Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife

Map: Cultural Micro-Regions of the Delta, Northeast Louisiana

Working in the Delta

Making Music in the Delta

Telling Stories in the Delta

Delta Archival Materials

Since Ol' Gabriel's Time: Hezekiah and the Houserockers: Liner Notes

By David Evans

CD Available


Hezekiah and the Houserockers must qualify as the most unusual and distinctive blues band in the South to be recorded in the last twenty years. What other band has featured harmonica and trombone as lead instruments? And what other band spans three generations in its membership and unites three distinct black popular musical traditions into a working unit whose sound has an integrity all of its own?

Hezekiah and the Houserockers

The band consists of Hezekiah Early on vocals, amplified harmonica, and drums; Leon "Peewee" Whittaker on vocals and trombone; and James Baker on electric guitar played through a bass amplifier. Hezekiah lives near Natchez, Mississippi, while Whittaker and Baker live across the Mississippi River in Louisiana in the communities of Ferriday and St. Joseph respectively. Their same basic sound (minus the harmonica, which Hezekiah added only a few years ago) has been heard in this area on both sides of the river since the late 1950s. They perform all of their pieces in a danceable style and have an enormous repertoire that enables them to play for five or six hours without repeating a number unless they have a request for it. Their music draws upon the traditions of blues, jazz, ragtime, minstrelsy, fife and drum bands, country music, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, and "middle of the road" pop music -- in other words, virtually every type of secular music that has been heard in their communities for the past hundred and fifty years. In a single evening one might hear this group perform such diverse pieces as "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town," "St. Louis Blues," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, Blues Stay Away from Me," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and "Peter Gunn Theme."

Essentially, they are a blues band, and blues music lies at the heart of their repertoire and style, affecting all of their material from other sources and traditions. It is also within the blues field that they have created a number of original pieces, several of which appear on this album. They provide music for all occasions and attempt to appeal to all ages and social levels in their community. For black audiences they have played at large clubs, small juke joints, house parties, and wedding receptions. For white audiences they have played at hillbilly honky-tonks, rock clubs, and receptions at ante-bellum mansions. In the past couple of years they have begun playing for mixed audiences at large regional outdoor festivals. They play basically the same repertoire at all of these places, offering something for everybody, drawing the diverse tastes and backgrounds of their audiences toward the distinct sound and musical synthesis that infuses all of their material. For the past quarter of a century the sound of Hezekiah and the Houserockers has weathered changes of musical tastes and changing social and economic conditions. Whether they are playing their version of a tune that was composed before World War I or of one of the latest disco hits, they make it sound like their own brand of music and they keep the crowd out on the dance floor.

PeeWee Whittaker. Photo: Susan Roach.

While Hezekiah and the Houserockers have a unique and distinctive sound, the way in which they put this sound together follows an age-old pattern in southern black music. Like thousands of other musicians in the rural areas and small towns, they live in an area that has rich, indigenous musical traditions but has also been exposed to alternative styles and mainstream American musical tastes through radio, records, television, and performances by touring popular stars. An environment such as this does not give adequate support to a local musician, certainly not enough for him to live comfortably solely off the income from making music. Most people cannot afford to go out and party to music on weekday nights. Live music, therefore, is heard only on weekends except in a few clubs that have built up a large following over the years or ones that can hire big name out-of-town entertainment. The typical local musician is lucky to perform publicly one or two nights a week (almost always on a weekend) and rarely makes much money from it. Many people in the audience, especially young people, look down on local musicians because they don't play music that is similar to or as good as the music that is reaching their community from the outside. Club owners are acutely aware of this attitude. The bigger clubs respond by hiring name entertainment. The smaller clubs that can't afford this option install a jukebox stocked with the latest hit records and some old favorites or hire a disc jockey to spin records and "rap" over a powerful portable sound system. It's cheaper than hiring a three-piece band, and a good disc jockey will have records to suit the taste of everyone in the audience and get them dancing and drinking. If a local musician is hired, he must appear with a band and must play the songs that the people want to hear. If he has original songs, he is usually lucky to slip one or two of them into a one-hour set.

Faced with such a stultifying situation, the aspiring southern black musician can choose one of several options. If he is a real hotshot, he will emulate the top performer in his field or become versatile and keep up with the styles in a variety of current musical forms. In blues today, for example, a young guitarist might try to sound just like B.B. King or else broaden his style to include jazz, disco, and other pop sounds. Generally musicians of this sort head north as soon as they can. They become professional musicians able to play anything with competence, or else they limit themselves to a single form of music such as blues and perform in bands that all have more or less the same basic sound studded with spectacular individual virtuosity, each band and individual member striving to be the best at doing the same thing. This is essentially the state of popular blues in the northern and western cities today and always has been except for a few brief periods when these cities received a massive influx of people from the South willing to support their own kind of music. The musicians who stay in the southern towns and rural areas are generally the more traditional or idiosyncratic ones. They are usually technically more limited than their counterparts who have headed north. The more independent minded doggedly pursue solo careers, performing before whatever audience they can muster, usually only a few friends and neighbors. They may be unique creative stylists, musical oddballs like the late Robert Pete Williams, or more likely they synthesize their own personal variation on local traditional musical elements and apply this synthesis to their original compositions as well as a host of standard popular favorites familiar to their audience. For the outsider this situation produces a dazzling array of seemingly unique stylists, little musical islands unto themselves. People living in the community, however, have heard all this local music before. At best they take it for granted and modestly reward the performers with their attention and some money or a few drinks. At worst they ignore it or walk away from it. When an outsider points out the virtue of this music, they generally think he's crazy. Only when this music is brought home to them in a massive way through the media do the local people begin to sit up and take notice. In this way were the careers of artists like Clifton Chenier and Lightin' Hopkins sustained.

Almost nobody today launches a solo career in blues; and very few veteran performers can sustain such a career. But the soloist impulse is still there among beginning musicians who have to sharpen their skills alone and among those who are simply ignored by everyone else. Rarely such a musician will try to become a one-man-band, perhaps playing a guitar with his hands and a bass drum and hi-hat [two cymbals with the open mouths of each facing and touching one another] with his feet while blowing a harmonica on a rack. Hezekiah Early obviously displays a tendency in this direction. But more likely he will band together with a few other musicians and try to hustle up some jobs with them, A common combination in southern blues today is electric guitar, bass, and drums. Whatever the combination, each band is a distinct fusion of the talents and limitations of its members. The sound tends to be very democratic, unlike the more hierarchical structure of northern blues bands. Nobody in a typical southern blues band plays "lead" in a strict sense. Instead, all the parts occupy different but equal musical spaces and demand equal attention from the listener. They interlock with each other to form the musical whole. (When recording or mixing such a group, the engineer must be very careful to maintain this sense of equality.) People who are used to a northern urban and contemporary popular blues sound generally display one of two attitudes toward such bands from the South. Either they find them dull and limited because they contain little or no spectacular lead playing, or else they find them refreshingly different in the way each band pools its individual talents and creates a distinct sound. I am hopeful that listeners to this album will adopt the latter attitude, for I believe that it is this quality of distinctiveness characteristic of southern individual blues artists and bands, born out of necessity in an oppressively limiting social and economic environment, that has led to most of the great developments in the history of the blues. A band like Hezekiah and the Houserockers, while combining age-old musical traditions familiar to anyone who knows the blues, contains within its sound the basis for a whole new approach to the blues. Every now and then in the history of this most durable form of American music a sound such as this catches the public fancy and switches suddenly from being a peculiar local musical adaptation to a new national fad. Hezekiah and the Houserockers will probably not be so lucky, but at the very least their music exemplifies the richness, variety, and freshness of southern blues in 1984.

Hezekiah and the Houserockers in Ferriday. Photo: Nicholas R. Spitzer.

The unique and fascinating sound of Hezekiah and the Houserockers is a product of the interlocking of a number of relatively simple musical lines and shorter melodic/rhythmic figures (often referred to as riffs in jazz parlance). The most basic rhythmic pulse or time line for a tune is played by Hezekiah on a cymbal. He reinforces portions of the cymbal rhythm with his bass and snare drums. He has two toms [a drum tuned between the snare and bass drums that has no snare], one mounted on his bass drum near the cymbal and the other on the floor near his snare drum. (See the LP cover photo above.) He uses the toms rather sparingly on most pieces and usually at turnarounds leading to an instrumental break or as an occasional variation from either the cymbal or snare drum rhythm. Hezekiah has a strong tendency to treat each item in his drum set as a separate instrument with a role of its own rather than parts of a whole. This tendency undoubtedly comes from his early background playing in fife and drum bands for country picnics. This background, which is found among a few other Mississippi blues drummers and which is similar to the brass band background of some New Orleans jazz drummers, is one of the things that makes Hezekiah's playing so fascinating. He states that he once used a nine-piece drum set, which is reduced to the present five pieces because it was too heavy to carry around. Underlying this explanation, however, is the fact that maintaining a nine-piece drum set is inconsistent with the idea that each piece is a separate instrument. Under this condition nine pieces are simply too much for one person to handle. With Hezekiah providing the drum portion of a fife and drum band plus a time line on the cymbal, Baker lays down another basic beat in a lower register with boogie lines on his guitar. By playing these lines on a guitar he achieves some melodic interest, but by using a bass amplifier he also preserves the support and rhythmic power normally provided nowadays by an electric bass. Added to these string and percussion sounds are Hezekiah's harmonica and Peewee's trombone. One or the other usually provides a vocal. Hezekiah and Peewee give each other plenty of room, and nether hogs the spotlight. Both seem to prefer a "dirty" percussive sound on their instruments with Peewee showing a liking for long held blasts on the trombone and Hezekiah a liking for short punchy phrases on the harmonica. Each player has a number of standard patterns, which he uses in a variety of songs. At any one time, the listener usually hears either a voice or one wind instrument or the harmonica and trombone without any vocal. Either Hezekiah and Peewee set up two interweaving melodic lines or else they trade short riffs in call-and-response fashion. Occasionally one drops out and lets the other solo. Out of these few basic musical principles is structured the sound of Hezekiah and the Houserockers.

