Jerry Lee Lewis shakin' it up with famous friends

Fri Aug 27, 2010 9:29pm EDT
 
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By Mikael Wood

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Jerry Lee Lewis wants to make one thing clear: The title of his new album, "Mean Old Man," isn't a reference to the Killer himself.

"No, it has nothing to do with me whatsoever," the 74-year-old rock 'n' roller says. "It's named for the Kris Kristofferson song (that opens the set), which I flipped out over when I heard it. I thought it was a hit piece of material, so I cut it."

Kristofferson isn't the only celebrity guest on "Mean Old Man," due September 7 on Verve/Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). It also features appearances by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Willie Nelson, plus a handful of younger stars including John Mayer and Sheryl Crow.

"It's just a collection of people who really love Jerry and wanted to be part of the album," says Lewis' daughter, Phoebe, who manages her father's career and served as the album's executive producer. "The fact that they bring their own notoriety is just a plus. They're like the ultimate sidemen and women."

"The record goes by quick, which is a good sign," says drummer Jim Keltner, who produced the album with Steve Bing. "The chops that Jerry Lee had as a young man, he's lost a lot of that. But now there's a depth and richness to the music. When he sits down to play, you just want to listen."

"Mean Old Man" follows up 2006's "Last Man Standing," which similarly paired Lewis with an all-star cast and has sold 194,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Yet Verve/UMe president Bruce Resnikoff says the new set -- the artist's first for Verve -- demonstrates Lewis' "strength and power as a performer" more vividly than did its predecessor.

And, he adds, it stands a better chance of attracting a multigenerational audience. "Jerry Lee's performance (at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary Concert last October) exposed him to younger fans and created an interest that had been bubbling before."

To capture those fans, Verve senior vice president/general manager Nate Herr says, the label began releasing one album track on iTunes every week beginning August 3. The first was "Rockin' My Life Away" featuring Kid Rock and Slash.

Still, he adds, "the sweet spot for this record is an older demographic," one Verve intends to reach through a release-week media blitz that includes appearances on "The View," "Today," "Imus in the Morning," NPR's "Weekend Edition" and Fox News' "Huckabee." Lewis is also scheduled to perform with the cast of Broadway's "Million Dollar Quartet" September 10 and at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York September 13.

In addition to the 10-track standard edition, "Mean Old Man" will arrive in an 18-track deluxe package that includes collaborations with Shelby Lynne and Gillian Welch. "My daddy likes singing with girls," Phoebe Lewis says.

 
<p>Jerry Lee Lewis smiles after performing during the first of two 25th Anniversary Rock &amp; Roll Hall of Fame concerts in New York October 29, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>