Jacob Tolliver helps shake Memphis into the New Year

Steve Hayes

When your hand- picked by the man who taught the world to shake, rattle, and roll to open up for a celebration for his own personal New Year’s Eve party and in his hometown; you just feel like you’ve won not just again, but forever!

This past New Years’ Eve , local 24 year old music phoneme Jacob Tolliver did just that on famed Beale Street in Memphis for his idol Jerry Lee Lewis at the Jerry Lee Lewis Tavern and Honky Honky café. It was a sold out crowd that witnessed Tolliver take the stage to ignite the evening to bring on the 82 year old living legend of rock n’ roll. After spending four years in Las Vegas playing his character on stage in the famed ‘Million Dollar Quartet” musical, Tolliver and Lewis have become close friends.

According to Tolliver, “Getting to know Jerry Lee’s wife Judith the Lewis family through my performances and personal friendship have given them the trust that I will always represent Jerry Lee on stage as the musical genius that he really is. It has been quite an experience getting to know the family and it was quite an honor when they asked me to open up for him on this very special night.”

Tolliver took the stage to an enthusiastic crowd that supported many local and national fans of the music business. His set was met with great enthusiasm as he cascaded through songs like

‘Walking on the fighting side of me, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” as well as ZZ Top’s “Tush” all played in the boogie woogie style that Jerry Lee Lewis is famous for.

Jerry Lee Lewis’s Sister Linda Gayle followed Jacob with her own style of the same featuring a collection of all of her hits from the country charts. It was indeed a special moment when she called Jake Tolliver back to the stage to perform the legendary Johnny Cash and June Carter song “I’m going to Jackson.” The crowd exploded!

At around 11:15 pm, it was time for “The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis to take the stage. As the crowd stood, the 82 year old rock icon strolled to the stage with that famed twinkle in his eyes and started things jumping. He played for about a half-hour before exiting for a few minutes to get ready for midnight. His return at 11:45 pm brought the house down as he ended his set at the stroke of midnight with ‘Great Balls of Fire.”

After the show, I asked long -time lead guitar player Kenny Lovelace about Tolliver’s place in the crazy world of Jerry Lee.

“Jacob is an incredible talent and not only has the keyboard talent, but the spirit of what Jerry Lee is all about. We love him and know he’s going to go far,” said Lovelace.

That is quite a quote from a man who has been on stage with Jerry Lee Lewis since 1966 and has played with literally everyone in pop/rock music. By the way, world- class drummer Kenny Arnoff was also on the drums for the evening.

A day after the big show in Memphis, Jacob Tolliver had some special breaking news.

“I was asked by Jerry Lee to be his opening act when his sister Linda Gayle can’t make it. I already have dates to open on April 21st at the Las “Vegas Rockabilly Festival” and there will be more coming soon. I am totally excited,” Tolliver announced.

To watch and witness the metamorphosis of Jacob Tolliver in the music world since his days at West High School have been off the charts for me (Steve Hayes) personally. It was his grandmother that first took him into downtown Portsmouth the buy old recording of artists ‘like Jerry Lee and others that influenced him in the direction he has taken. His family support group of Rick, Marcia, his Uncle John and all the Tolliver family and supporters have all been the glue that has cemented his drive for success.

Putting things into honest perspective, it was only in the year 2008 that Jacob Tolliver was fourteen years old singing in his bedroom to the albums of one of rock n’ rolls biggest stars.

On the Eve of 2018, he was there and doing it with him live and in person. This is a true story of a dream followed; where it goes from here could get very interesting.


Steve Hayes