We have seen that Hezekiah's approach to the drum set can be traced back to the local tradition of fife and drum music near Natchez. His use of the cymbal for keeping the time line might also be compared to the use of the triangle in the nearby traditions of zydeco and Cajun music of Louisiana. This practice in all of these traditions can ultimately be traced back to the role of an iron gong or bell that is used to keep the basic pulse or time line in many West African percussion ensembles. The boogie lines and walking bass patterns of James Baker are found especially prominently in the work of blues and R&B pianists and guitarists along the Mississippi River from New Orleans up to the Delta region of Mississippi and Arkansas, particularly those who recorded in the years following World War II. One can hear these patterns in the work of pianists like Fats Domino from New Orleans and the many guitarists from the Baton Rouge area recorded by Jay Miller for Excello Records. One also hears it in the small ensemble sounds of Delta bluesman Jimmy Reed (provided by fellow Delta guitarist Eddie Taylor). This style seems to have been first developed by barrelhouse piano players in the Mississippi Valley early in the twentieth century. By the early and mid-1930s guitarists in this area like Johnnie Temple (Jackson, Mississippi), Robert Johnson (Mississippi and Arkansas Delta) and Leadbelly (then incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola) began translating these patterns from piano to guitar. With the coming of the electric guitar in the post-war years this style of blues guitar playing began to be recorded extensively. Very frequently it was heard in combination with the harmonica, as on the records of Jimmy Reed and Baton Rouge area artists like Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, and Lazy Lester. Other good examples of this sound can be found on some of the records of Woodrow Adams (Robinsonville, Mississippi) and the one-man-band Dr. Isaiah Ross (Tunica, Mississippi). The percussion on these recordings is usually very simple and basic, consisting often of just heavy foot tapping, woodblocks, a bass drum and/or hi-hat, or a three-piece drum kit. Some of these post-war blues drummers, like Fiddlin' Joe Martin and James "Peck" Curtis, had formerly been washboard players.

Fortunately, we possess recordings of the sound that is almost a direct ancestor of the combination of Hezekiah Early and James Baker, namely the post-war blues records made by Hezekiah's harmonica mentor "Papa George" Lightfoot. Papa George normally worked alone or played spoons held in one hand. Lightfoot's records made in New Orleans for Aladdin (1952) and Imperial (1954) have this distinctive Natchez post-war blues sound. Lightfoot's blasting harmonica and singing are offset by boogie patterns played on the piano (Aladdin) or guitar (Imperial) and rudimentary drumming. On the Imperial tracks the drummer sounds as if he had been summoned hastily to the recording session from a country picnic outside Natchez where he was playing fife and drum music and had brought only a snare drum to the session. Hezekiah's time line cymbal and Peewee's trombone are the only elements missing from Lightfoot's Imperial recordings that prevent them from sounding like prototypes for Hezekiah and the Houserockers.

Peewee's trombone playing comes out of the tradition of traveling show bands and dance bands, whose members were music readers. These bands of approximately ten pieces were commonly heard throughout the Mississippi Valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Eventually they evolved into jazz bands. While musicians in these bands represented a much more sophisticated musical level than the rough country blues guitarists and most barrelhouse pianists, nevertheless they interacted with them fairly often. Two basic factors are involved in this process of interaction. One is the fact that many black public schools in the southern towns and cities had music instruction. A youngster who was fortunate enough to obtain a few years of schooling might well acquire some skill on a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, or some other instrument. A really good and highly motivated youngster like Peewee Whittaker might go on to get work in traveling dance bands or minstrel shows. W.C. Handy was another trained southern musician of an even older generation who followed this path. So did Peewee's schoolmate Louis Jordan, but there must have been hundreds of others who stayed in their hometowns. If they wanted to play music, they often had to do it with a blues guitarist, a small string band, or a barrelhouse pianist. Of all the band instruments the trombone seems to have fit especially well into this rough blues and string band musical context. Perhaps because the ability to slide from note to note and obtain gradations of pitch conformed most closely with the blues aesthetic. It was also probably easy enough for an untrained musician to pick up a trombone and begin to play some passable music after some observation of other players and experimentation in sliding around. Small combinations of stringed instruments with a trombone are reported up and down the Mississippi Valley between New Orleans and Memphis from early in the twentieth century. LeDell Johnson remembered his uncles having a band near Terry, Mississippi, around 1900 consisting of guitar, harmonica (played on a rack by the guitarist), slide horn (i.e., trombone), some other kind of horn, bones, tambourine, and string bass. If we update the last three instruments to the snare drum, cymbal, and a drum or a drum set, we have the ancestral instrumentation of Hezekiah and the Houserockers with an added horn. Johnson's second cousin Mott Willis played in a traveling minstrel show band organized in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, just before World War I that consisted of violin, mandolin, one or two guitars, string bass, trombone, and tambourine. Trombone, tambourine, and kazoo (called a "jazz horn") were among the instruments sometimes added to black string bands and fife and drum bands in Tate and Panola counties, Mississippi, early in this century. Fiddling' Joe Martin, born in 1900 near Edwards, Mississippi, had a musical career that summed up this entire level of interaction. As a boy he learned guitar, mandolin, and bass violin in a string band tradition dominated by his neighbors the Chatman family (later known as the Mississippi Shieks). Martin's family moved to the all black Delta town of Mound Bayou, where he received some training on trombone around 1914. He learned to play a washboard and spent the next thirty years or so playing all these instruments in various combinations with bluesmen all over the Delta and in Jackson and Memphis. He settled in Robinsonville and played in Son House's band in the 1930s and early 1940s. After burning his hands in a fire, he had to give up stringed instruments and became a drummer. In 1967, I recorded him playing a three-piece drum set (snare drum, bass drum, and cymbal) with Woodrow Adams on harmonica and vocals and a guitarist playing bass lines. The overall effect was much like Hezekiah and the Houserockers minus Peewee's trombone. Martin's blues guitarist partner Son House also played in various combinations with another guitar playing bass lines, harmonica, trombone, and a three-piece drum set. Some of these musicians were recorded for the Library of Congress in Robinsonville and Lake Cormorant in 1941 and 1942, but unfortunately the trombonist and drummer were not present at the sessions. In fact very few of these kinds of groups were ever recorded until after World War II.

In addition to the musicians who learned to play a little on a horn and decided to stay at home and play with bluesmen, there were those like Peewee Whittaker who acquired a greater degree of musical sophistication and experience in professional touring bands and then decided to retire from the road. In the 1930s, many jazzmen who could not or would not adapt to the tight section work and arrangements of big band swing music found themselves forced to band together with rougher blues guitarists, who were all too glad to upgrade their own sound with a touch of jazz. Recording groups like the Harlem Hamfats, who were essentially a group of Mississippi blues string players and vocalists with some Louisiana jazz horn and rhythm men, exemplify this process. Later during the post-war blues boom some jazz bands began using a blues singer/guitarist (e.g., T-Bone Walker) as a front man, or conversely a singer/guitarist (e.g., B.B. King) would hire a few horn men or a whole jazz band to back him up. Excellent professional sidemen who can't obtain work in the jazz field are still ready today to take paying jobs with blues and R&B artists. It was during the post-war blues boom in the 1950s and early 1960s that Peewee Whittaker retired from the road and found his professional music environment increasingly impossible to sustain on a local level in Ferriday, Louisiana. Faced with the possibility of being unable to continue to play music in public, he joined forces with bluesman Hezekiah Early. From this union was born the sound of Hezekiah and the Houserockers.

