewis: My daddy was a sharecropper at that time. When I was a really
small child he’d been a carpenter, and I don’t remember a lot about that, but I
don’t think we had to live in the poverty that we lived in when we moved to the
farm, but my daddy had a love of the land and a love for farming and he really
wanted to do that, so the only way he could do it was to be a sharecropper. So
that’s why we were so poor, because he was a sharecropper.
PKM: So help me paint a
picture of how poor you were, and do you think that kind of rural poverty that
you grew up in is still around?
Linda Gail Lewis: I know the last time I went down to Black River, just to take
some fans and friends that wanted to see where the old shack had been standing,
my sister Frankie Jean took us down there and there was nothing that looked
like what we lived in. It was just an old gray shack and Daddy did the best he
could to fix it, but it was a shack, there was no doubt about it. It was
embarrassing for me, plus it wasn’t the greatest place in the world to live, we
didn’t have an indoor toilet or anything.
PKM: Was there food on the
Linda Gail Lewis: We had food to eat. We did have that.
PKM: Was growing up so poor
traumatic? Is it something that has stayed with you?
Linda Gail Lewis: You know, I’ve always been proud of it, Darling. I remember one time my ex-sister-in-law was being sarcastic and talking about how poor we were before Jerry had his first hit, and you know what I said to her? I said, “You know what, I’m proud of that because my brother came out of poverty and made it in this world, where some other people have everything handed to them.”
PKM: In 1957, Jerry Lee had
hits with “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” You were
about ten years old. Can you remember all of that happening and what a big deal
Linda Gail Lewis: Oh, I could never forget that, Michael. That was amazing. It was just wonderful. Because one day we were living in this shack and then the next thing I know we’re on our way to Memphis to visit my brother and of course the first thing he did when he got his first check from Sam Phillips was he bought us a house in town. I’ll never forget it because Jerry came down there and Mama had found a nice little frame house in Ferriday and we went there to look at it and Jerry said, “This will not do.” My mama said, “I was afraid it might be too much,” and Jerry said. “You don’t understand, you have to have a better house than this.” So he went and picked us out one in a little subdivision. It was a brick house with a ‘50s-style picture window. An absolutely beautiful little house with three bedrooms and a bathroom inside the house! It was a wonderful thing not to have to go to the outbuilding to use the ladies room. It was absolutely just one of those magical moments in our lives, and of course the next thing you know that happened was he was giving us money to go buy clothes. He gave Mama a thousand dollars in cash, which back in that day and age was a lot of money, and we went to Doris’s dress shop and bought everything they had in our sizes. They had never seen a thousand dollars at Doris’s dress shop in Ferriday! That was another one of those magic moments, and the next thing was that Mama got a new Cadillac. Of course, Jerry was a little bit shocked because he said, “Mama, go out there and get you a new car,” and he called back and said “Mama, did you get a Ford or Chevrolet?” and she said, “Oh no Son, I got a Fleetwood Cadillac!”
PKM: Did you grow up with a
radio in your house or a record player? Before Jerry Lee became famous, what
were you listening to?
Linda Gail Lewis: We had a radio, and I remember Mama and Daddy listening to the
Grand Ole Opry and of course we had our gospel music in church. We grew up in
the holy roller church, The Assembly of God, the same kind of church that Elvis
Presley grew up in.
PKM: Was it only white
people in that church?
Linda Gail Lewis: In our church it was only white people.
PKM: And the music was
Linda Gail Lewis: The music was absolutely great. Our gospel music is a little bit
different from the spiritual music from the African American community because
they have these big deep African American voices that we can never have, kinda
like when Reba McEntire tried to sing Aretha Franklin… it’s better not to go
there, but ours is great too in its own way, and it rocks. You know I think
Elvis was influenced by that and I know for sure my brother and I were. That
music of the holy roller churches of the white people, it’s different, but it
really rocks, it just rocks in a different way.
PKM: So you moved from the
shack in Black River to the nice house on Ferriday. How was that?
Linda Gail Lewis: Daddy never had to work again. Jerry Lee took care of us. When
he got that first check from Sam Phillips, it was for $40,000 and he was very
excited about it. He told Mama, “I want you and Daddy and Linda Gail and
Frankie Jean to have everything that I have,” so he shared what he made with
PKM: That’s remarkable. You
hear about artists from that era getting ripped off, I’m happy to hear that Sam
Phillips was honest with your brother.
