A Harley-Davidson 1959 FLH Panhead belonging to Rock & Roll's original wild man, Jerry Lee Lewis, sold for US$385,000 on Saturday night, becoming one of the 20 most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction.
Lewis, a lifetime motorcycle enthusiast, was gifted the bike new by Harley-Davidson, and the bike was essentially still brand new at the time of sale, having only done just over 2000 miles, all of them under the throttle hand of one of the most outrageous figures in modern history.
Jerry Lee Lewis had a dozen gold records, several Grammy awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as number 24 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. That ranking, by the most authoritative chronicle of modern music, ranks him ahead of John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Elton John.
One of the most fascinating accounts of the life of Jerry Lee Lewis is the book, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story , a chronicle of the Killer’s life which he shared over two years of interviews with New York Times feature writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg.
These are the cover notes from that book: A monumental figure on the American landscape, Jerry Lee Lewis spent his childhood raising hell in Ferriday, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi; galvanized the world with hit records like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” that gave rock and roll its devil’s edge; caused riots and boycotts with his incendiary performances; nearly scuttled his career by marrying his thirteen-year-old second cousin—his third wife of seven; ran a decades-long marathon of drugs, drinking, and women; nearly met his maker, twice; suffered the deaths of two sons and two wives, and the indignity of an IRS raid that left him with nothing but the broken-down piano he started with; performed with everyone from Elvis Presley to Keith Richards to Bruce Springsteen to Kid Rock—and survived it all to be hailed as “one of the most creative and important figures in American popular culture and a paradigm of the Southern experience.”
There's an excerpt from the book on the Guardian's site, where you can also see a pic from December 4, 1956 when he got together with Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash for a recorded jam session.
Lewis created the archetype of the anarchic, rock & roll wild man. In the top 100 artists of all-time, Moby writes: "There's a perhaps apocryphal story that when he and his cousin, the evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, were children, they went to a roadhouse and listened through the window to some amazing R&B band. Jimmy Swaggart supposedly said, "This is the devil's music! We have to leave!" But Jerry Lee just stood there transfixed and couldn't tear himself away. He was an evangelist for the devil's music."
A breeched baby, his perpetually eccentric nature ensured he was always out of step with the world, and his lifestyle crossed every boundary possible.
In his teens he considered taking up the ministry, but was expelled from the Southwestern Bible Institute for playing “My God Is Real” boogie-woogie style.
When he appeared on the famous Grand Ole Opry radio show, an honour reserved for music royalty, he played for 40 minutes instead of the allocated eight minutes and capped it off by dropping the F word.
His third wife was also his first cousin, and at the time of their marriage, she was thirteen years of age. When her age and blood relationship became public knowledge, Lewis' career went into a tailspin from which it never truly recovered - had he not pushed past the boundaries of public acceptance, he might well have been even more influential in the history of music as it has been said many times that no-one put on a live performance quite like Jerry Lee Lewis.
Perhaps less well known is that "Killer", who has outlived all the subsequent wild men of rock, has been an ardent motorcyclist for more than sixty years and has a stable of Harleys.
This bike was the pride of his collection.
“There was a time I wouldn’t take a zillion dollars for it, but now it’s just sitting there", says Lewis. "You can crank that motorcycle up and she purrs like a kitten – but you have to kickstart it you know. I could probably sit on it alright today, but I wouldn’t take a chance. I’m 79 years old. This bike is like a child to me, but I’ve decided it’s time to let it go.”
Mecum did not put an estimate on the bike which went under the auctioneers hammer at the company's Kissimmee (Florida) auction on Saturday night, January 25, 2015.
That's because motorcycles with famous owners can fetch unexpectedly high prices at auction. Motorcycles are generally undervalued in comparison to other collectibles, so many of the highest priced motorcycles at auction have been associated with prominent and popular figures such as Buddy Holly's Ariel, the Captain America chopper from Easyriders, George Brough's personal Brough Superior, the Pope's Harley, or any one of a dozen motorcycles owned by the "King of Cool", Steve McQueen.
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