Peewee Whittaker

Leon Whittaker was born on April 29. His differing accounts of his age place his year of birth anywhere between 1899 and 1916, but the fact that he was a schoolmate of Louis Jordan (born in 1908) and other evidence from his career point to a time around 1906. His place of birth was near Newellton, Louisiana, about two hundred miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans and about forty miles north of his present home in Ferriday, Louisiana. "Peewee" is a nickname that he acquired because of his diminutive stature. He was his parents' only child. They moved from the country into town when he was a small boy, and there they seem to have split up, as Peewee remembers being raised mostly by his mother, Kizzie Whittaker. She could play both guitar and piano and sang "most anything," including a lot of blues. Her blues songs didn't have any particular titles. Peewee says of her singing, "I don't remember anything but blues. You don't have no special words to put in blues. You can place blues anywhere in the song to make a song." This statement would suggest that Kizzie Whittaker was one of the first generation of folk blues singers to perform within this newly emerging folk tradition. She performed for a time with the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, whose home base was just across the Mississippi River in the town of Port Gibson, Mississippi. Mrs. Whittaker took Peewee with her on tours until he grew old enough to go to school. Then he stayed in Newellton with his mother's father, who had once been a violin player but had become a church member and given up music making by the time Peewee was born. Other musicians in the family included Peewee's mother's brothers, who played guitar and violin.

Peewee attended school only three months out of the year but managed to complete the fifth grade in Newellton. He was very fortunate to be able to study music from a Professor Smith from Alcorn College in Mississippi. Smith would commute to the school, crossing the river to St. Joseph, about twenty-five miles south of Newellton. Peewee received instruction in clarinet, trombone, guitar, string bass, and mandolin, a pattern that reflects the popularity of black string bands and brass bands along the Mississippi River in those days. Professor Smith organized a school band and taught his students to read music. Peewee states, "Wasn't much faking then. Couldn't do nothin' but read. If you were learning music at school, they wouldn't let you fake nothing." Professor Smith must have been a musical progressive for his day, as he had his students play the latest popular ragtime and blues hits by black composers. Among the pieces Peewee recalls from this period are "Memphis Blues" (W.C. Handy, 1912), "St. Louis Blues" Handy, 1915), and "Walkin' the Dog" (Shelton Brooks, 1917), which contained the following verses:

Get way back and snap your fingers.

Get over, Sally, one and all.

Do that step, the Texas Tommie.

Then you squat and you sit on the log.

Then you raise, and that one pays

To show the dance they call "Walkin' the Dog."

Around 1917 or 1918 Peewee's whole family moved further up the Mississippi River to Lake Village, Arkansas. Peewee's mother had given up minstrel shows to become a Missionary Baptist preacher, but she still traveled in her work and sometimes carried Peewee with her. The rest of the time he stayed home and went to school, finishing the seventh grade. One of Peewee's schoolmates was the young Louis Jordan, later to become a famous saxophone player, singer, songwriter, and bandleader. Their music instructor was Jordan's father. When Peewee finished school, he joined his uncles' family band, playing mandolin. The instrumentation of this group was typical for string bands in this area at that time: violin, mandolin, guitar, and string bass (both bowed and plucked). The banjo is not reported in the tradition along the river and seems to have been confined to black bands in the hill country further to the east. Peewee also played string bass and violin in another band in Lake Village organized by mandolinist Joe Willis. Sometimes Peewee and Louis Jordan would run off and join a traveling minstrel show, particularly F.S. Wolcott's Rabbit's Foot Minstrels.

After I got up in music, I just wouldn't go to school. My mama couldn't keep me in school. I joined a band, especially a minstrel band if they had a bunch of girls. She look for me and I be gone. We used to make parades here with nobody but me and Louis, us kids. I was on trombone, and Louis was on saxophone. Mr. Wolcott over here in Port Gibson, he used to put us on the back of his car. We played and eased along in front of the parades, you know. We was a sight to see in those years, see kids playing at that time. When I was a kid, I went everywhere. I didn't stop with just one band. Everybody that seen me wanted me, 'cause in them times it was a sight to see a kid, a girl, or woman playing in the band. They don't pay no attention now 'cause schools and everything got big bands and things. At that time they'd walk to see a woman play piano in a band. It was a novelty. They don't pay attention now because the world done got full of musicians. There were very few at that time.

Around 1919 Peewee's family moved once again, this time across the river to Greenville, Mississippi, then a thriving river port town and quite a bit larger than the towns they had lived in previously. Not too long after moving to Greenville, Peewee began playing string bass in a band led by trombonist Tullus Washington. Washington's family had also come to Greenville some years previously from Clayton, Louisiana, a little settlement just north of Peewee's present home of Ferriday. Peewee remembers his band as having about fourteen pieces, including a full range of string, brass, and reed instruments. The lineup was approximately violin, mandolin, guitar, string bass, trumpet (perhaps more than one), trombone, bass horn, five saxophones (doubling on clarinets), piano, and drums. All of the musicians were readers, and many of them doubled on more than one instrument, including Washington, who could play all the string and brass instruments. His sisters Carrie, Mary, Caroline, and Laura normally comprised the string section. The saxophone was at that time a novelty instrument that must have made Washington's band appear very up to date. Peewee admired Washington's trombone playing so much that he began to make trombone his own main instrument. He had had some early trombone instruction in Newellton from Professor Smith, but he had been mainly a string musician up to this time. When Peewee switched to trombone, Washington usually replaced his string bass with a brass bass. The band played for both white and black dances in a regional circuit that included Lake Providence, Monroe, and Alexandria, Louisiana. They played in large halls and schoolhouses, never in juke joints, and in towns rather than out in the country. Around 1925 the Washington family moved to Chicago and Peewee lost track of them. Their move followed the pattern set by many New Orleans jazz musicians at this time.

Washington's band broke up when the leader and his family left Greenville. Peewee picked up odd jobs in music for awhile. Around 1927 he joined the band of Harry Walker, which was passing through Greenville. Walker needed a trombone player, and Peewee filled the date, leaving town with the band for a stretch that lasted seven or eight years. Walker's home was along the Cane River near Natchitoches, Louisiana. He could speak and sing in both French and English and had the appearance and manner of a white man although his wife and some of his relatives were colored. Walker played saxophone and had about twelve people in his band. The lineup was approximately violin, guitar, string bass or bass horn, two trumpets, trombone, four saxophones doubling on clarinet, drums, and a female pianist/singer named Beauty. Some of the other musicians also sang. All of the musicians had to be readers, and all had to be able to "double" on more than one instrument. In addition to trombone Peewee sometimes played string bass, mandolin, and drums. The band played the same circuit as Tullus Washington's band, or perhaps a slightly larger one. Peewee recalls traveling all though Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, with their home base in Alexandria, Louisiana. Among the cities Peewee remembers most distinctly from this period are Baton Rouge, Lakes Charles, and St. Louis. Harry Walker's band was one of several that worked the mid-South circuit, playing the better jobs for white and black dances. Another such band in the 1930s was the Southland Troubadours, based in Jackson Mississippi, and led by pianist Little Brother Montgomery. Southern bands recalled by Montgomery as working this circuit were Walker's, Sidney Desvigne's from New Orleans, C.S. Belton's from Florida, George E. Lee's from Kansas City, Papa Celestin's from New Orleans, Mark Hawkins' from Natchez, and Nat Towles' from Omaha. Of all these bands only Celestin's and Lee's have left recordings from this period, all of them highly prized by collectors today, and one is left to wonder what the other bands sounded like. Bands like Harry Walker's had the most prestigious gigs and were highly respected in an area that was America's musically creative heartland, yet today we have almost no legacy of their music and often only a few hard pieces of information to indicate that they even existed.

Peewee left Harry Walker around 1935 and hitchhiked and hoboed to Monroe, Louisiana, where he joined the tour of the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels. For about the next fifteen years he played trombone and sometimes tap danced in minstrel shows, circuses, and carnival bands. In addition to the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, he worked with the Georgia Minstrels, the Alabama Minstrels, Silas Green from New Orleans, and the Sugarfoot Green Minstrels from Georgia. His main reason for leaving Harry Walker's band seems to have been the attraction of travel, adventure, and the girls in the shows.

I was a youngster, and I wanted to travel. At that time anybody would hire me because I was a pretty good player. But I mostly followed them girls at that time. If I saw a girl on the show I like, I'd leave just to get over there where them girls were.

Peewee's fondest recollections of this period are of F.S. Wolcott's Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, organized in Port Gibson, not far from his hometown. Peewee's mother worked for Rabbit's Foot, and the whole organization seems to have been structured somewhat along the lines of a paternalistic southern plantation.

I was riding big automobiles around there for nine dollars a week on the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Of course, he was paying us nine dollars a week, board and room. We was on a railroad car. They had berths and things for you to sleep on. Mr. Wolcott over there in Port Gibson--in the wintertime, when it get bad, we go out on his plantation. He had a big farm out there, you know, a big house there for performers. If they didn't have nowhere to go or nowhere to eat or sleep, or if you just come through there and you were a performer or musician, you could go into that big place they had built. You could get three meals a day and three tickets to the picture show and sleep there all winter. When the wintertime come, I have eased around there. I knowed where I wanted to go, but I'd go there to eat and sleep over the winter. When it started to getting warm again, they'd sneak out, go to where you wanted to go. But you be done made the winter! This time of winter you'd be laying up there having a good time, eating three meals, going to the picture show three nights. Mr. Wolcott, he was a good man. He had to be a good man to have the leading minstrel show in this country. If he didn't, the people would go to the one that was good.

