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TV Preview: Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley fire up WQED's latest 'Soundtrack'

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

It may be safe to expect a certain amount of shakin' -- possibly a whole lotta -- going on when the Killer himself, Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis, takes the stage on the latest installment of WQED's "American Soundtrack" series, premiering tonight at 8.

As T.J. Lubinsky, the series' producer, reports of the Killer's performance, "He's Jerry Lee Lewis. He's still the legend. I mean, he doesn't set the piano on fire. But he does kick the stool off the stage."

 
 
'Rock 50 -- The First Decade'

When: 8 tonight on WQED.

Starring: Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley.

   
 

The rock 'n' roll firebrand behind such classic hits as "High School Confidential," "Breathless" and "Great Balls of Fire" was here in May to tape "Rock 50 -- The First Decade" at the Benedum Center on a bill that also featured fellow Hall of Famer Bo Diddley, perhaps the only rock guitarist with his own beat. While Diddley didn't have as many hits as Lewis, his records have been covered by a host of rock immortals -- from the Yardbirds, Kinks and Rolling Stones to the New York Dolls. His latest recording, "A Man Amongst Men," which featured guest appearances by both Chuck Berry and Keith Richards, was in the running for a 1997 Grammy.

Also on the bill tonight is Gary U.S. Bonds, who topped the charts in 1961 with the R&B dance party "Quarter to Three" and famously enjoyed a brief revival when Bruce Springsteen dug him up and Little Steven helmed his comeback hit, the Springsteen-penned "This Little Girl."

Another key player is Darlene Love, who should have come to fame in 1962 when "He's a Rebel" topped the charts. That's Love and her vocal group, the Blossoms, you hear on "He's a Rebel" and on a second hit, "He's Sure the Boy I Love," that producer Phil Spector decided to credit to the Crystals, who, it should be noted, didn't sing a note on either record. If Love had a problem with that arrangement, it didn't stop her from staying with Spector, who provided her with two hits of her own in 1963 -- "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home."

The highlight for Lubinsky, though, was traveling to England to film the Manfreds (Manfred Mann without keyboardist Manfred Mann) and Gerry Marsden of the Pacemakers.

He took a ferry across the Mersey in Marsden's honor and filmed a segment in the shadow of Big Ben.

"I did a little introduction, right from Big Ben, talking about how this is when the music changed. And this is the sound that came in. And this is part of our American Soundtrack. It really is. Even though it's British music, that's what changed America. So that was the greatest part of the show."

Marsden and Los Bravos were scheduled to be at the Benedum taping, but something didn't work out with their visas, and Lubinsky couldn't bear to do the show without at least Marsden.

"This guy sounds exactly like his records," he explains. "And he has some beautiful songs, especially 'Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying.' I really, really wanted to get this guy desperately, so I decided to go to England and shoot it myself. And while we were over there we were able to get the guys who did 'Doo Wah Diddy Diddy' and 'The Mighty Quinn' and all that stuff. And when you see the Manfreds, they're exactly like the record. I had never experienced anything like that. Same with Gerry and the Pacemakers."

Other artists appearing tonight on the television premiere of "Rock 50" range from the latest incarnations of Danny and the Juniors (featuring Joe Terry) and (Terry Johnson's) Flamingos to Gary Puckett and such lesser-known names as the Heartbeats and the Jaguars.

Winding down his last season with both the American Soundtrack series and WQED, Lubinsky considers the "Rock 50" lineup "the best of the rest," the people he hadn't gotten to before that he wanted to get for the series before he moved on to his own production company.

"It's a little melancholy for me," he says, "because it's the end of an era. It's not like I'm gonna go back and do any doo-wop shows."


Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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