Tim Culbertson (right) of Bar Harbor worked as a tour manager for Jerry Lee Lewis (left) for a few years in the 1990s. Lewis died on Oct. 28 at the age of 87. Credit: Courtesy of Tim Culbertson

Singer-pianist Jerry Lee Lewis’ death on Friday at the age of 87 prompted a part-time Bar Harbor resident to recall his years as Lewis’ tour manager, when he had a front-row seat to the early rock-and-roll star’s extensive – and often turbulent – music career.

Tim Culbertson said he stumbled into being Lewis’ tour manager after meeting him backstage after one of Lewis’ shows. The two became friends and Lewis eventually asked Culbertson to be his tour manager for a few years in the 1990s.

“I have some special memories from being able to tour with Jerry during a small portion of his life, and what a life he had,” Culbertson said. “Along with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, he was one of the three rock-and-roll singers that survived after Elvis, and Jerry outlived them all. Through booze and drugs, Jerry seemed to defy death, and with a full head of hair.”

Culbertson now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, part-time, but spends his summers at his home in Bar Harbor.

Culbertson spent a few years arranging transportation and accommodations for Lewis and his crew on various tours, including during Lewis’s 40th anniversary world tour in 1996. Though some days were more exciting than others, Culbertson said even mundane nights on tour led to some memorable moments with the star.

One night after a show in a city he couldn’t recall, the pair went into a piano bar and Lewis sat with a group “holding court,” Culbertson said.

Culbertson sat at a piano on the other side of the room, and when he absentmindedly hit a few keys, the self-playing piano erupted into a song. When the pair reunited later that night, Culbertson said Lewis complimented him.

“Jerry said, ‘Tim, I never knew you could play piano so well. You were great,’” Culbertson said. “I never told him it was a self-playing piano, so all his life he thought I could play piano.”

Culbertson also said Lewis was notoriously bad at remembering people’s names. When he couldn’t remember a person’s name, he simply called them “Killer,” Lewis’ longtime nickname.

Though Culbertson said Lewis “was always very nice to me,” he did have to sue the star in the late 1990s following a tour when Lewis’ wife refused to repay Culbertson for expenses, such as transportation and accommodations, he accrued during the tour.

Though the disagreement was between Culbertson and Lewis’ wife at the time – one of seven marriages he had in his life – Culbertson said he had to sue Lewis because he worked for him.

Culbertson said he won the $1,000 he was owed in 2000 and the lawsuit was “a bump in the road” for the pair.

Culbertson also worked as an actor and stunt double with minor appearances in several television shows and movies in the 1970s through the early 2000s, including Hill Street Blues, Fantasy Island and Battlestar Galactica.

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...