Peewee states that all of the minstrel shows were organized along the same lines. To be a minstrel, then, was a lot like being a sharecropper or a hired hand, except that the plantation went on the road. If you didn't like your situation, you tried to find a better one on somebody else's plantation. Despite these conditions, Peewee was able to buy a car, begin a family, and send his children to school. Four of his children became schoolteachers.

In my time back there wasn't many big jobs. There were jobs all right, and it was big at that time. Ace musicians made nine dollars a week. You know there wasn't nothing out there. Big minstrel shows run all over the country. It was fifty and seventy-five cents apiece to come in. Sometimes I played on the carnival shows in the minstrels for fifteen cents to come in. If we make eighty or ninety cents a night, we could live on percentage alone. Things weren't nothing like they is now. I wouldn't work now if I was a dead mule with maggots. I'd ride in my car all over the world. That was a new automobile. Bought me a new Ford for two hundred and fifty dollars at that time. But look at the times now. I went from the minstrel show to the circus and from the circus to the carnival bands. That's all I done in my life. Never worked. I raised four schoolteachers and never had a lick of work in my life, just playing music. If I couldn't play, we just had to starve. That's all.

After some years Peewee began to find the minstrel life tiring, and he decided to switch over to playing in circus and carnival bands.

I left the minstrels because I got lazy and didn't want to get up early in the morning to get going. It was here today and gone tomorrow. I joined the carnivals where I could play at night and sleep half the day or sleep from when I got off at night until I go on that night the next day. We'd stay in one place at least a week anyway.

As the circus or carnival passed through a larger town in the fall, the band would try to line up a winter engagement. When winter came on, they would settle in the most likely town or city and stay at a hotel or boarding house; playing whatever local jobs they could get or had lined up in the fall. One time in the early 1950s Peewee and his band spent the late winter in Macon, Georgia, staying in the same hotel as James Brown's band.

They didn't count him at that time. He had a little band like mine, common band. They didn't trust him at that time. And he never could play straight music, you know. He's the father of that bump-de-bump, you know what they do now, that disco. He was doing that and just hollering and singing. He never could sing. But he'd holler, and the youngsters like that, you see. That's what made him so famous. The youngsters all like that. They didn't like natural music. And he tried to prizefight. He done swole his face up many times. I've seen guys knock him out, and they'd pour water on him. He tried to do everything. He hadn't made no records at that time. He was staying right at the hotel where I was. Reason I was there, I went there to join the Ringling Brothers' Circus out of this town. I had the band and the side show over there. We stayed around there about two or three weeks or a month maybe till rehearsal, till the show got ready to go out.

During this same period, probably in the late 1940s, Peewee organized a band that played in a chain of twenty-eight black theatres owned by Mr. Sam Dorsey of Natchez. At this time black theatres still presented live variety entertainment along with films. One of the acts that worked this circuit with Peewee's band was the comedian and film star Stepin Fetchit.

I had Stepin Fetchit with me. He tried to take me back to California with him to make some more records. I got as far as Lake Charles. That's where I turned around. He begged me to go out there with him. I would have been somewhere if I had went on out there. If I had stayed with Sam Dorsey, I'd have been out there, 'cause I didn't have nothing to do but just use the money. Had me a white driver, big bus. All I had to do was lay back and just relax. He booked me a long time. Had a Greyhound bus, thirty-six people. We went everywhere, every night to his theatres.

Peewee had gotten used to switching from one job to another after one or two seasons. He even still worked from time to time with the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels. The minstrel show band was being led by a young New Orleans jazz trumpet player, Dave Bartholomew, who would shortly become wealthy and famous as Fats Domino's arranger. It was around 1948 or 1949 that Peewee and Bartholmew played together on the last Rabbit's Foot Minstrel Show.

We were supposed to play here (i.e., Ferriday, Louisiana), show here. They had the posters and all out. After we got here, Mr. Wolcott flagged us on through to Monroe. That's where I imagine the show rotted down, at the fairgrounds out there in Monroe, the last show. Dave Bartholomew came here (Ferriday) with me after the show closed. He was an ace trumpet player, a big musician. He didn't want to stay around this little town. Wasn't nothing. He went on to New Orleans. He tried to get me to go on with him. He didn't have but a very little money. He came into a club one night, and Fats was a piano player. Fats was playing by himself. He came in with his horn and asked Fats if he could sit in with him. Fats thought he was any kind of little musician. Fats didn't want to worry with him. He said, "If you can play, I'll try you." And he played his number. Well, he played so much with Fats that Fats hired him. Dave made all them records for Fats, Fats' key man. Fats didn't make those records because Fats couldn't read. The boy arranged everything for him. Fats hadn't made nary a record at that time. This boy wrote all them numbers up for him and played them on his trumpet, you know. He was an awful trumpet player. Fats ain't never could play a piano. He'd juke 'em all the time. He made it all right! He made it off other people, because that was his name (i.e., on his records), just Fats Domino. Wasn't nobody else's name called but him. He had it made.

By the early 1950s the "juking" sound of artists like Fats Domino, overlaid with a small jazz combo arrangement, and the "bump-de-bump" sounds of bands like James Brown's were becoming increasingly popular, and there was less call for big bands of reading musicians like the ones Peewee had been playing in for over thirty years. Not only was Peewee getting older, but the touring life for a musician like himself was becoming less profitable. He began to look for a home base that still had a wide-open atmosphere for entertainment and settled on El Dorado, Arkansas. There he formed a band that played a regional circuit that was considerably smaller than the circuits he had worked with the bands of Tullus Washington and Harry Walker some twenty and thirty years earlier. He also found his band increasingly playing a back-up role for a touring star entertainer who couldn't afford to carry his own band on the road. One of these stars was the veteran New Orleans jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

I met him in Helena, Arkansas. He quit some band in Illinois, and he was hunting him a band to hisself. And he came to Helena, Arkansas, you know, looking up musicians. At that time just his name was selling him. If he played with a band or if he had a band, it was all right. And if he played with a band it was double all right, 'cause the people wanted to see and hear Louis Armstrong. At the time Louis would get by himself. If he come here, he'd pick up this band and advertise himself as Louis Armstrong. He wouldn't say "Ferriday Band" or anything like that. He'd always advertise himself. Everybody gonna come to hear Louis, didn't care who he had. They was good. If they was bad, they was good, because he was Louis. That's the way that worked. Of course, he made the money. He'd give four or five dollars apiece. I just stayed awhile with him over in Arkansas.

Around 1954 Peewee spotted what must have appeared to be the dream location for a band like his -- the town of Ferriday, Louisiana. This was a wide open entertainment and gambling town, whose main street was lined with juke joints, just a few miles across the Mississippi River from Natchez. People came there from miles around to have a good time. Peewee brought his whole band from El Dorado to Ferriday, and they soon landed two very prestigious gigs, one broadcasting on the local radio station and the other as the house band at Haney's Big House, the largest black club in town. Peewee and other members of the band would still leave town in the warm months, following the lure of the road, but this gradually because less attractive when compared to the non-stop party atmosphere of Ferriday, where one could stay at home and make just as much money as out on the road. Peewee never had trouble attracting good musicians, who wanted to settle down for a while, to his band in Ferriday. At Haney's the band backed up visiting stars, who could not afford to carry their own bands on the road. They also put on their own shows. Eventually they got a female vocalist called Little Queenie (probably after Chuck Berry's 1959 hit record of that name), and various band members, including Peewee himself, would sing also. Whether he realized it or not, Peewee's group was having to keep up with those "bump-de-bump" bands that he had viewed with disfavor a few years before.

I had been usually playing in big bands. I came here (i.e., Ferriday) with my own band out of El Dorado, Arkansas. I liked the town. It was a big dance town, you know. B.B. King and all them guys used to come around here, and I knew them in my days. They would near about play here all the time. And so I mostly stayed here to meet them after I broke my band up. To tell the truth, these girls in this town were so fast, and I liked that. And I stayed here because this was the most open town. This town been open for gambling and that kind of stuff. That was mostly for me. I imagine these were the only clubs anywhere around. I could pick up anybody and make a living here at that time. We'd play up here at Haney's Big House. I came in there for years. All along that front was big clubs at that time. Haney was the biggest name around here for clubs.

While Peewee was witnessing the change in black popular music tastes that saw trained jazz musicians becoming mere anonymous sidemen to "shouters" and "jukers" and that saw whole bands of these musical illiterates achieving fame and fortune, he also came face to face with a new phenomenon, rock & roll. This phenomenon was embodied in a young white piano player, who came around to sit in with Peewee at Haney's Big House and Blackie's Club, named Jerry Lee Lewis. This was around 1954.

The way I got to play with Jerry Lee Lewis is he'd come in and sit in with us. He had ideas, wanted to make records, you know. He'd ask for ideas and I'd show him. After he made his records and got to be a big man, he left here. Now he won't pay me no attention, after all the trouble I went on with him. I just showed him how to stop and take his time and all like that. He used to sit in and play with us. He started to playing at that little juke right there on the road, Blackie's Club. He'd be with us every Saturday night, come in and sit in. At that time, they wouldn't allow him to play with colored, you know in bands around there then. We all couldn't just travel together and stay together. But he could come in and sit in and play, you know. He was wonderful around here. But right now, if he come home to play, if I come up one side of the street and he see me, he'll cross before he get to me. His daddy used to whip him from picking cotton, and he thinks I'm going to tell that on him since he got famous, and he'll run. His daddy used to down him pulling up cotton, stalk and all. I imagine he tells all the people he's from New York and everything. He won't let me run across him. I might bring up old times, you know. He done made a big name now.