Linda Gail Lewis: It was the only check Jerry ever got from him! He paid him one
time! Somebody said to Jerry during those years “Why don’t you just sue Sam
Phillips?” and my brother said, “Sue Sam Phillips? Are you crazy? Sue this man
that gave me my break?” He loved Sam and it didn’t make any difference to him
that he didn’t pay him any more after that. But as soon as Sam passed away, he
sued Sam’s sons.
PKM: A lot of people were
really upset by early rock & roll and the wildness of people like Jerry
Lee. Were you, as a little girl, aware of any of that anti-rock & roll
Linda Gail Lewis: I didn’t really notice anything about that until I was in my
teens and travelling with my brother. I don’t think I knew how really wild he
was until I went on those first tours. That was just always what I wanted to
do, go on the road with him, and when I finally had that opportunity, I thought
“Oh wow, he is really wild!”
PKM: Offstage or onstage or
Linda Gail Lewis: I mean onstage. Because I was totally isolated when I was really
young. I was isolated from the parties Jerry had. His road manager at that time
would escort me to my motel room, we stayed in these little motels all over
America, and that’s where I stayed until the next day.
PKM: I read where you said
you were a pretty crazy kid. What does that mean?
Linda Gail Lewis: Well, I was driving my mother’s Cadillac when I was eleven. We had moved to Ferriday and Mommy and Daddy got bored with that so they bought a farm in Clayton, Louisiana, and so I was driving from Clayton over to Vidalia, Louisiana to see my boyfriend, and he was the preacher’s son, and he was eighteen. So, looking back on that, it’s pretty wild.
PKM: You were eleven?
Linda Gail Lewis: Yes, I was eleven?
PKM: So why does a girl
with really great parents and a brother who is sharing his newfound wealth with
his family, why does that eleven-year-old girl go with an eighteen-year-old boy,
and drive a Cadillac to do that?
Linda Gail Lewis: I was very mature for my age. When I look at pictures of myself
when I was eleven, I looked like I was at least fifteen or sixteen. I looked a
lot older than I was, and I was at eleven years old in every way a woman, but I
was a virgin when I got married. I was fourteen when I got married. But Mama
didn’t know that I was going to meet that guy, she thought I was going to the
PKM: But she was okay with
Linda Gail Lewis: Yes, she was okay with it. I was a good driver at eleven. I was
a giant. I was an Amazon. I grew up so fast I was taller than my school teacher
and taller than everybody.
PKM: Eleven… that’s a
little much. You’ve met my daughter… I don’t know… that’s just kind of
gives me the creeps.
Linda Gail Lewis: I have and she is absolutely beautiful and so nice, but you
know… we were just different. My whole family. My sister Frankie Jean got
married when she was twelve.
PKM: And did that seem
Linda Gail Lewis: Well I didn’t think a lot about it then, but looking back on it
now I can see that it was very abnormal.
PKM: So you are growing up
fast and living a life that you see now as unusual, and your brother is doing
his thing, and at a certain point you join his touring company as part of the
show. How old were you then?
Linda Gail Lewis: I was fourteen. When I went on the road with Jerry, I was
PKM: And that’s when you
got married. Were your folks okay with you getting married?
Linda Gail Lewis: Nobody was okay with that and nobody wanted my sister Frankie
Jean to get married that young either. We were just so crazy and my parents
were horrified because we would say to them “When you go to sleep we will slip
out, and we’ll meet these guys and we will probably end up having a baby out of
wedlock,” crazy things like that. We put so much pressure on them. A lot of
people ask me, “Why didn’t your parents do something about you and your sister
and your brother?” You know, they had three really crazy kids they couldn’t do
anything with us.
PKM: Can you put your
finger on why all three of you were, as you describe it, crazy?
Linda Gail Lewis: I don’t know. We were just wild, wild, wild. Robbie Fulks wrote a song about it!
PKM: So tell me about Jerry
Lee’s show in the early ‘60s.
Linda Gail Lewis: My brother did the most wonderful shows. He went from making
$10,000 a night to $200 and he had to get his career going again in a hurry, so
he had to do really well.
PKM: He married his
fourteen-year-old cousin, so he sort of had to reinvent himself and you became
part of that show. What was your role?
