British musician channels Jerry Lee Lewis
British recording artist Martin Kaye is making his professional theatrical debut playing rock ’n’ roller, Jerry Lee Lewis in the Million Dollar Quartet, running at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until July 29.
Million Dollar Quartet is based on a night in Memphis in December 1956, when four rock ’n’ roll pioneers – Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley – ended up at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records storefront studio, jamming. Phillips discovered all four musical icons.
“It was meant to be a Carl Perkins recording session,” Kaye said in an interview. “Jerry Lee Lewis was actually there as a session piano player. Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash were both in town and dropped by, so it turned into this jam session. The tape was left on, so the session was recorded. Today it is actually available on iTunes.”
Although most of the songs sung that evening were from the gospel realm reflecting the musicians’ roots, Million Dollar Quartet also includes the icons’ many hits, among them Blue Suede Shoes, Fever, Who Do You Love?, Great Balls of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues and Hound Dog.
Kaye, 28, admits he didn’t grow up listening to this music. “My parents listened to Elton John and music from the late ’60s and ’70s era, rather than the ’50s, and my grandparents were slightly too old and were probably the ones that disagreed with it.”
Despite this, he said, he sees many similarities between himself and Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I am honoured to play Jerry Lee Lewis – he’s the last one standing, the one who is still alive. I definitely relate to him when I’m on stage. We are both very wild on stage and we both have a passion for what we do, think about and dream about. Obviously, there are personal things that happened in his life that haven’t happened in mine.”
He feels the show gives audiences a sense of history about a time that revolutionized music and resonates with both those who lived through the ’50s and remember these hits from their youth, and those who are enjoying this music for the first time.
Kaye, who recently relocated to New York, has worked as a professional musician for 10 years and spent the last four years performing on cruise ships. He’s known for both his colourful piano playing and his equally colourful mismatched socks – a memorable fashion statement that sets him apart.
He is about to release the followup to his first CD, About You, called Everything The Pen Wants To Say. He has also been collaborating with L.A.-based, ’70s artist and songwriter Kenny Nolan on a future album.
Kaye started singing at the age of three and playing the piano at seven. He went to a Jewish elementary school and sang in the choir. From the ages of 11 to 16, he joined a local Jewish youth theatre group that his aunt was active with. His experience on stage made him realize that this was something he really wanted to do. His parents thought he was a natural and encouraged him to follow his dreams.
He still loves the Jewish traditions, and when he gets back home to the Manchester area, he especially likes to be part of family Sabbath dinners.
Kaye will marry his American fiancée, Holly Fonda, on Sept. 2 in England.