Peewee actually did get to tour with an integrated band shortly after this, but it was under rather odd circumstances. His house band at Haney's had been broadcasting jazz music on the Ferriday radio station ever since Peewee arrived there from El Dorado. Somehow the owner of the station, a Miss Mildred, learned of an opening for a black musician in a band lead by Doc Morris and connected with a small circus out of Detroit, Michigan. Miss Mildred arranged for Peewee to get the gig, and he wound up touring with them for six seasons, approximately 1958 to 1963, traveling all over Canada and even getting to England. Peewee got sick and grew tired of the road in his sixth year with Doc Morris, and he has stayed put in Ferriday ever since then.

A lady from here, Miss Mildred, run the broadcasting station here, up on Main Street. And so we used to broadcast every evening downtown. She asked me, "Peewee," said, "I got a job, and it's a good job." Say, "If you can read and make it, I'll get that job for you." I said, "Yes'm, Miss Mildred, if they play it, I'll play it." And so she booked me with a white band out of Detroit. I left here and went to Detroit. Well, things was small then. Wasn't much money then. She sold me six months for, I reckon, around three thousand dollars with this white band. I stayed with them until I retired. Every spring of the year I'd leave, go up to Detroit with that band. If I didn't have the money, he'd send me at ticket and a couple of dollars over for expenses. This band was going to England, Canada, and all through there. See, they used me as a sight. I was mostly a sight to the world, because where we went was no colored people. I was same as a circus show when that band would come to town with me on the placards with a white band, you see. It was a good brass band, a big brass band just for circus shows. They the cause of the little retirement now (i.e., retirement income). They call it a Musician's Retirement. I went over there six years with them. I was supposed to go the next year after I said I was sick. I was just tired of the road anyhow, just stayed sick. I have left the road since I retired, you know. I came home. Got tired of dodging them big trucks up and down the road, playing all over the country, just enough road for them trucks to look like they going to run into you. Keep you scared all the time. You could go down this mountain and look around in the back of the bus and see where you done come around. So after I come home, Miss Mildred bought her boy a car that morning, a boy about fifteen years old. And he killed hisself that evening. And she just wandered away. Last I heard from Miss Mildred, she went to South America. I wish she was living now. I'd go and say, "Miss Mildred, I want a Cadillac." She'd call down there and tell 'em to let me have it.

During the winter months when Peewee was in Ferriday, he began sitting in with Hezekiah Early. When he retired from the road around 1963, he joined Hezekiah permanently and has been with him ever since. Up to this time Peewee had worked mainly with big bands of reading musicians in the hinterlands or "territories," away from the main jazz and commercial music centers. He only got to New Orleans a few times on theatre shows, probably when he worked for Sam Dorsey out of Natchez. He played occasionally in St. Louis with Harry Walker's band and played one job on a riverboat out of Louisville, Kentucky. He doesn't mention Memphis or Jackson. In fact, the biggest city that he recalled playing in frequently was Baton Rouge. Even with Doc Morris' band from Detroit he seems to have worked mostly a north-central and Canadian "territory" circuit.

With the minstrel, circus, and show bands a musician had to be able to read music and "fake." By the 1960s big bands had lost most of their popularity and been replaced by small combos of mostly non-reading musicians, what Peewee called "bump-de-bump" bands. Hezekiah and the Houserockers are a band of this sort, and when Peewee joined he had to change his playing style from the background and section work of the big bands to "taking a theme," that is, playing lead lines and improvising. He attributes this change in taste to the popularity of his old schoolmate Louis Jordan. Jordan began recording with his "Tympany Five" in the late 1930s and remained immensely popular up to the early 1950s. Jordan was a trained musician with a big band background, but his small combo sound was imitated by many southern musicians who lacked any formal training. By the early 1950s these "bump-de-bump" bands could be heard everywhere. Sometimes they acquired a bit of sophistication by taking in refugees from the rapidly disintegrating big band scene, musicians like Peewee Whittaker.

I come in here, and at that time they (i.e., Hezekiah and his band) was playing for Haney when I wanted to retire. I imagined I could stay here at that time and do as well as I could on the road traveling. After I got with him, I seen the town was good. They was playing there every week. I said, "Well, if I stay here, I got to change my way of playing." I turned back and started to taking themes, stating themes on the trombone, taking leads and all like that on a trombone. You got to be a heck of a trombone player for the public to pay attention to you. That was the last horn. Times back when I was a young man, everything was clarinets, saxophones, the C soprano sax and all that. They were all right. After I go with them (i.e., Hezekiah), I could play with them with the C soprano. Me and Louis Jordan were the same, the C soprano and the trombone and the tenor. We played the same music just about. That's when I started playing with them. And when I got to myself, I just had to start to stating that theme on my trombone because we didn't have no trumpets or no nothing. It just come natural to me. We haven't got a music band for reading whilst you're playing. These bump-de-bump bands, you know, them boys doesn't read. They just bump something on that. Louis Jordan was the first one ever had a five-piece band. The public wouldn't turn out to you with a little band at that time. We didn't have amplifiers or nothing else like that. Everything you had to do from your brains and your head. If you was on one of them circuses and things, you had to read music because them actors were jumping by music. You don't know when is your time to stop and see one of them make the leap. You got to stop on that music. If you stop on the right time and he makes that jump on the wrong time, somebody gonna get hurt or killed, because they playing by that music. That's the way that had to be. You couldn't do it with your head because you might not do right. You had to play what the music said do. Forget about him, that flying. He'd have to know when to jump or when to change with that music. You got to know when to change so he can make that jump. Like them guys swinging, making those flips in the air, catching one another by the legs, you had to know and they had to know when that could be done. You couldn't just study when he gonna flip by your head. You had to look out for your music at that time. If he miss flipping or they miss catching him, it had to be him 'cause you be done made your stops and everything for him.

Not only has Peewee's career seen enormous changes in musical tastes and styles, but it has also witnessed changes in the role of a black musician in white America. For the average black touring musician whites generally fell into the categories of employers, audiences, law officers, providers of services, and fellow musicians. Most of his recollections of white employers are pleasant ones, particularly of those close to home such as Sam Dorsey of Natchez, Miss Mildred of the Ferriday radio station, and F.S. Wolcott of Port Gibson, Mississippi, proprietor of the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels. In the early days the black musician/white employer relationship was modeled on the southern plantation system. In some cases, as with Wolcott, it reflected a benign paternalistic outlook with low wages for the musicians compensated by free winter lodgings and the general benefits of long-term patronage from a wealthy white man. By the 1950s with Dorsey and Miss Mildred the nature of the relationship had become more businesslike. But some of the early club owners were like exploitative plantation bosses, not allowing their black employees to stop playing or to quit their jobs. He remembers one incident vividly from his youth when he and Louis Jordan were playing in a band for a Mr. Charlie, who owned a club in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Louis Jordan went north because he had to go north. The old man where we was playing at, at the club, he would beat you to death if he wanted you to play and you quit. You just had to play. It seems funny, but Louis left one Sunday night. Went out to the bathroom. Never did see him no more. He run on off. Just like you was playing for a white guy and he had a big club and you play to suit him, and the public was crazy about your playing and everything, when they come at night, they gonna look for you. Ain't no need of saying you done quit. "Mr. So and So, I done quit." "Hell, no! You gonna work tonight!" You had to work 'cause if you didn't, he'd call the police and have you put in jail. Act like you owe him a lot of money, you know, and all that kind of old stuff was back in them old days. If you didn't they'd strap you. Louis Jordan ran off. They never did catch him no more. Louis Jordan run off and went north, hitchhiked and walked, done everything, rode freight trains and passenger trains, the blinds, till he got away. At that time you had to run away from them same as you killed a man. Had to run away from them if he wanted you to play.

Some white audiences had the same attitude as the dance hall owners.

When time come to play, heap of times they hollered, "Whoo, [n____], you can't stop playing now. My feets just done got light. You all can't stop now. Whooee! I ain't got no corns on my feets. Come on, [n____]. Hit that thing." You had to hit it, or either he hit you upside the head with something. It was rough. One time we stopped playing once out here at a little town between here and Pineville. They rough on colored out there now, Parlor, Louisiana. Shucks, I reckon they run us ten miles, me and that old bass. I'd hit a cotton stalk. Umhm! Bouncing over my head. Run away from there. Run all the way back to here before we could get a train. They was just bad and mean on colored people 'round here at that time. Not only here. All over the country they was bad on the colored. I was in the bunch. I done runned a many night. They be shooting in the air at you. You be running. I had some hard time. Not no hard time neither, 'cause at that time after it's all over, I could go to them and get any kind of help I wanted. They get to drinking though; they wanted you to play. You wouldn't know until you got to playing and it's time to stop. "You can't stop now, [n____]. Unh unh! My feets is light now. I'm getting ready to stomp some." A heap of time we'd ease to the back door, and out that back door we'd go with our instruments and they right out behind you. We'd run off without getting paid. You had to. Wasn't much no way, but at that time when you got a dollar and a half a man, you had made big money. A dollar and a half or two dollars. You don't get three dollars a man.