Linda Gail Lewis: You know, Michael, honestly I didn’t do a lot. Jerry would just bring me out and let me sing a couple of songs and that was all I did. Then later on as I got older and I met and got married to Kenny Lovelace, Kenny taught me how to sing backing vocals so then I was onstage all the time with Jerry because I was there singing backing for him.
PKM: When you were a really
young teenager, you did some recordings. I think the first released record
featuring you is from 1963. Is that right?
Linda Gail Lewis: “Seasons Of My Heart” in 1963, with me and Jerry. That’s the only Sun single that I am on, but I’m so proud of that. It’s so nice to be on that label.
Sun Records’ single of “Seasons Of My Heart”:
PKM: For a long time you
were part of your brother’s show, and you made a few singles for a few
different labels. One of my favorites is “Break Up The Party” from 1965, a real
all-star affair. Dan Penn wrote it with Rick Hall, Ray Stevens arranged it and
Felton Jarvis produced. They were clearly going for a hit record. Do you
remember the recording session?
Linda Gail Lewis: I do remember it really well. Of course it was in Nashville, and
I think it was in the famous RCA Studio. It was a thrill for me.
PKM: Was that all cut 100%
Linda Gail Lewis: It was. Back in those days that’s just the way it was done, live
on the floor. Of course we love Dan Penn. He’s like a brother to my husband, so
it’s funny that so long ago, when I didn’t know my husband or Dan, that I cut
one of his songs. It’s a small world.
PKM: So clearly folks were
interested in you as a recording artist. Around that time you appeared on the Shindig television show and joined a package
tour of artists affiliated with the show.
Linda Gail Lewis: I did that tour when I was seventeen years old and I’ll never
forget it. To be honest with you I was the only one on that tour who had never
had a hit record. I mean all the people that they had on that tour had done
something, but I had never had a hit record or anything, but for some reason
they wanted me on that tour and I was absolutely thrilled. I was in New York
City with that tour for the first time and I was just walking around looking up
at the buildings and thinking “Oh, what is this? This is amazing.” It was
PKM: In 1969, Jerry Lee
kind of reinvents himself again as a country singer. An interesting idea and it
took off big time. He made a great duet LP with you called Together and you made a solo record that same year called The Two Sides of Linda Gail Lewis.
Things were looking up in 1969, how did that feel?
Linda Gail Lewis: I felt it was going absolutely great. We’d be riding along and we’d hear our version of “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” on the radio. That song was in the top ten. I think it got up to number four in the country charts on Billboard, and of course the album did great as well. We were flying high and I was absolutely thrilled to death. Yes, it was great.
“Don’t Let Me Cross Over” Linda Gail Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis:
PKM: What were the
expectations for your “Two Sides…” record from the record company?
Linda Gail Lewis: I think they promoted it to some extent, but quite honestly
Michael, back in those days I wasn’t really that interested or that ambitious
about being on my own. I was always just happy to be there with my brother and
I thought it was nice to have the album but I wasn’t really upset when it
wasn’t a big hit. I didn’t think a lot about it because I was just so tickled
about the Together album being a hit,
and I loved being with my brother. He always took really good care of me, so I
was very happy at the time.
PKM: Tell me about your
style. You had some amazing clothing in the ‘60s. Was that your taste, were you
just going into shops in buying that stuff?
Linda Gail Lewis: That ridiculous outfit with the short skirt and suspenders on my
album cover, I don’t know where that outfit came from. It seems to me that
somebody from the record company or someplace made me wear that. That wasn’t
anything that I picked out. But the gold dress that I had on, I had gotten that
from Mr. Sydney of Hollywood. We were out in California when Jerry did the play
that he did there, the rock & roll version of Othello, and so my mother and I went shopping and we went into this
designer’s shop, Mr. Sydney he was called, and I liked that dress, even though
it was a little tight and a little too short and it really didn’t fit me very
PKM: Tell me about
recording with Jerry Lee.
Linda Gail Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis is an absolute genius! People don’t know how
much of a genius he is. He can walk into a studio, and they would just hand him
the lyrics to a song that he just heard the day before, and he would sit down
at the piano and do it in one or two takes. So he really is a genius.
PKM: Of all the early rock &
roll guys, he is the one that kept making great records the longest. I don’t
think he gets the credit for that.
