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Where: California, USA
When: July 1994
Written by: Chris Davies

Californian Dreaming

Part 1

Ten years ago, Jerry Lee Lewis played a seven-date tour with an itinerary reading like a fly-drive Californian vacation. Jerry had been in Los Angeles to record "Young Blood" and in between sessions a tour of California and Nevada had been put together. News of this tour began to filter through when Jerry appeared at Butlins, North Wales in early 1994 - the seeds of excitement were sown!

On July 6 1994 Peter Hayman and I met up at Manchester Airport and began our journey across the Atlantic. Peter and I flew from Manchester to San Francisco via Chicago O'Hare, reaching our destination about 10:00 PM. Neil Turner, freshly shorn of beard, was waiting for us and he was on a high! He had already had a great day in `Frisco and was looking forward to the musical adventure to come.

We found a motel near the airport that was so seedy that even the cockroaches wouldn't stay there and tried to get some shut-eye. The next day we hit the road and drove about sixty miles south for the first show in sunny Saratoga. Saratoga was one of the friendliest and happiest little towns I have ever been to. After some freshly prepared and delicious Californian cuisine we found a motel, relaxed and then went to check out the venue.

The show was to take place at the Sarotoga Mountain Winery, high atop the Silicon Valley. We were welcomed into the venue and it soon became apparent that this was going to be a very special evening. The Winery stage was outdoors and set in a natural amphitheatre with the historic stone-masonry Winery building providing a unique backdrop.

ShowTime arrived and Bo Diddley was to open for Jerry. Earlier in the day we had seen Bo arrive, he drives his own van to shows in the US. Bo fooled around a lot in his show and it was not a great musical experience (although he was to redeem himself in Hollywood!).

The sun was setting as Jerry strolled onto the stage looking healthy and happy. Jerry began to pound the (real) piano and his new band rocked hard behind him. JR Byrd on Bass, Sammy Cresan on drums and James Burton and Kenny on guitars. After opening with "Roll Over Beethoven" Jerry slowed it down a bit with "You Win Again", the lights of San Hose twinkling all around us. James Burton played a really inspired `gut-bucket' blues solo on "Headstone", showing off with his slide technique and bursts of rapid fire picking! Jerry also played a tasty solo on this one.

Jerry was in a great mood and even problems with the sustain pedal on the piano could not dampen his spirits! Jerry addressed the audience "What should I do with this old piano? Some helpful suggestions were shouted back: "set fire to it!" - "play it to pieces!" - "push it off the stage!" Jerry decided to punish the piano by ripping the lid off!

JLL shifted into top gear for the really wild Shakin' / Fire finale and played some powerful piano. Other highlights that night were "Bobby McGee" and "Mexicalli Rose".

After the show Jerry and his band flew back to their hotel in L.A. Jerry was based in Hollywood for the duration of the tour, flying out to each show. The next day we left wine country and drove down to Los Angeles. We called in at the Bel Age hotel, West Hollywood where Jerry was staying and I decided to stay there for the next three nights. Peter and Neil found a roach infested Motel on a seedy part of Sunset Strip. When they eventually checked out and complained, the owner said that there was no extra charge for roaches!

The following morning, Peter and Neil came round to the Bel Age. We were in the hotel lobby when rockin' Jerry Lee stepped out of the elevator. Rock'n'roll money was burning a hole in Killers pocket  - Jerry was going out to look at a '57 Cadillac that had caught his eye at a local car dealership.

The next show was at the Palace theatre, Hollywood on Saturday 9 July 1994.

Early Saturday evening we jumped into a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the Palace. No problem, he said he knew exactly where to take us. He dropped us off outside the `venue' - a rather plain looking, windowless establishment. We looked for the box office to collect our tickets and we were surprised to see that there were about twenty cops outside! We were frisked for weapons, "what's that, a knife?" a cop barked at me - "no, just my spectacles case!"

This was all very strange. We suddenly heard the taxi driver calling us back to his car. He explained that he had bought us to the wrong place (the wrong Palace!) and that this was a "sex club" where people were always getting shot! He whisked us away and took us to the Palace Theatre where we joined the queue outside. A local crack-head started to hassle some people next to us, he appeared to have a gun stuffed into the top of his pants. Fortunately, a security guard came out and told us to get inside quickly!

Anyway, the show got underway and Mr Diddley opened for Jerry again. Tonight Bo played for two hours and he was brilliant. Song after song, no clowning, great guitar playing and then a stint on the drums!

