Jerry Lee Lewis has been mentioned in pro wrestling of late, with his hit oldies song “Great Balls of Fire” being the name and theme song for the WWE pay-per-view event in July. It’s not his first connection with pro wrestling, however, as this story of him almost getting his ass kicked proves.
Date: Mid 1970s
Location: Hernando’s Hide-a-Way in Memphis, TN
Source: “The Ross Report” with Jim Ross and guest Jim Cornette
In the mid 1970s, the Memphis wrestling territory was generally on fire. On the heels of local legend Jerry Lawler, the company was doing gigantic television ratings at the time. In some weeks it drew among the highest syndicated ratings of any show on television in the country. They also sold out the Mid South Coliseum numerous times, sometimes on a weekly basis.
In the 70s and early 80s, virtually everybody in Memphis watched the local wrestling show. Jerry Lawler was a household name in that part of the country. When I went to college in the mid 90s, there were students from Memphis who were not wrestling fans, but they ALL knew Jerry Lawler, Dave Brown, Lance Russell, and they all watched the show when they were kids.
Our point is that anyone on that show in that time period was a local celebrity. This story doesn’t involve Jerry Lawler, but it does involve some of the wrestlers working for him who became famous thanks to Lawler’s own popularity.
Jerry Lee Lewis is of course a music legend. We don’t know the details of his career, though it’s safe to say in the mid 1970s he was probably still a strong draw and huge name nationwide. He would’ve been in his 40s when this took story took place.
Hernando’s Hide-a-Way, which no longer exists today, was a legendary music hall in Memphis. Jerry Lee Lewis played there often, and there are videos of him on YouTube playing there numerous times.
On the night in question, Bill Dundee was there with Plowboy Frazier. Dundee is another Memphis legend, also known for his booking prowess. He was short, which limited his potential as a wrestler outside of Memphis. He had runs in the AWA and NWA, and most modern fans may know him as Sir William, the manager of Lord Steven Regal when Regal debuted with WCW in the early 1990s.
Make no mistake about it, though, Dundee was a big name in Memphis.
Plowboy Frazier would be best known to wrestling fans as Uncle Elmer. Elmer was part of the WWF roster when Vince McMahon first went national in 1984 and 1985, and his “wedding” is one of the more famous early memories of Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC. He was absolutely enormous, standing a legit 6’-9” or so, and weighed over 400 pounds. He was not athletic or in shape, but his sheer size made him a star as the huge country bumpkin. He too was a star in Memphis at the time.
Frazier/Elmer fancied himself as a country singer, and had a Southern accent. While he and Dundee were at Hernando’s Hide-a-Way, he got on the stage and started singing some songs by himself. It was early in the night, and while the bar wasn’t empty, the place had not filled up yet.
Jerry Lee Lewis had a show to play that night, and as he was backstage preparing, he heard Frazier singing and came out. Lewis had an entourage of security with him, so Lewis asked them to tell Frazier to step off the stage.
Frazier, with his enormous size, refused to get off. Security approached him, probably very carefully, and asked him again. Eventually Frazier, who wasn’t known to be a bully or tough guy, got off the stage. All was well.
That is, until Jerry Lee Lewis made a snide remark about that “Fake wrestler.” Uh oh.
Bill Dundee overheard Lewis say this, and got steaming mad. While Dundee wasn’t the tallest guy around, he was tough and fearless. If he wasn’t afraid of Randy Savage, he sure wasn’t going to be afraid of a blues singer in his 40s.
Dundee charged the stage with the intention of punching Jerry Lee Lewis out. Luckily for Lewis, his security stopped him before that could happen. But there was a lot of chaos in the meantime, as Dundee was red hot.
Dundee looked for Frazier to back him up, but couldn’t see him. Finally he saw Frazier out the front door, where he was probably very hard to miss given his immense size. Realizing he had no backup, Dundee “took a powder,” which in wrestling lingo means he got off the stage and bailed out the door.
Dundee pulled Frazier aside and said something to the effect of, “Where the f*ck did you go??” Frazier, who really was a naïve country boy, simply said in his Southern accent, “Well I just went to get my knife!”
Frazier coming back and wielding a knife would’ve been bad news for all involved, and certainly would’ve led to his arrest. Fortunately nothing happened, and Dundee and Frazier simply left.
What could’ve been a big national story ended up being nothing much, as most wrestling fans don’t even know this story. We find it humorous in hindsight, and it’s something to keep in mind as we hear the “Great Balls of Fire” song playing nonstop on WWE television in the days leading up to the show on July 9.