Linda Gail Lewis: I don’t think he’s ever gotten the credit he deserves, and those people in Nashville that have that Country Music Hall of Fame they are horrible, horrible people. To have not put him in there. Most of his records have country sides to them. “Great Balls of Fire” had “You Win Again” on the flip side, and that recording of “You Win Again” is out of this world. “Crazy Arms,” “Cold Cold Heart,” he was doing country music way back, and of course he had like thirty number one or top ten hits in modern country music.
PKM: Does he want to be in
the Country Music Hall of Fame at this point?
Linda Gail Lewis: I think they’ve acted so ugly toward him that right now I don’t
think he cares at all. Because some of them came to visit him in Nashville when
we played at The Ryman, and he said, “I don’t want to see those people, because
they didn’t put me in the Hall of Fame and they should have done that years
ago.” So he didn’t let them in his dressing room and they had brought him a
birthday cake, it was his birthday month, and I looked at that cake and I said,
“Jerry, that’s a nice cake. It’s beautiful isn’t it?” It was shaped like a
piano, and he said, “I don’t like that cake.” So I think he accepted it long
ago that they were not ever going to be fair to him, and they haven’t and they
never will and I don’t know who’s on their little board or panel or whatever it
is they have, but to not put Jerry in there, those people are pretty horrible.
PKM: So, you’re on the road
with your brother and things are going well, and then around 1975-76 you took a
break from music for almost a decade. What happened?
Linda Gail Lewis: I’d had some problems with drugs. I had some issues I went through. How anybody in the world can be a long-term drug addict is amazing to me because it scared me really bad and I thought “If I ever do this again, I’ll probably just die.” So thank God I was scared, and with the help of the good Lord and some common sense I have been totally fine since 1974 or ‘75 when I went through all that. It’s been a long time and I’m very very happy and thankful that I’m still fine today. My doctor has to beg me to take any kind of medicine, because I don’t like it, I don’t like to take anything anymore. So that happened and I thought I would be better off to be out of this, and I met this very nice man and we got married and we had two children, but there was never a time that I didn’t long to be back on the road and be back on stage. It just never goes away. You always have that desire, and I don’t know why. Sometimes I ask myself “Why in the world do we all want to get out there on stage in front of people and do this? Why? Why do we want to do this?” It’s crazy! And sometimes I have a little bit of stage fright and I think, “Why am I doing this? This is a terrible feeling.”
PKM: Just to be clear, this
was prescription medications that you were taking. Sometimes you’re on the road
and you need sleeping pills or whatever, and then it just kind of snowballs.
Was that it, or were you kind of escaping your problems by medicating yourself?
Linda Gail Lewis: I think it was both of those things. You know I’d lost my mother
and we were very very close, and I missed her so much. And back in those days I
think what happened a lot of times is that we didn’t realize… nobody actually
told us anything about things like “If you smoke a bunch of cigarettes, you might
have lung cancer later on,” nobody mentioned that. And no one said, “Oh, here’s
a prescription for sleeping pills. You know, you could become addicted to
these,” because it’s that kind of drug, nobody said a word about that. So I
just went right on taking them and I thought, “I feel really good with these
sleeping pills, I’ll take some more.” So I took more and more and almost died.
PKM: That’s a wake-up call.
So that got you to take a break. Even though you were feeling the pull of
getting back on stage did you get into being a mom? Was that a happy time?
Linda Gail Lewis: Oh, absolutely. I love my children, absolutely love them. Those
were great times. Of course my son Oliver was only five years old when I went
back on the road and my daughter Annie was just about eight, so trying to
balance traveling and taking care of the kids, it’s not easy.
PKM: You went back to
touring but in 1987 you left your brother’s show and started touring on your
own. Why did you leave Jerry at that time?
Linda Gail Lewis: I had problems with his wife, and she just recently posted a
bunch of horrible stuff on Facebook, and said I’m a liar, but everybody in the
world that was around at that time knows that she made it impossible for me to
be there, and I just thought “Well, I’m going to get out on my own.” That’s one
thing that my mama and daddy did for us, they always told us that musically
speaking we could do whatever we wanted. I had so much confidence and I had
people in Memphis tell me “You can’t do this, you’re too old.” And the other
thing they’d say, which was really cruel, was “…and you’re overweight.”
