There is various debate about Jerry’s first public performance that earned him a payday. The evidence points largely to a chance performance in front of the local Ford dealership in Ferriday, Louisiana. An excerpt from the book Unconquered …
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Before long, word got around Ferriday that young Jerry Lee Lewis, local mischief maker, had a way with a piano. Jerry was primed and eager to show off his skills to as many people as possible. His first opportunity came in 1949 when some local auto merchants staged a promotion in front of the Babin-Ford dealership in the center of town and hired a band to play there.
The band quickly drew a crowd and in that crowd were Jerry and Elmo. Seeing them, the owner of the dealership thought it might be nice to give young Jerry Lee Lewis an opportunity to play.
Jerry climbed up onto the back of a pickup bed and sat down at the piano. He gazed out at a sea of familiar faces. Now, he thought, it was his time to show them how a piano is meant to to be played. He poised his hands over the keys, and grinned. Then he slammed both hands down on the keys as he beat out the sounds of “Hadacol Boogie” and “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee,” a song that Old Sam played frequently. His left hand pounded out the rhythm while his right hand floated all over the keys, adding trills and touches to these familiar tunes all the while stunning the audience and giving a first, tantalizing vision of what could be. The admiring upturned faces were a tonic to him, teaching him in a matter of minutes how his music could capture people. He finished to a burst of applause that he answered with a sly, knowing grin. Then a hat was passed, and as he and Elmo drove away, he counted out thirteen dollars, each nickel and quarter bolstering his nascent sense that playing piano was his calling.