Perhaps the most bizarre as well as the most frightening, racial incident of Peewee's career occurred when he was playing with Harry Walker's band in Yazoo City, Mississippi. There Walker, who was white but passed for colored, ran afoul of the colored "wives" (girlfriends perhaps) of the local white policemen.

Ain't but one trouble Harry got in. In Yazoo City, Mississippi the white police like to whip him to death. All of them had colored wives. They come to the dance one night. Harry was on the door selling tickets. They didn't say who they was. They didn't say nothing. Just wanted to walk into the dance. Harry stopped them and said, "Ladies, you got to have a ticket." From then on they knew they had the best of us. They started to raising sand. You know, you get to arguing with a guy. The more he argue and holler, the more you gonna argue and holler, you see. That's the way it got out. And so they all left. They say, "Stay here. I'll go get my husband. You'll let me in there." They didn't say he was white or nothing. He thought they would just go and get a colored man. Come back, there was four or five of them polices to take him out. We run. They took him out, like to beat him to death. He just lay in the car from then on for about four or five weeks, until we got back into Alexandria, 'cause he wouldn't let them dance. It was awful at that time on colored fellows. They didn't know he was white, but he was. He weren't no colored man. He didn't act like he was colored no way. And I imagine if the police and things had known he was white, they wouldn't beat him up like that. They didn't think he was white. They thought he was a colored man, mulatto, with a band, you know.

White musicians were another matter altogether. Peewee recalls them sitting in as far back as the period he spent with Tullus Washington's band (ca., 191-1925). This sort of activity always remained casual, however, right up to the 1950s when Jerry Lee Lewis would sit in with Peewee at Haney's Big House. It wasn't until the late 1950s when Peewee went north to play with Doc Morris, that he actually played with white musicians on a regular basis.

"All musicians is musicians, white or black. They together regardless. I don't care how long back, how far back, if you is a musician regardless if you black as midnight or white as twelve o'clock in the day. They'd always count on one another. Always did. I played with a white band out of Detroit, all overseas. Boy, they was good to me. People think the north is this, that, and the other, but I've run across some tough towns in the north for colored. I have. Places I couldn't stay, places I couldn't eat. The boys would sit up in the bus with me. If we'd go in the café and they say, "We can't serve that man there," they'd cancel everything. "We can't. We got to have him. He have to live. He have to eat." Yeah, they stood by me. They treated me nice. They was good white boys. I'd tell 'em, say, 'Hell, I don't have to take nothing you all say, 'cause I got a white mama back home will send for me.' That was Mildred. She was from here. She had the broadcasting station. I was broadcasting for her. She's the one that got me the job. I said, "I can get home. All I got to do is holler and my white mama send for me." I made like I'm going to leave, you know. I wanted to stay so bad I didn't know what to do. I made like I was going to leave, grab my trunk, get off the bus. I said,
"Mr. bus driver, leave me. I'm gonna fall dead." I could play, you know, and they'd be just pulling me, pushing me, throwing me on the bus, all like that, you know. If they said, "You stay here," I would have runned over and get up on the bus.

Today Peewee plays for both black and white audiences, as he always did, and local white musicians around Ferriday and Natchez continue to sit in with the band now and then. But recently Hezekiah and the Houserockers have begun to play to mixed audiences at festivals in Louisiana. For Peewee this is simply the latest phase in a remarkable career that has bridged the gap between ragtime and rock & roll. Today, in semi-retirement, Peewee still sometimes thinks about going back on the road.

The world don't owe me nothing now. I'm through with it. I can afford to sit down. Of course, it worries me in the summertime when I sit up and think about it, or either some of these guys call me or write me where they at, in Chicago and places, what time they're having, you know. "We're here. We'll be here for about six weeks. Boy, we're having a good time!" All that kind of stuff, it worries me sometimes. That's why I started working again, to keep all that off my mind, you know. When you're working, you ain't got time to think.

Perhaps a new round of festival appearances with Hezekiah and the Houserockers will satisfy Peewee's urge to go back on the road. [Note: The author made two European tours with Hezekiah and the Houserockers in 1986.]

Hezekiah Early

Hezekiah Early was born on October 7, 1934, on a farm in Anna's Bottom about twelve miles north of Natchez, Mississippi. Except for one year he has lived in the country north of Natchez all his life. He quit farm work, however, in 1951 and began working in factories and driving a fork lift. At this time he also dropped out of school in the ninth grade. In 1953 he got married at the age of nineteen, and he and his wife have now seen most of their children grow up and get married. Since 1972 Hezekiah has worked at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant in Natchez and built houses in the country to earn extra money. Embedded within this rather ordinary life story of hard work and modest success on the outskirts of a southern town is a most remarkable story of the creation of a unique musical sound, a sound which has drawn upon almost all of the musical styles that have been heard in the twentieth century in this place so remote from the mainstream of American culture.

Hezekiah's first exposure to music came through his father, Wilson Early, who played fife in a fife and drum band. These bands consisted of two snare drums, a bass drum, and a homemade seven-hole fife. They performed at country picnics off of Highway 61 near the county line. Their repertoire included spirituals like "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Glory Hallelujah" as well as secular pieces like "Alabama Bound" (She's Long, She's Tall, She's Chocolate Brown, She's on the Road Somewhere). Hezekiah's cousin was a drummer at picnics and also played a drum set in a blues band. After his father quit playing, Hezekiah began learning to play a fife as well as bass drum and snare drum. He continued to play off and on at picnics until around 1970.

Natchez had other musical traditions as well. Hezekiah remembers old fiddle players when he was a youngster, but that type of music seems to have died out. Mostly Hezekiah remembers blues guitarists. One of the best was Robert Fitzgerald. He had a son about seven years older than Hezekiah, John Fitzgerald, who also played, and John had a cousin named James Wood who played and was about two years older than Hezekiah. Hezekiah had a cousin named William Gayers, who also lived in Anna's Bottom and played guitar, as did Williams' two sons. One of his sons was Hezekiah's guitarist for a brief period. Hezekiah also remembers William Carradine, who lived in Natchez, and his son as a good guitar bluesmen. Carradine was recorded in 1958 by folklorist Frederic Ramsey, Jr. and an excellent album of his blues and spirituals was issued under the name Cat-Iron. He died shortly thereafter, and his son was later killed by a train. The richness of the guitar blues tradition in Natchez during Hezekiah's youth is illustrated by recordings made in 1940 by Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston for Decca Records and by Lucious Curtis, Willie Ford, and George Boldwin for folklorist John A Lomax, who was making field recordings in Natchez for the Library of Congress.

Hezekiah was inspired to become a bluesman not by one of these guitarists, however, but by the harmonica playing of "Papa George" Lightfoot, a man who made a few records beginning in 1949 and who has come to be regarded by blues collectors and historians as one of the finest blues harmonica players in the post-war period. Hezekiah began playing harmonica around 1947 and soon began following Papa George, who played at house parties and was a disc jockey on a Natchez radio station.

I had been knowing how ever since I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. What started me to fooling with a French harp, my daddy was working in a grocery store, and the storekeeper would give us a little present every Christmas. This particular Christmas he sent me a French harp, and I started playing it a little bit. I had owned several French harps, but I never got to where I could strike a tune. So this time I was able to learn how to play a couple of tunes, you know. When that one went down on me, I got another one. At that time I was getting pretty good at it, and I just kept on and kept buying them. So I learned how to play quite a few numbers there. At the time Papa George was real popular in town. He was real good, and everybody was talking about how well Papa George could play. I wanted to hear Papa George, but I could never be able to hear him. Eventually, he came down about three or four blocks from where I was living, out in the country, one Saturday night. He was playing a party. My daddy had bought me a bicycle. I got on the bicycle. They didn't know where I was. And I rode to where he was playing and listened to him awhile. And he was playing boogie woogie and everything else on that French harp. And I just had to learn that, you know I wanted to hear him so I could learn what he was doing. I'd heard so much talk about him. So I kept on until I learned the same thing he was doing. I learned how to play it, too. After I got up a little bigger, I'd go to town. My daddy would carry me to town on Saturday, and we'd be around town all day. Papa George would be in the barbershops around there. He'd be playing that French harp. I got lucky to get with him, you know, and I learned some of his songs. I just got good with it, you know, some of those boogies he used to play. "Do the Hucklebuck," he used to play that all the time. He got to the place where he would add a lot of stuff together, you know. He got to the place where he was real good, but he never would play one song all the way through. He would always mix in a lot of stuff. He'd get that bottle, and he'd just tie up everything together. That's the way he did. Whenever I would run in on Papa George, I would always listen to him and blow along with him. I learned a lot from him. I really did. He knew he was better than I was at that time and he didn't mind playing around me. He didn't mind me seeing him play, because he knew he was better than I was at that time. At one time, Papa George had a little band. He had a drummer and a guitar player at one time, but he never did keep no band. He mostly played by himself, just blow a harp by himself. He had two tablespoons, and he could place them between his fingers, and he had some kind of sound, sounded like a tambourine. That's the way he kept his time. He had a mike and amp. He played around at these parties. He played in clubs, too. Played all around by himself. He was really good. He was the best I ever seen in my life. Of course, now, I don't think he was no better than I am now. I wasn't as good as he was then, but I believe I can just about blow as good as he could blow now.