Charming people. But I went right ahead with it and my brother had showed me a
lot of things on the piano so I was able to play, and I had to play the piano
because nobody else would play what I wanted, or maybe they couldn’t.
PKM: But you didn’t grow up
playing the piano too much, so how long did it take you to figure out that
Linda Gail Lewis: Well I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging on myself or anything
but quite honestly I had it figured out all along, because I went to do this
show one time right when I first started my solo career and when I got there I
thought they were going to have a piano player and they didn’t, so they
borrowed a piano for me and that was my first time to play rock & roll on
the piano live. When I went back to Memphis I was having trouble with the piano
player in my band and I said, “I don’t need you to play anymore, because what
you’re playing is not right,” and a lot of those musicians laughed at me when I
said I was going to play, but I was able to sound good right away. And in at
three months’ time, I was really doing pretty good.
PKM: It’s an interesting
thing, and correct me if you think I’ve got this wrong, but I think the piano
style that Jerry Lee is famous for seems easy but is a little more nuanced and
complicated than it sounds.
Linda Gail Lewis: I think it’s easy for me because I grew up with it. It’s in my
heart and in my soul and I feel it. I have a feel for this music. There are
many many many rock & roll piano players who can play a lot more notes that
I can on the piano, but they can’t touch me when it comes to the feeling,
because I grew up with that. I heard that when I was a toddler.
PKM: How long did it take
for your career to get rolling?
Linda Gail Lewis: I had to start right at the bottom. I had to fight for
everything I got in this business and it wasn’t easy. I started out at a place
called Hernando’s Hideaway and I got kicked out of there because they decided
that my sister-in-law wouldn’t let my brother come back there anymore if I was
there, so I had to go down to The Bootlegger where they check you at the door
to see if you have any weapons, and if you don’t have any they give you some.
But my fans raised so much hell at Hernando’s Hideaway that they asked me to
come back there. They said, “We’re sick and tired of being cussed out by your
fans every night. Please come back.” I had a gig on Beale Street at one time
and I played in Memphis a lot and a lot of my brother’s fans and Elvis’ fans
just loved me, and those European people, when they came to town, I would have
huge crowds and that of course opened up my career in Europe as well. But I had
to fight for it. It wasn’t easy at all. But I never had any doubt that I could
PKM: I can’t imagine why
you would, you are a force of nature.
Linda Gail Lewis: Like I said, more guts than brains. I mean logically I should
have been listening to people, but of course if I listened to them then I wouldn’t
have this wonderful career. And I have no hard feelings against my
sister-in-law. She did me a huge favor because I got out on my own and I have
this wonderful career that I just love. I’m 71 years old and I have all these
wonderful gigs to play and a great audience and great people to work with and
it was such a thrill to do my album with Robbie. I haven’t been that thrilled
since Jerry and I did the Together
album. So I’m very thankful and very happy.
PKM: You started touring
all over the world and putting out your own records and you end up teaming up
with Van Morrison for the 2000 album You
Win Again. How did it start? How did you get on his radar?
Linda Gail Lewis: He came to my show at The Kings Hotel in Wales. At that time he
wasn’t really writing very many songs and he had done an album with Lonnie
Donegan and then he decided he wanted to do an album with me.
PKM: How soon after that
were you making an album?
Linda Gail Lewis: Van is famous for recording with people but never putting
anything out on them. He just puts it on the shelf. I heard that he had
recordings of himself with people like Carl Perkins, I don’t know how true it
is, I never asked Van, but I heard he had a lot of stuff on the shelf, so when
he said to me, “Let’s get together and have a little jam session and play some
music,” I didn’t think anything about it. My agent advised me to do it because
Van was paying me really well, and I thought it would be fun, and although Van
has a strange personality and I didn’t know if I’d be able to get along with
him, I went to that jam session because my agent wanted me to. At the end of it,
he says “Are you free next Tuesday?” Most of my gigs in Europe are on weekends,
so I said I’d be free, and asked him, “Why do you ask?” And he said because of
this recording session he wanted to do. And once again my agent stepped in and
said, “You’ll want to do this, he’s playing really well.” So I went there and
the engineer came up to me and said, “You know, Van likes to cut everything
live on the floor.” Well, here I am with Van Morrison and I have no idea what
he’s going to do and I’m going to be cutting live on the floor with him, so I
just thought this will definitely go on the shelf, so I’m not going to worry
about it. I’m just going to have a good time. So I went right on in there and
we recorded most of our album that day.
