From a performance in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1981, the YouTube clip below features Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins performing “I’ll Fly Away.”
Carl Perkins died in 1998. Johnny Cash in 2003. Elvis Presley, the fourth member of the famed “million dollar quartet,” passed away back in 1977. That’s the genesis of the title of a recent Jerry Lee Lewis album, namely Last Man Standing.As one of those latter-day albums of aging-stars-singing-duets-with-younger-stars goes, it’s not so bad at all. But—Jerry Lee now being 76 years-old—I think it’s probably uncontroversial to suggest that his greatest work lies largely behind him. The shorthand take on his career would mention his 1950s’ hits “Whole Lotta Shakin'” and “Great Balls of Fire,” followed by a fall from grace based on some, er, missteps in his private life. However, many discerning fans of music will tell you that his flat-out greatest work was in the 60s and 70s and 80s, marginalized and classified as strictly “country” music but constituting some of the most galvanizing performances to ever be committed to vinyl in the name of any musical genre. I like it all, and have a particular penchant for the gospel tunes he recorded during that time. Simply put, I think no poor sinner has ever sung with more inspiring confidence in his redemption than ol’ Jerry Lee, in his versions of the tune above (“I’ll Fly Away”) or others like “My God Ain’t Dead (Sorry About Yours My Friend)” or “He Looked Beyond My Fault” or “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Where He Leads Me” or … many others.
So that’s it. This is no last word on Jerry Lee, but merely a brief pause to recognize the mysterious ways in which his Maker works.
I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away