Hezekiah does not think that his early experience as a fife player had any effect on his harmonica style, but his drumming at picnics did lead to his career as a blues drummer. Around 1949 blues guitarist John Fitzgerald returned to Natchez after spending several years in the Delta. Hezekiah began accompanying him on the harp and learned some guitar from him as well. Soon, however, he became Fitzgerald's drummer and laid the harp aside for almost the next thirty years, only playing it on rare occasions. After he became Fitzgerald's drummer, he took a few drum lessons from a Professor Kind at Natchez College to sharpen his skills. Hezekiah describes the kind of music that was popular around Natchez at this time as "blues and bop." Fitzgerald and Hezekiah soon expanded their band and began getting bookings in local clubs.

My mother would carry me out to school turnouts. They'd call us up to say a speech, and we'd say a speech. Then they'd hit a couple of tunes on the old field drum, kind of dance a little, then back to their seats. I like that, and when I'd get home, I'd get me a bucket and two sticks. I'd try to mock the people playing drums, you know. Kept doing that and kept doing that and kept doing that until eventually I began to grow up and getting a pretty good size, and I went from the bucket to the lard can. I'd have a racket around the home, you know, beating a lard can. Finally I got lucky and went to a picnic one night, and I got lucky and played a couple of numbers on the real drums. I did pretty good. I liked it and I always wanted to play, so I just kept playing on those buckets and tubs and different things until I just learned how to play it. Finally Fitzgerald came back to Natchez from the Delta. He had been living in the Delta maybe six or eight years, and he moved back to Natchez. He was a guitar player. He's older than I am. When he made it back to Natchez, I had learned how to play drums pretty good, and I was getting pretty good on the harmonica. He would always come by the house when he got time and sit and listen to me play the harmonica. He would have his guitar, and he'd tune his guitar in with me and we'd play together. He finally bought an amplifier, and me and him went to getting out to parties, picnics, you know, playing a little around. His daddy was a great singer and guitar player too, bluesman. We all got together there, and we did that for eight or ten months or a year, something like that. And we run up on a set of drums there in town. An old musician had them there, and he wanted to sell them. So we got those drums, and I started playing drums then, and I laid the harmonica aside. When I started with Fitzgerald, I was between fourteen and fifteen years old. He would ask my mother and daddy, could he take me to such and such a place to play with him. And he would be responsible for me. He would see after me. The first play we made was here on Pine Ridge Road at James Bell's. He had a night club out there on Pine Ridge Road. The next one was Steve Harris. The next one was the Horseshoe Circus. These all was out in the country. We just started playing all around, and we went on playing up at Candlebird (?) up here on 61 North, up by the county line. They got a couple of joints up there, a couple of nightclubs right on the highway there. We started playing all around town (i.e., in Natchez), and then later we would go to Haney's (i.e., across the river in Ferriday) every once in awhile. Haney's was the biggest joint around here at that time. Matter of fact, Haney's was the only nightclub that would book these out of town bands, these big bands like B.B. King and all of 'em. Later, way later, Fitzgerald booked a few jobs for whites, like high school proms, parties and things like that, graduation parties.

Fitzgerald and Hezekiah's band included Richard Jones on piano and Jones' brother who was a tolerable tenor saxophone player. Elmore Williams handled a lot of their vocals until he was drafted for a two-year stretch in the army. After his discharge he sang for only one show with his old band and then promptly went out and bought all of the instruments for a band of his own and learned to play electric guitar in the style of B.B. King.

Around 1954 Fitzgerald had booked the band into a white club north of Natchez called the Wagon Wheel. They played there on Monday nights. On other nights the band there was a white group that played a mixture of country, pop, and blues. It was led by drummer Johnny Littlejohn and also included Joe Jones on steel guitar, Paul Whitehead on electric accordion, and a teenage piano player about a year younger than Hezekiah named Jerry Lee Lewis.

We was playing at a club on 61 North called the Wagon Wheel. We played out there most Monday nights. It was a white club. We got a chance to play at the Wagon Wheel several times, and during these times we were playing there up popped Jerry Lee Lewis. He didn't have out any records at that time. They had a piano there. He'd come in and get on the piano and play right long with us. He did that quite a few times. Sometime later I heard about Jerry Lee Lewis had came out with a record about "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." I hadn't seen him since, because when you playing places like that, there's always somebody coming up and saying, "Hey Man, what about letting me jam with you there a time or two?" So I just never thought he'd get famous. I never thought he was nothing special. That just shows you, you can't always tell.

In the late 1950s Hezekiah and Fitzgerald broke up. Fitzgerald quit music and joined the church. After trying out an alcoholic cousin on guitar for a while, around 1959 Hezekiah formed a partnership with guitarist Jesse Ware that lasted for about twenty years until Ware also joined the church and gave up music. Ware played all his tunes in an unusual "cross Spanish" tuning (from high to low: E-E-B-G#-E-B). They added a vocalist and bass guitarist, and in the winter season Peewee Whittaker would join them on trombone. When Peewee retired from the road around 1963, he joined Hezekiah permanently. When Jesse Ware quit and joined the church around 1978, James Baker replaced him, even to the point of adopting Ware's unusual guitar tuning.

Fitzgerald started attending church. We had a couple of misunderstandings about money. So I decided I would try to rig me up a little something of my own. One of my cousins and I joined together, and we played around about a couple of years. And he got so bad on alcohol that I couldn't do nothing with him. I had to let him go. That's when me and Jesse Ware got together. Me and Jesse Ware played awhile here in Natchez, and a new sheriff took over here and things wasn't like it had been. You had to have a dancing license to have a dance. The dancing license was so expensive, wasn't nobody having dances. All our business fell to the other side of the river. We had to go to Louisiana to play to have any business. So we got in touch with Haney, and Haney give us a play for every weekend, two nights a week. We did that the whole four years that this sheriff was the high sheriff here in Natchez. I seen quite a few blues singers at Haney's. I've never seen too many of them here in Natchez. We were working for him over a period of five years. I'd say every weekend. During that time he had the only big nightclub around here. He was the one that would book all the out of town musicians in, you see. That was where everybody went to see the stars, the big bands. They would have B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Milton, Junior Parker, Fats Domino, Joe Hinton. He would mostly book them in on Sunday night. If he got a band coming in on Sunday night, he would give us a play for Friday and Saturday and the big band was gonna be there on Sunday night. He'd give us a free pass to see them. I was on drums at that time. Jesse Ware was on guitar. We had another guy by the name of Sandy Bridge. He was singing. He left here. He's in Wisconsin now. We had another guy playing bass guitar along with us. He pulled out and went to Texas. That didn't leave nobody but me and Jesse then. We never did stop playing, and finally Peewee come in with us. Peewee would come in every year off the road, and he would stay with us until the spring of the year, and then he would go back on the road again. Leave nobody but me and Jesse. We had a couple more different guys that singed a little with us from time to time, but me and Jesse was the two men that stayed together. Then finally Peewee joined us for good. They were real carried away with Peewee when Peewee came in with us. It livened the band up a whole lot, you know, and Peewee would always walk the floor, and people liked that. We did pretty good together, and we just stayed together. We played together from back in that time (i.e., around 1963) until three years ago (i.e., 1978) when Jesse Ware quit. Well, Jesse Ware quit a couple of times. The first time he quit, Terry Thomas, a young fellow, I got him and trained him up there. He's a bass man, but he was playing guitar. We used him about a year, going on two years. Then he quit. (Note: Thomas currently accompanies gospel quartets.) Jesse come back with us and played another year or so, and then he quit again. Then James Baker come with us then. We've been together ever since. James plays identical like Jesse Ware. He just took up his tuning and everything else. What he didn't already know, I taught him, because I can play the same key, you know. I learned how to play guitar back during the same time I learned how to play French harp. I never had the opportunity to play too much out in public because they kept me busy on the drums. A drummer was pretty hard to find in this area. They kept me confined to the drums.

It must be kept in mind that Hezekiah was not playing the harmonica in the band for most of this time. Peewee's trombone was the only lead instrument. Hezekiah had put the harmonica aside around 1950 and didn't take it up again until 1979. Even then it took the World Heavyweight Boxing champion to persuade him to resume his playing. Muhammad Ali had come to Natchez to make the film Freedom Road. The producer tried to put together a group of local musicians to provide background music on guitar, banjo, fiddle, and harmonica. The only local banjo player was too old and uninterested, so they found a guitarist to strum something on the banjo. For a fiddler they had to send all the way to Prentiss, Mississippi, for an old preacher who used to play. The owner of Easterling Music Company in Vidalia, Louisiana, was put in charge of rounding up a harmonica player. He put the word out among his black customers, and Hezekiah heard about it through a fellow employee at Armstrong Tire and Rubber. Hezekiah auditioned at Easterling's and got the job.

