In 1956, Jerry Lee Lewis made the trek from Ferriday, Louisiana to Memphis, Tennessee and presented himself to Sun Records, declaring “I can play piano like Chet Atkins.” (Note: Chet Atkins is a renowned guitar player.) He caught the ear of Sam Phillips' assistant, Jack Clement who recorded him. Later, Sam Phillips called Lewis back and a recording session yielded a modest regional hit for the label, “Crazy Arms.” But the next session produced the cut that would propel rock and roll into 1957 at breakneck speed -- “Whole Lotta Shakin’.” It would reach #1 on the country and R&B charts, rising to #3 on the pop chart. Lewis’ key-pounding, stool kicking, piano climbing performances would confirm some of America’s parents’ worst fears concerning rock and roll.
Rock and roll had been conceived in the early 1950’s and born into the pop charts in 1956. In 1957 it truly came of age. Each week, the founders of rock and roll from the preceding year (Elvis, Little Richard, The Platters, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino) were joined by other future legends. Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, The Coasters, and Sam Cooke all made it big in 1957. It’s the year “the music came to stay.”
As much as the irreverent appeal of rock and roll to a teen audience with a newfound appetite for record buying promoted the success of new artists on the scene, so did the media of television . Elvis made his third Ed Sullivan appearance on January 6th. Viewed only from the waste up, he sang seven songs. On April 10th, Ricky Nelson performed his cover version of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin” in the “Rick the Drummer” episode of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” And all the new artists would get their opportunity when American Bandstand began national telecasts on August 5th. Presley and Nelson would be the only two stars of early rock and roll to never appear on Bandstand.
Rock and roll was beginning to dominate the pop music charts but more traditional sounding “cover” versions such as Tab Hunter’s cover of Sonny James’ “Young Love” continued to have chart success as well. But the audience (mostly teenagers) were demanding more and more of the real thing. In 1957, “The Killer” (Jerry Lee Lewis) summed it up: “I ain’t fakin’ -- whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”