Country’s outlaw figures have always been known as musically uncompromising, and that outlaw image often carried over into their personal lives on a very real level. Johnny Paycheck and George Jones owned guns and they weren’t afraid to use them, Willie Nelson flouted the law by consuming truckloads of illegal narcotics, and Jerry Lee Lewis was not dubbed “the killer” because of his cuddly qualities.
While the traditional place for these kinds of crazy antics was generally the jam-packed tour bus, which carted these musicians all over the country to display their outlaw prowess, the truth is, this behavior wasn’t relegated to just one venue. Wherever these musicians went, chaos seemed to follow. So, here’s a look back at the wildest escapades of some of country music’s most famous outlaws, presented in celebration of the September 22 premiere of Cinemax’s new animated series, Mike Judge Presents: Tales From The Tour Bus.
Jerry Lee Lewis’ Flaming Piano
Lewis earned a menacing nickname, “The Killer,” when he was still in high school after he got into a fight with a teacher. “I was strangling him by his necktie,” the singer remembered in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. “I was swinging on it. He was weakening, losing his breath.” Lewis also had a penchant for firearms — he shot his bassist in the chest, but somehow the musician lived and subsequently sued his shooter. With all that in mind, it’s not necessarily surprising that when Lewis opened for Chuck Berry he found a creative way to gum up the works — finishing his set off with “Great Balls of Fire,” he then lit the piano on fire. “Burned it to the ground,” Lewis told Rolling Stone in 1979, acknowledging that he had taken a Coke bottle with gasoline in it on stage with him. “They forced me to do it, tellin’ me I had to go on before Chuck,” he added. “I was supposed to be the star of the show.”