Vintage Edmonton: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson In Camrose and Edmonton (May 4/10, 1957)
Johnny Cash at Edmonton Gardens, May 10, 1957
Johnny Cash made several trips to Edmonton over the years, starting in 1956 as part of a package show with now country music legends Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, and Marty Robbins. Cash had scored a number 1 country hit in "I Walk The Line" that year and less the a week after the Edmonton show was present at the "Million Dollar Quartet" session at Sun Studios in Memphis with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and a then unknown wild-maned, wild man piano player, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins in Edmonton 1956
In the spring of 1957 Cash had commenced another package tour of Western Canada with Perkins, Lewis, and another up and coming rockabilly singer in Wanda Jackson playing shows in Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon on their way to Alberta. The tour is recounted in Jerry Lee Lewis' own words in the excellent autobiography, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, written by Rick Bragg (which you can get HERE).
The show in Saskatoon, Calgary, Lacombe, and Lethbridge
The book is a goldmine of reminiscences of the tour and I couldn't resist providing a few excerpts:
"Jerry Lee Lewis did not know where he was, precisely, just somewhere in Canada. The caravan thundered down highways that were barely there, the roadbed eaten by permafrost, the gravel flying like buckshot against the bottoms of the big cars. There was a long Lincoln Continental, a Fleetwood Cadillac, a mean-looking Hudson Hornet, and a brand-new Buick Supreme...“I didn’t drive. . . . I was paid to play piano and sing. Stars don’t drive.” Instead, he read Superman, or used a cigarette lighter to fire up one cherry bomb after another and flung them out the half window to explode under the trailing cars.."
"His feelings about Johnny Cash are more complicated. “Johnny, well, I just didn’t think he could sing. Wrote some real good songs . . . but let’s just say he wasn’t no troubadour.” He and Cash would be friends off and on and even record together as older men, but in the cold northern spring of ’57, the man in black was one more obstacle in his way..'
The tour stayed at roadside motels and truck stops along the way, often wreaking havoc in the process:
“Johnny came in my room and saw this little bitty television in there, and he said, ‘You know, my wife’s always wanted one of them.’ And I told him, ‘Fine, go steal one from your own room.’ ” And it went that way, eight hundred, nine hundred miles a day, half drunk, pill crazy, larcenous, and destructive and beset by loose women and fits of temper, and it was perfect.."
“I liked Carl,” says Jerry Lee. “He became my friend. He was a great talent. He could sing, had a real good voice, and he could play that guitar. He could play all over that guitar.."
"The stage had become a kind of laboratory for Jerry Lee, and he was the mad scientist. Onstage he mixed and matched songs and versions of songs, stitched together some parts and discarded others; because he was Jerry Lee, he did what he felt like in the moment, in a set that was supposed to be four or so songs, but he ignored that, too. He gave them “Crazy Arms” one minute and “Big-Legged Woman” the next, and they clapped to one and stomped and howled to the other. His show got wilder and increasingly wicked on that tour, and the audiences bellowed for encores. He had heard that Canadians were earnest, reserved people, but he must have heard wrong.."
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, from Maud, Oklahoma, it’s the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda...” And before the announcer could even get it out, the crowd was hollering and hooting—with here and there a wolf whistle or two—as Wanda Jackson came out from the wings in high, high heels, hips swinging free and easy like she walked that way going to the mailbox. Her big hair was dark brown and flowing, and her big eyes were framed by a starlet’s arched eyebrows; she was a goddess with a voice like a blast, and she growled as she sang that a hardheaded woman is a thorn in the side of a man.."
"(Lewis) cannot really remember all the little cities and towns they traveled through, not even the names on the road signs, only the vast, empty spaces in between. They would go two hundred miles or more and not see a café or a motel. “We’d stop at a store and get some Vienna sausages and bologna and bread and pickles and mustard, and pull over to the side of the road and have a picnic. . . . Calgary, that was one of the places.."
Though the tour went through the big cities in the prairies it also hit 3 smaller cities in Alberta; Lethbridge, Lacombe, and on May 4th in Camrose, at the bandbox-sized Drill Hall:
Camrose Drill Hall in 1944
Camrose Drill Hall (Now the site of the Camrose Shooting Sports Association Indoor Range)
The show was described alternately in the local papers as a Rockabilly, Grand Ole Opry-themed, and The Johnny Cash Show depending on what was a better selling point for that city, and when the show rolled into Edmonton on May 10th, 1957 it was no different:
Elvis in 1957 was at the zenith of his fame and much fodder for imitation. Cash's impression of Elvis was over the top and (mostly) in fun, and it's nice to hear of him performing it onstage at the Edmonton Gardens show:
Cash would make many more visits to Edmonton through the years, and was an always a reliable concert draw.