Mississippi to Louisiana

Mississippi to Louisiana - Ferriday

Louisiana and Mississippi have long shared a close musical relationship. One of the most important musical paths was that between Natchez and Ferriday, where African American entrepreneur Will Haney operated Haney’s Big House for several decades. In addition to major national acts the club featured local musicians including Ferriday’s Leon “Pee Wee” Whittaker and Natchez’s Hezekiah Early and Y. Z. Ealey. A young Jerry Lee Lewis often visited the club, soaking up the sounds of the blues.

Lousiana and Mississippi are both world famous for music, so it is hardly surprising that the neighboring states have had plenty of musical interchange over the years. The traveling circuit for New Orleans musicians usually included stops on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, while Mississippi Delta artists often crossed the river to play at clubs in Ferriday, Waterproof, Tallulah, and Monroe. The Shreveport-based Jewel and Ronn labels released records by Mississippi natives or residents Artie “Blues Boy” White, Frank Frost, John Lee Hooker, Sunnyland Slim, and Rev. Willie Morganfield, among others, while the Excello label’s Mississippi-born bluesmen Jimmy Anderson and Whispering Smith recorded in Crowley, Louisiana. New Orleans artists Dr. John, Huey “Piano” Smith, Earl King, Bobby Marchan, and James Booker recorded for Johnny Vincent’s Jackson-based Ace Records. New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Records released CDs by Jimmy Lewis, the Love Doctor, and others, along with a two-volume collection entitled Mississippi Burnin’ Blues. Mississippi-born blues artists Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, Babe Stovall, Little Freddie King, and record producer Senator Jones all settled and recorded in the Crescent City.

Ferriday’s major contribution to this interchange came via Haney’s Big House, which featured leading blues and R&B acts including B. B. King, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Roy Brown, Solomon Burke, Percy Mayfield, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Johnnie Taylor, and Irma Thomas. Located on the 500 block of 4th Street (now East Wallace Boulevard), the club was run by African American businessman Will Haney (1895-1972), a first sergeant in the Army during World War I who later worked as an insurance agent. Property records suggest Haney bought the lot that housed the club in March of 1945. In its heyday the club featured about fifty tables and served food around the clock. Haney’s other business interests included a hotel located behind the club.

Local musicians who performed at the club included trombonist Leon “Pee Wee” Whittaker (c. 1906-1993), a native of Newellton, Louisiana, who performed for years with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels out of Port Gibson, Mississippi. In the 1950s, when Ferriday was “wide open” for gambling and entertainment, he led the house band at Haney’s and hosted a radio show, “Peewee & His Rock & Roll,” on KFNV. A frequent visitor to the club in the early ‘50s was local pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. House bands were also led by Natchez natives Y.Z. Ealey (b. 1937) and Hezekiah Early (b. 1934), who had earlier played the club with Natchez guitarist John Fitzgerald and singer Elmo Williams. Whittaker later played in Early’s band, Hezekiah and the Houserockers, for nearly 30 years.

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