The wild crowd was rockin' when Jerry came out, a mixture of Hollywood kids and biker types, their energy and excitement was picked up on by Jerry. One young girl tossed her bra onto the piano but Jerry just looked embarrassed!

The Killer performed an exciting version of Memphis with nifty piano breaks and James Burton played those sliding blues chords that make Chuck's song such a classic. This was to be one of my favourite shows of the tour and Jerry showed off with lots of flashy piano work. The Killer stormed through the Rock'n'roll medley, Mexicalli Rose, What d'I say, and a fantastic version of Headstone. The show ended on a furious note with the piano stool being kicked back hard and Jerry smacking his beer off the top of the piano!
We caught a taxi back to the hotel and the driver asked us what had been going on at the Palace - he had never seen so many people there!

Soon after we got back to the Bel Age Jerry walked in smoking a cigar, he was still keyed up from the show. Kerrie saw us and was very surprised, as she didn't know any fans had travelled from the UK. We were invited up to the suite that was made up of many rooms and partied on! Jerry took a shower and then retired to his room, occasionally peeking round the door to see if room service had arrived.

Young Lee and a buddy were racing around in Batman capes and clearing the mini-bar of all snacks and soft drinks. The suite looked as if a hurricane had blown through, there were clothes and stuff everywhere - the room service guy raised an eyebrow when he delivered Jerry's meal.

The next show was in Ventura, 80 miles north of L.A. However, we had a couple of days to chill out in Hollywood before then.



The venue was the Ventura concert theatre, an old music hall by the sea. Peter, Neil and myself called into the box office to collect our tickets. Kenny Lovelace had very kindly added our names to the guest list at most of the venues and we enquired if we were on the list at Ventura. The lady in the box office took one look at us and said in disbelief: “Are you SERIOUS!” To her surprise the three English tourists were indeed on the list.

 Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (a local swing band) opened for Jerry and the lead singer expressed his excitement at being able to open for Jerry “…these things just don’t happen in Ventura!”

Kenny was playing a sweet version of “I can’t stop loving you” when Jerry walked onto the stage. The Killer sat at the piano and accompanied Kenny for the rest of the song. At one point in the show Jerry played a very fast version of Good Golly Miss Molly / Tutti Frutti that caused a waitress to stop in her tracks and drawl “oh my god!” as she watched in awe.

Kenny then started to play a twangy riff on the guitar as Jerry stood to sing a perfect version of “I’ll Find It Where I Can”. During “No Headstone on my Grave” a lady began to throw flowers onto the stage. Jerry picked one up and played a short solo using the stalk. “Mama, this ones for you” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” went down well with the audience but once again it was “Shakin’” / Great Balls” which really electrified the crowd.

We had a long journey from Ventura to Vegas but we drove it in a day. The temperature climbed to 113 as Las Vegas shimmered on the horizon. Neil and Peter had both been to Vegas before. Peter had seen Jerry’s run at the Desert Inn and both Neil and Peter had seen Jerry at the legendary Sands (since torn down). The show was at the Aladdin hotel and a giant sign outside the theatre told everyone that the Killer was in town!

Jerry seemed a little melancholy tonight and his piano playing lacked its usual sparkle. However, “Mama this ones for you” had a nice ragtime intro and Jerry also performed a smoking “Rockin’ My Life Away”. Suddenly it was 1957 again as Jerry finished the show standing at the piano and pounding the keys in a classic Killer stance. Wild, reckless, his face a devilish grin! The excitement was too much for a gang of young rockabilly rebels who leapt onto the stage!

The Aladdin was on the famous strip and after the show we stepped out into the hot night to make the most of futuristic and fantastic Las Vegas. Viva!

A trip with Peter and Neil is always great fun and the long car journeys were spent talking about the Killer and classic performances. When a boogie-woogie virtuoso such as Neil raves about Jerry’s playing you know the Killer is a very special musician indeed.

With a couple of days before the next show in Livermore (San Francisco), we decided to take the scenic route through the Yosemite National park. There were three shows left to see and the best was yet to come!



14 July 1994

Peter Hayman, Neil Turner and myself hit the road and crossed the Yosemite national park. Destination: Livermore (San Francisco). The show was at another winery (the Wente Brothers Winery) and the expensive tickets included a very disappointing BBQ!

The Killer was on very good form for this show and people were hoppin’ and boppin’ to the crazy sounds. The three authorities on JLL’s piano playing (Peter, Neil and me!) agreed that Jerry was playing inspired and creative piano tonight and it was the best show so far in respect of the piano playing. There was piano work on Great Balls of Fire that Neil Turner said defined Rock’n’Roll piano! You know, those pounding, crunching chords that are copyright of Mr Jerry Lee Lewis!

