Lewis had a recorded argument with Sam Phillips during the recording session for ‘Great Balls of Fire’, a song he initially refused to record because he considered it blasphemous. During the famous Million Dollar Quartet jam involving Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, they performed several gospel songs. Lewis’s biographer Rick Bragg explains that part of the reason the recording only features Lewis and Elvis singing is because ‘only Elvis and Jerry Lee were raised in the Assembly of God’, and ‘Johnny and Carl didn’t really know the words … they was Baptists’, Lewis said, and therefore deprived.’
Lewis also endured years of condemnation from his cousin, evangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggart (video), who never passed up an opportunity to criticize Lewis’s lifestyle.
In the 1990 documentary The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, Jerry Lee Lewis explains to the interviewer, ‘The Bible don’t even speak of religion. No word of religion is even in the Bible. Are you sanctified? Have you been saved? See, I was a good preacher, I know my Bible… I find myself falling short of the glory of God.”
Gospel music was a staple of his performing repertoire. After a string of hit country albums, he decided to record a proper gospel album for the first time in 1970.