Jerry Lee Lewis is a genuine icon.
At just 21 in 1957, he became a founding father of rock and roll with his version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.”
Nicknamed “The Killer” Jerry Lee’s antics on the piano made him rock and roll’s first wild man.
In October, Harper Collins released a new biography, “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story.” He also released a new CD. To mark the occasions he did two shows at BB King’s in Manhattan and a live Q & A at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square.
The Killer’s October 29th interview would be with the book’s author, former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg.
To get in, people would have to buy a book. And to sweeten the deal, Barnes & Noble advertised that special edition books would be pre-signed by Jerry Lee Lewis. A Barnes & Noble employee told us there were 274 signed books. They sold out and some people who wanted them were turned away.
But a PIX11 investigation has found that Jerry Lee Lewis may not have actually signed the books. We’ve seen no evidence that he did beyond unsubstantiated assertions by Barnes & Noble and Harper Collins. There is circumstantial evidence pointing to the likelihood that someone else signed for him.
For one thing, there’s some variability in Jerry Lee’s signature . The ones in the book are all in red ink and all looking pretty much the same.
“To me it’s obvious… Jerry Lee Lewis did not sign the books,” said Steve Cyrkin, who runs the website Autograph Magazine Live. It’s popular with knowledgeable autograph collectors and experts. “They’re the James Whitten version of JLL’s signature.”
J.W. (James) Whitten? He’s Jerry Lee Lewis’ longtime assistant. Why does Cyrkin believe he’s the one who really signed the books sold at Barnes & Noble?
It started with a posting on his site by noted rock autograph authenticator Roger Epperson . Epperson put up photos of guitar pick guards he said were signed in person by Jerry Lee. He contracted them with another set of pick guards. They were given to James Whitten when they were blank. Whitten came back with them signed. But the signatures did not look like Jerry Lee’s known exemplars. Instead they look a lot like the ones in the books sold at Barnes & Noble.
We tried to get some answers for ourselves.
First we called author Rick Bragg, now a professor at the University of Alabama. He told us he had nothing at all to do with the business end of things and had no idea when the books were signed.
So we called Barnes & Noble. They told us they believed the signatures were genuine. But that the publisher handled the signing and we should talk to Harper Collins.
So we contacted Harper Collins. The company expressed confidence in the authenticity of the signatures and told us Jerry Lee’s manager, Greg Ericson, had witnessed the signings.
So we called Ericson at his office in Memphis. He said he hadn’t witnessed them. Instead, he said the pages to be signed were sent to Jerry Lee’s Mississippi ranch where J.W. Whitten witnessed Jerry Lee signing. Then the pages were sent back for inclusion in the special edition books.
We asked if there were any photos or video of the signing.
Ericson said he’d check. But we never heard back from him even though we called and emailed him numerous times.
Then Harper Collins said we could talk directly to James Whitten. We readily accepted. But the next day Harper Collins told us Whitten was unavailable. The company ignored our response and never answered our question of why Whitten was unavailable.
So what do we have? Absolutely no evidence that the rock legend himself signed the books and the behavior of people involved in the business suggests otherwise.
“Well the buck is gonna stop with the publisher, “ Steve Cyrkin says,”Making sure that they do their homework. But they’re really all responsible. The publisher is, the manager is, JLL would be as would be whoever had signed them for him.”
And more people may be getting duped. “Pre-signed” copies of the book are available on Ebay. Some of them are listed at prices above $200 for a book that retailed at $27.99.