A bit of his world shifted like an unrehearsed musical note several weeks ago in a Memphis, Tennessee, hotel elevator.
In an instant, singer Terry Lee Ridley’s emotions were going up. There, standing right next to him, was his entertainment hero — rock and roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis.
Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire. And excitement. And admiration — especially considering the 81-year-old Lewis had just entertained a crowd of 85,000 at the popular Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California, only days earlier.
“He’s still got the attitude and the swagger,” Ridley said of their brief chit-chat and social-media selfie.
Story continues below gallery
Ridley, 32, later playfully labeled their meeting as The Thriller meets The Killer, inventing a name for his own electrifying concerts and using the age-old nickname for Lewis.
This is to report that The Thriller, heavily inspired by The Killer, will bring a batch of high-energy cover tunes of Lewis and other classic rock artists to the Aug. 3 free JCB NeighborFEST street concert in front of The Commons in downtown Columbus.
Make no mistake, call this event anything but a chiller. Because Ridley and his Rockaboogie Band promise a get-up-and-dance atmosphere, which has unfolded at his rollicking other area appearances from here to Seymour to North Vernon in recent years.
“Sometimes, after two or three hours of piano-pumping, honky-tonking rock and roll, I put on classical music for the trip home just to calm down and clear my head,” Ridley said, speaking from his home in Vincennes. That’s where he and his wife are raising three boys, ages 1, 3 and 10.
The native of London, England, acknowledged that nurturing his career frequently takes him away from family, especially when he and his three bandmates — guitarist/vocalist Robbie Robertson, bassist/vocalist Jack E. Harden and drummer and vocalist Wayne Collins — head to Europe for gigs.
The topic of his British roots remains interesting because, though Ridley retains his English accent, his self-taught vocal presentation of southern artists from Elvis to Lewis to Johnny Cash projects an unmistakable, laid-back Southern sound.
“I probably get more questions about that than maybe anything else,” he said. “When I was singing and playing along to the record player at 9 and 10 years old at home, I probably picked up some of the accents. But it’s not exactly anything I’m consciously doing now.”
Chris Crawl with the Columbus Area Arts Council saw Ridley at the band’s last local JCB NeighborFEST appearance in September 2014.
He praised Ridley’s “clean, fresh interpretations of the purest form of rock and roll.” Crawl also lauded Ridley’s “10-foot-tall personality and presence.”
Maybe that’s because the stage serves as a bit of a playground at everything from swing dances to music fests for Ridley and his bandmates, offering a literal platform for sheer, flat-out, footloose fun. Besides, how can one play truly energetic boogie-woogie without letting the rhythm literally move them?
“I love what I do,” Ridley said. “Anybody out there, whatever skill or passion they may have, if they enjoy it, you always can truly see it in their spirit. So, when I sit behind the piano and sing, my only goal is to make people happy. I want to make sure that people’s money and time is well spent.”
Plus, in homage to his hero Lewis, he wants to rip through a no-holds-barred, breakneck version of “Great Balls of Fire” before nearly every performance is over. With some prodding, he acknowledged that an energy drink can offer great preparation for such.
“Well, speed isn’t everything,” Ridley said with a laugh. “But there are times when I really want to thunder through it.”
Jerry Lee Lewis would understand.
What: The Columbus Area Arts Council’s JCB NeighborFEST street concert with Terry Lee and the Rockaboogie Band playing classic rock and related covers of artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and others.
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3.
Where: Outside in front of The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.
Rain location: Inside The Commons.
Food and drink: Available at area surrounding restaurants.
Information: The arts council at 812-376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org.