Whole Lotta Rumblin’ Goin’ On: Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘59 Duo Glide
Words: Randy Bolig
Photos: Courtesy of Mecum
When you think of larger-than-life personalities, Jerry Lee Lewis has to make the list. He rarely had any regard for public opinion, and may have even pioneered the sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll lifestyle.
His reputation is storied with debauched tales and extreme behavior. How many musicians do you know that would climb on their instruments? With his extreme lifestyle, it’s not a stretch to realize that he was also a fan of motorcycles. It was in 1951 when Jerry Lee bought his first bike. Sure, it was actually a Cushman scooter. He was 16 years old, and says that he wasn’t actually big enough for “a real bike.” At the time, he was working on his family farm, but farm life — and the Cushman — didn’t seem to satisfy him.
In 1956, he made a deal with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee to record his first song. “Crazy Arms” sold 300,000 copies—most of them in the south. But in 1957, the flame was ignited when "Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On" was released. The popularity of the song spread like a prairie fire, and as a gift to himself, he bought a brand-new FLH with a 74 cubic-inch Pan Head engine. According to Jerry Lee, “It was a fine motorcycle, and I rode it all over the place.”
In 1958, his status as a true Rock & Roll icon was established, having already sold millions of albums. Harley-Davidson—even in the early years, had a knack for product placement. That year, they gave away a pair of brand new 1959 FLH Pan Heads. One went to Jerry Lee, and the other went to Elvis Presley. As luck would have it, Jerry Lee got his first. This didn’t sit particularly well with Elvis. Jerry Lee tells us. “Harley-Davidson asked if I’d like to have a new bike, and they brought it down to Memphis and gave it to me at my house. Elvis got the second one, and there was a bit of personal talk about this – he couldn’t understand why he got the second one, so I asked if he wanted to trade! That was just a joke”.
Jerry Lee really enjoyed his ’59, He quips, “It’s a fine motorcycle, [there’s] no comparison to my ’57 Pan Head - the motor on that one wasn’t quite as nice. This motor is just as good as the day it was given to me.. But, it didn’t always look this good.
Several years ago, Jerry Lee’s son-in-law Zeke Loftin, found the motorcycle in shambles. According to Zeke, “I found it in a million pieces all over his garage floor and in boxes.” Zeke knew that this was no way for a prized Harley to spend its day, so he got together with Yesterday’s Motorcycle Restoration Company, a division of Topeka Harley Davidson, so they could bring the Duo back to its original glory with a museum-quality restoration. It took some time, but the crew managed to completely restore the bike, and make it look as good as new.
Unfortunately, times change, and for one lucky person, the ’59 became more than just a gorgeous motorcycle. Jerry Lee decided to put the motorcycle in the 2015 Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida. When asked why he’s selling a precious piece of personal history he’s owned for 55 years, Jerry Lee became a little pensive. “There was a time I wouldn’t take a zillion dollars for it, but now it’s just sitting there. You can crank that motorcycle up and she purrs like a kitten – but you have to kick start it you know. I could probably sit on it alright today, but I wouldn’t take a chance. I’m 79 years old. This bike is like a child to me, but I’ve decided it’s time to let it go.”
Let it go he did, when the deal was done, the Duo Glide sold for a whopping $350,000.