Suspicious Minds: Elvis Presley vs. Jerry Lee Lewis

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Elvis Presley was the man to beat when Jerry Lee Lewis made the drive from small-town Louisiana to Memphis in 1956. The piano punisher had come for the King of Rock’s crown and was determined to show him up at every turn. Jerry Lee scored a deal on Elvis’ onetime label, employed the same management, and even some of the same songwriters. The pair duked it out in the charts in the late ‘50s, but the image conscious Elvis remained a much bigger crossover star than Jerry Lee, who relished his role as an uncompromising bad boy. When Elvis received his draft notice, Jerry Lee seemed poised to take over as rock’s leading voice. Then it all came crashing down as his troubling private life became public. Exiled from the rock ’n’ roll spotlight, Jerry Lee spent much of the ‘60s playing honky tonk dives and slowly rebuilding his musical career. Meanwhile, Elvis effectively abdicated his throne, trading electrifying singles for well-paying yet vapid films. Both men emerged from the wilderness by the end of the decade, spurring each other’s musical efforts. There was a begrudging respect between them, but Jerry Lee’s aggression sometimes got the best of him — like the time he showed up at Presley’s Graceland estate late one night with a gun. They didn’t call him “The Killer” for nothing.

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