PKM: And it was a hit
album. It sold a lot of copies, right?
Linda Gail Lewis: I was told by one of Van’s management people that in the United States it did even better than the one he did with Georgie Fame and he had a hit single from that with the jazz version of “Moondance,” but You Win Again outsold it in America.
“You Win Again” Linda Gail Lewis and Van Morrison:
PKM: Your time with Van
ended in a lawsuit. What happened?
Linda Gail Lewis: There were a lot of things that went wrong, but the main thing
was when the album was over, Van started talking about doing all kinds of stuff
that I didn’t see in my future. I was missing my country music and most of all
I was missing my rock & roll and I just wanted to put my rock & roll
shoes back on and go back on the road and do what I do. So I asked his
management, “Do you think he’ll get angry about me giving my notice?” So even
though we had some difficulties and some personal problems, it was when I gave
my notice that he became the most furious. He called me up and cussed me out he
said, “I’m going to fire you and I’m not going to pay you a dime. I’ll die
before I give you the money I owe you.” I said to him, “Oh no. You can’t do
that, that’s unacceptable to me.” Once again, I have more guts than brains. The
lawsuit was so ridiculous. He owed me the money. I didn’t want to cause him a
lot of trouble, I just wanted to be paid what I was owed, and that finally
PKM: What you think of his talent?
Linda Gail Lewis: Oh, he’s very talented. He’s a genius. When he sings, he reminds
me of Etta James. It’s that kind of genius vocals on some of his songs. He’s a
great songwriter. Some of the songs are just out of this world. I didn’t know a
lot about him. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about those songs until I
learned them. Van had said, “You don’t have to play the piano on all my stuff,
you can just come on and we’ll do our album songs, you don’t have to do the
rest of the show,” and I said “No.” Because I didn’t want people to think that
I couldn’t play that style of music and I felt like I could learn it, and I’ll
tell you it was hard work. I was on that piano several hours a day many days.
But I did it. I learned a 150 of his songs, and it helped me so much. You know,
when you have to stretch like that and learn a style of music that you’ve never
played before, then you become better at what you normally do. I came back to
America and had a recording session in Austin and when I took it back home with
me my husband said to me, “Who’s playing the piano?”
PKM: I know you’re happily married now to Eddie, but you’ve been married, am I right, seven times?
Linda Gail Lewis: Actually, it’s eight altogether, because I married one guy
PKM: What conclusions
should I draw from the fact that you’ve been married so many times? What does
Linda Gail Lewis: You know, I’m a romantic and I just always felt like if I was in
love, and of course you can’t be deeply in love eight times, but the thing is
you get married and then things change and I guess what’s so nice about my
marriage now, to Eddie, is that I loved him when we got married and we’ve been
together for twenty-eight years and I still love him the same way but maybe
more because we’ve been together a long time. But you know, it’s not always
that way. I always wanted that commitment to happen I didn’t just want to shack
up with somebody if they didn’t want to marry me. I’m not saying that I’m
perfect and I’ve never made a mistake or done anything wrong, because I have,
but anytime that I was in a serious relationship I just felt like this is going
to be a commitment on both of our parts or it’s not going to be at all.
PKM: When I met you in
person I was struck by how gorgeous and healthy-looking you are. You’ve been
through a lot. What is your secret to being so full of life?
Linda Gail Lewis: Well, thank you Michael. Can you send me a recording of that? I
want to listen to that every day. You know, I think the main thing… there are
a lot of women a lot more beautiful than I am, Sophia Loren in her eighties for
one, but I’m really a happy person and I think if you’re happy it shows and I
think you will always be a more attractive person if you’re a happy person. I
PKM: So what’s the key to
Linda Gail Lewis: Gosh. I don’t know. I’ve always just had a certain way of thinking and one of the main things that helps me is that I appreciate every break that I’ve gotten. I appreciate the people in my life and I thank God every day for everything that I have, and I appreciate what I have. I think a lot of people are always wanting more and people put too much faith in material things. You know, you can be driving around in a Rolls-Royce and living in a gold palace and be miserable.