The World Famous Hernando’s Hideaway in Whitehaven is used to playing host to music legends.
B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Ace Cannon, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich and many more all played there. Jerry Lee Lewis frequented the stage so often during the late hours of the night back in the day that he began calling it his “office.”
The Hideaway can now add another name to its long history. Actor Dennis Quaid, who played Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1990 biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” paid the honky tonk a visit this week, in a low key, unpublicized appearance that had music fans rocking out.
“Hello, hello, hello,” Quaid said to the packed house as he settled down in front of a piano on the stage. “It’s a real honor to be here tonight. It was not a long drive because my wife and I moved to Nashville in February. I got a Tennessee driver’s license and everything.”
Quaid, who dabbles in music on the side with his own band “The Sharks,” is a close friend of Kelly Chelette, manager of the Lewis Ranch in Nesbit. Chelette said she told Quaid about Hernando’s Hideway and put him in touch with owners Dale Watson and Celine Lee, who jumped at the chance to have the actor come and visit.
“I told him how great Hernando’s is,” Chelette said. “He’s got great taste in music, so I wanted to invite him to Hernando’s Hideaway while Jerry King and the Rivertown Ramblers, a rockabilly band from Cincinnati, were playing.”
Quaid was introduced by another Memphis legend, boogie-woogie showman Rockin’ Jason D. Williams, who many believe is the son of Jerry Lee because of his uncanny resemblance and similar piano playing style.
“I’ve known Dennis a long time,” Williams said. “Dennis Quaid loves Memphis.”
Williams’s hands doubled for Quaid’s in the piano scenes in the movie, but when filming wrapped in Memphis, he was told by producers that they wouldn’t need him to come to Hollywood.
“They said we won’t need you for this part of the film. We’ll find somebody else in Hollywood to do Jerry Lee’s part,” Williams said. “So about a month later they called me and said they couldn’t find anybody to do Jerry Lee’s part. Can you come out here? So my price went way up.”
Quaid, who was 34 when he portrayed the rock legend, said he played guitar, but didn’t know how to play piano when he was cast. He spent a year learning how to play and received instruction from Jerry Lee himself.
“So I basically sat at a piano for 12 hours a day for a year,” Quaid said. “I was on cocaine at the time, so it helped. I don’t do that no more. Jerry Lee was one of my teachers. He was very gracious.”
Quaid then launched in to a few of Lewis’s hits, pounding the ivories accompanied by Watson and the house band “The Memphians” with raucous renditions of “Crazy Arms,” “Breathless,” “You Win Again,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and It’ll Be Me.”
“It was the B-side of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin,’” Quaid said. “Cowboy Jack Clement was the engineer at Sun Studio who was the first to record him. And he was also called ‘the King of the Bs,’ because you got paid just the same. Right, Dale? He was a mentor of mine. I love his music.”
Quaid also delighted the crowd with two of his own original songs, “Good Man, Bad Boy,” and a song he wrote about Louisiana, which he performed for the very first time.
Chelette said Quaid is a huge Jerry Lee Lewis fan and still keeps in touch with him.
“I’ve met Jerry Lee Lewis fans from all over the world, and I have never met anyone that shows as much love and respect for Jerry Lee as Dennis shows,” Chelette said. “The love he has for Jerry Lee Lewis is touching.”
After the show, Quaid stayed and greeted fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures before heading off to the historic Peabody Hotel, where he spent the night.
Chelette said Quaid is a very genuine, humble, Christian man who loves good music. She added that Quaid told her that he really enjoyed his night out at Hernando’s, and said he hopes to come back.
“Everyone loved his performance, and so many people have said they hope he comes back,” Chelette said.