One of the key tenets in Jerry Lee Lewis
’ mythology is his fiery argument with Sam Phillips
about God just prior to recording the master take of “Great Balls of Fire,” so it comes as no surprise that the Killer
holds salvation as closely to his heart as he does sin, yet he never recorded a full-blown religious record, which is what makes Bear Family’s Old Time Religion
such a find. Released initially as part of the 1986 series of LP box sets called The Killer
, these recordings find Jerry Lee
at Brother Davis’ Church in Memphis on December 13, 1970, backed by a basic band featuring his son Jerry Lee Jr.
on drums, Kenneth Lovelace
on guitar and fiddle, Edward DeBruhl
on bass, and William “Bill” David Strom
on organ. It’s a curious recording -- certainly looser than most church records, lively but not as infectious as the Killer
at his peak, built on standards but containing no hits. In other words, it’s the kind of album that is impossible to market, which is of course what labels are designed to do, so it sat on the shelf where it aged nicely, a recording more interesting in retrospect than at the time. If Jerry Lee
isn’t quite at home here in church, he’s certainly in his element, tossing off hymns with authority, easing his way into spoken testimonials, inserting his name into the lyrics wherever he can, showing no shame in plugging the records they have for sale (he doesn’t need the money, of course, but his sidemen do). All this makes for a religious record whose scale tips slightly toward the sinful over the saintly, but of course that's why it’s worth hearing.