Origins of the song[edit source | edit]Edit
The origins of the song are disputed, but the writing is co-credited to singer/songwriter Dave "Curlee" Williams and pianist, bandleader, and songwriter James Faye "Roy" Hall (May 7, 1922 - March 2, 1984). On March 21, 1955, Big Maybelle made the first recording for Okeh Records, which was produced by Quincy Jones.
Roy Hall made a recording of the song in September, 1955 for Decca Records and maintained that he had written it and had secured the legal copyright as co-writer under the pseudonym of "Sunny David." However, a Decca sample copy of Hall's recording lists Dave Williams as the sole writer. On the Pop Chronicles documentary, Jerry Lee Lewis credited Big Mama Thornton.All subsequent recordings of the song list the composers as Sunny David and Dave Williams. Hall was also a Nashville club owner, who later claimed to have employed the young piano player Lewis, at some point around 1954.
Jerry Lee Lewis version[edit source | edit]Edit
Lewis had been performing the song in his stage act and recorded it at his second recording session for Sun Records in February 1957. The release is reviewed in Billboard magazine on May 27, 1957. Supervised by producer Jack Clement, Lewis radically altered the original, adding a propulsive boogie piano that was complemented by J.M. Van Eaton's energetic drumming and also added suggestive spoken asides. Lewis later stated: "I knew it was a hit when I cut it. Sam Phillips thought it was gonna be too risqué, it couldn't make it. If that's risqué, well, I'm sorry." The song was engineered by Jack "Cowboy" Clement.
In Lewis' biographical film, Great Balls of Fire!, Lewis is shown spying in on an African American speak-easy type club, listening to "Whole Lotta Shakin Goin' On" performed by a black woman, supposedly Big Maybelle. The part was played by the singer Valerie Wellington and her version was also on the film's soundtrack. The next scene depicted Lewis using the song without crediting the original artist, Big Maybelle.
Released as Sun 267, the record reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart and #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The single also hit #1 on the country charts an #38 in the UK. Lewis became an instant sensation and as writer Robert Gordon noted: "Jerry Lee began to show that in this new emerging genre called rock 'n' roll, not everybody was going to stand there with a guitar."
Lewis's version of the song is ranked as the 61st greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. In 2005, it was selected for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.
Other versions[edit source | edit]Edit
Levi Kreis version[edit source | edit]Edit
Levi Kreis, portraying Lewis, sang the song in the Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet," which opened in New York in April, 2010; and Kreis covered the song on the "Million Dollar Quartet" original Broadway cast recording (copyright 2010 by MDQ Merchandising, LLC). Levi Kreis won a 2010 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet.”