Jerry played Big Legged Woman, by request, adding that he thought it was an indecent song and he had pleaded with Sam Phillips not to release it! This version featured some great ‘rumbling’ left hand work. A storming medley of Tutti Frutti / Good Golly Miss Molly was a highlight of this show and the crowd, by this time wined up and happy, really enjoyed this number.

15 July 1994

The next day, we said goodbye to Neil who flew home from San Francisco.

Peter and I drove about 130 miles north of San Francisco to the Konocti Harbour resort, Kelseyville. The venue was by a lake and surrounded by green mountains. Jerry looked cool in a music patterned shirt and white shoes. He sat at the piano and smiled. “I like places like this, this is home!” Jerry said of the small honky-tonk style venue. This was the best show of the tour and the longest at 1 hour 20 minutes. “Over the Rainbow” featured a second piano solo that was original and amazing, showing how relaxed and happy Mr Lewis was. The Killer treated us to “Hey Good Lookin’” and one of my favourite JLL country performances,  “Before The Next Tear Drop Falls”. Jerry sang the story of Bobby McGee with passion “God only knows how much I loved her, how much I need her but he took her away from me”. The songs just kept on coming; “Mona Lisa”, “39 and Holding”, “I Am What I Am”.

Jerry returned to the stage for an encore performance of Rockin’ Jerry Lee. The left hand rolling along like an express train whilst the right hand pounded out boogie licks including the “In the Mood” riff.

A fantastic show and as Kenny was thanking the guys on the sound and lights he slipped in “If Neil, Peter and Chris are out there, come on backstage!”. Peter and I were taken into a small room where we had an audience with the Killer. Jerry was still full of song and he sang snippets of “That’s my Desire” and “Alabama Jubilee”.

A young fan was introduced to Jerry; the lad said that he was learning how to play the piano. “Can you play silent night boy?” Jerry enquired.

Jerry asked Peter and myself if were going to be at the next show in San Diego in a couple of day’s time. We said we would be and Jerry said “Kenny, make sure these two boys are on the guest list for San Diego and that they have passes!”. This was very kind of Jerry and before we left he checked with Kenny to make sure we were on the list.

17 July 1994

We had many miles to drive from Kelseyville to the next show at Humphey’s Half Moon, San Diego. The venue was a beautiful hotel complex, the stage set among palm trees and waterfalls. After eating a slice of ‘Killer’ Chocolate cake in the restaurant, Peter and I went for a stroll. As we walked along the path at the front of Humphrey’s Half Moon a white stretch Limo pulled up. Out stepped Jerry, Kerrie and Lee.

Jerry Lee Lewis spotted Peter and myself and called to us “hey boys, are you coming in with us, we’re gonna get something to eat!” So we walked in with Jerry as people by the poolside called out “Hi Jerry”. The folks at Humphrey’s had cooked up a feast for the Killer and his friends and family. A pretty young lady walked in to the backstage area, she was Miss Lori Leigh Lewis, Jerry’s daughter (?). Now Kerrie was not that pleased to see Lori and things turned nasty with Lori calling Kerrie a “Mississippi whore”. Kerrie replied, “…well at least I’m a good one!” and with that she slammed the door and stormed off!

A little bit later, Gary Busey walked in and spent some time chatting to the Killer. Young Lee had got hold of a corkscrew and was busy hacking away at a teak table. Lori’s boyfriend said “Lee, I don’t think you should be doing that to the table!”. Jerry turned round to the boyfriend and boomed “DON’T DISCIPLINE MY SON, ONLY I DISCIPLINE MY SON!” Lee was left to continue with his carving!

Shortly before show time, Jerry Lee listened as I described how, two nights previously, he had played a second piano solo during Over the Rainbow that was amazing. Jerry beamed as he recalled his playing and said, “That was pretty, wasn’t it?” The Killer seemed very pleased that his inspired piano work had not gone unnoticed.

The show was very good and Gary Busey joined Jerry to duet on Bob Wills “Stay all Night”. All to soon we were travelling back to LA for the flight back to London.

The tour had been an incredible experience, my very own “Vacation in Heaven!!”

Brother Davies, 2004

[See the Jerry & fans page for a picture of Jerry with Chris Davies and Lori Leigh, taken in San Diego.]



Last update: August 17, 2007
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