Chilling with The Killer: Jerry Lee Lewis talks to Rick Bragg

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. By Rick Bragg.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. By Rick Bragg.

Hanging with Jerry Lee Lewis isn’t as dangerous as it used to be.

He rolled many a Cadillac in his day. He was known to punch out a drunk heckler using the butt of his microphone stand. Back in the ’70s he accidentally shot his bass player in the chest.

These days the most dangerous resident at Jerry Lee Lewis’ north Mississippi home is a Chihuahua named Topaz Jr. He bites.

But that doesn’t mean Pulitzer prize-winning writer Rick Bragg felt completely relaxed during the long summer days when he was interviewing the rock ‘n’ roll icon, researching his new biography of The Killer, called “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story.” (Bragg will speak about that book at several events in Atlanta this week.)

First of all, the setting was kind of eerie.

They conducted the talkathon in Lewis’ bedroom, where the walls were pocked with bullet holes and there was a Bowie knife sticking in the door. The curtains were drawn and the lighting was dim, much of it coming from a big-screen television playing episodes of “The Virginian” or “Gunsmoke,” with the sound turned down.

There was a photograph of Hank Williams on the dresser, draped with a black ribbon. And there was Jerry Lee Lewis, The Killer himself, an old man, lying on his bed, recovering from hip surgery, immobilized by arthritis.

Lewis would do all of his reminiscing on his back. But even lying down, he wasn't what you'd call mellow. "He did show me the long-barreled .357 he keeps up under his pillow," said Bragg.

The writer says he wasn’t really scared. “I knew Jerry Lee’s not going to shoot me on purpose. But, then again, he didn’t mean to shoot the bass player either.”