We practiced a couple of nights there together. Then we had to go out to the Prince Motel and record a tape so that they would have it to play on the movie. When I got out there that Saturday, when they were shooting the film, Muhammad Ali came up. We were sitting on a porch of an old house. He say, "Let me see that French harp." I gave it to him and he took it, and he tried to play it. And he said, "Boy you can really play this thing." I said, "Thank you." He say, "How long you been playing French harp?" I said, "I been playing French harp ever since I was twelve or thirteen, maybe fourteen years old, somewhere along in that neighborhood, but I haven't played for a long time." I had quit playing French harp. I was playing drums. He say, "Look, let me tell you something. Don't quit no more. Don't lay it aside. Keep it 'cause you're too good to lay it aside." He got my number, my address, and everything. He say, "I'm gonna be doing, making films. I'm liable to need you somewhere. If I do, I'll give you a ring, write you." But I haven't heard anymore from him. But I've never laid the French harp aside. I went to playing the French harp in the band.

Hezekiah managed to add the harmonica by taping it to his vocal microphone. He uses an A harmonica, which puts all his songs in the key of E. Occasionally for variety he plays a B harmonica, putting his songs in the key of F#. Hezekiah has thus been able to capitalize on the notoriety he gained from this unplanned brush with fame, and in doing so he has significantly added to the sound of his band.

Around this same time (1978-79) when James Baker replaced Jesse Ware and Hezekiah added the harmonica, the band began to switch from playing mostly for blacks in clubs to playing mostly for white audiences.

A few years ago disco started moving in, and everybody around here mostly had disc jockeys, you know. Our business just had played completely out. What I did, I made lucky and got a couple of plays playing for parties and wedding receptions for whites. And that's how we got established. Miss Marshall, that has that ante-bellum home down on Pine Ridge Road, we had played at a couple of parties for her. She was a member of the Pilgrim Garden Club. Well, after we had played a couple of parties and we had given her a god little price, you know, she said, "When we get ready to have the annual ball, I'm going to consider you all." I said, "I sure appreciate it." Sure enough, she booked us in to play for the annual ball. We played all night. We played from ten that night until six-thirty the next morning, which was on an Easter Sunday night. It was two thousand and some people at this party. That was a big membership. Those two thousand and some people liked the way we played. Everybody was just carried away over our music. I had a book and tablet and pencil and everything laying on the amplifier. A lot of people would come by and say "Where is you all from?" I'd say, "Right here in Natchez." They would get my name and address. I didn't have any cards then. So after then we started getting calls from people all over town, when could they get us to play at a party for them at such and such a date. That's how we got established. That's how we got started playing for whites here in town. That's the only thing been keeping us going, because deejays got all the lounges. I consulted with a couple of guys about playing a time or two. They didn't talk like they wanted a live band. They'd rather have a deejay. So we just got away from it. In Tallulah (Louisiana) there's still a lot of blues. It's a wide-open town, and there's a lot of blues. Ferriday disco, same way here in Natchez. We plays (e.g., for white) at the Captain's Nest. We plays up there regular. We plays at the Carriage House. Standard Oil, we plays there for different parties and wedding receptions and things. Once in a while Miss Marshall gives parties. There's always somebody coming with a party. Down in the summer they have pig roasts, big picnics, barbecues, and things in their back yards. We have outdoor plays during the summer. We have a lot of that. Practically every Saturday somebody is giving something around here, not every weekend but maybe twice a month, sometimes every Saturday. Then sometimes we liable to hit a month in there where we don't have anything. The Christmas season, we have quite a few comes up then. We have had quite a few white musicians to sit in with. We had a trombone player sit in with us Thanksgiving (1980). He was a pretty good trombone player. And there was a couple of white ladies. One was playing guitar, and the other was playing keyboards. They was good. They sat in with us. Another gentleman had a saxophone. And they sat in with us, and we sounded like some kind of big time band. We was playing a party upstairs behind the Deposit Guaranty Bank there in the old Masonic Hall there on Jefferson Street in Natchez. I've had several white groups to come in. Some would sit in with us and play. We got a friend in Natchez now. He come around sometimes when we're playing, and he brings his guitar, sit in with us and play.

In May 1981, a young white politician in Vidalia, Louisiana, between Ferriday and Natchez, arranged for Hezekiah and the Houserockers to perform at the North Louisiana Folklife Conference sponsored by the Folklife Society of Louisiana. The conference met in Ferriday. Their appearance at the conference led to further opportunities to perform at folklife festivals and colleges in Louisiana and to record this first album, the record debut for all three musicians.

Over the years Hezekiah has been quick to take advantage of new opportunities as well as adapt his music to changing circumstances and audiences. He put aside the harmonica as a youngster because he saw that there was a greater need for drummers. Then he took up the harmonica much later when he was propelled to sudden fame as a harmonica player. He added Peewee to his band to give his music an extra touch of class. When one musician would quit, he always found a substitute, even training him when necessary. Uppermost has always been an instinct for survival, to keep the sound of his music before an audience. To be able to do this for over thirty years in a town the size of Natchez is truly remarkable. Presently he plays mostly for white audiences, but he believes that blues will return to popularity in black clubs after the disco fad declines. In any case, he feels prepared for any kind of audience, black or white, young or old, rich or poor. He maintains a huge repertoire of familiar songs in several musical categories in order to appeal to a variety of audiences. Although he considers the Houserockers to be essentially a blues band, he is nevertheless critical of musicians like Natchez guitarist Elmore Williams, who used to be a vocalist with Hezekiah, who plays nothing but blues.

He (Elmore Williams) used to have the same thing we have. Used to be three of them. Back twelve or fifteen years ago blues was popping. Rock & roll was popping. Disco came by, you know, and he never would change his style. He just stayed with blues. He just stayed with the blues where he got to where he couldn't draw a crowd. The people just stopped fooling with him, so he just went out. He always would keep his instrument. So every once in a while somebody would want him, and they would come get him. He would get first one, then another one, to drum for him. He don't have a piano player, just guitar and drums. Sometimes if I have time, I go out with him and drum for him. Back when James Brown was real popular, about fifteen or sixteen years ago, I could see that things were changing. Blues were beginning to fade, beginning to go out. We went to changing with the music. We played a lot of James Brown songs and Fats Domino. We always would stay with something that the people would dance on. That's one thing you've got to do when you're playing for picnics, parties, dances, and things. You got people that want to dance, and you got to play the type of music they can dance off of. There's always somebody going to keep up with the up-to-date dancing. You got to play something that they can do that type of dance on. Elmore, he stuck with blues, and he never would change his style of music. He wouldn't try to play none of those numbers. And so I had to talk with him. I told him, says, "Elmore, what you should do, man, you should try to change your style of music and come on in there with some of this James Brown stuff, something that the people can dance on. You'll find that your business will hold up. But just staying with the blues, don't play no James Brown, the stuff that people can dance off of, I don't think you're gonna be able to make it like that." He said that before he would change his style of playing, he would quit. So he didn't never change his style of playing, and he had to quit because he just went completely down. Very seldom he plays. He plays a little bit whenever he can get a drummer, me or somebody. There's not many drummers to get. We (The Houserockers) have a few numbers that we plays, disco numbers. We got quite a few beats that we can disco on. Once in a while we have a black gig come up, party or wedding reception or something like that. Somebody wants us to play, and we have to play a few disco numbers, because you know how young folks is. We keeps up with a little disco. We really is on the blues side, but we have to play a little disco. You have to have some country music, too. "Blueberry Hill," we plays that. We play "Blues, Stay Away from Me." We play "Jambalaya." Several numbers we play are country music.

Hezekiah Early tends to see the development of his career in music as a series of lucky breaks. Certainly luck has played its part in creating opportunities. But Hezekiah has always been ready to take advantage of these opportunities and has worked hard for over thirty years to create a sound that will always be certain to hold an audience. He has done this by making gradual changes in his band's sound and maintaining a broad repertoire of songs and "beats" for different types of dances. But he has never had to compromise the integrity of his music or depart from the basic musical traditions that his community provided. It seems likely that he will continue to find a niche in the local music scene for many years to come, even as his fame now begins to extend beyond his community. [Note: This has proven true.]

James Baker

James Baker was born in l948 in Natchez into a musical family. His grandfather played religious music on an accordion and traveled all over the country, getting as far as Seattle, Washington. His father sang and played guitar in an army band during World War II overseas. He could play a variety of types of music in all keys. Around 1961 James started to play acoustic guitar and learned to play in three keys from his father. He was inspired to play country and "folk" music by watching the guitar-playing character "Randy" on the television show The Virginians. One of the first tunes he remembers playing was "Wait for the Wagon." For several years he played guitar in the style of Johnny Cash. Around 1966 he moved across the river to St. Joseph, Louisiana, and has worked there as a timber cutter up to the present time. At that time he also switched to electric guitar, learned to play electric bass, and formed a band of his own to play rock & roll and disco music. They were inspired by James Brown, who was then at the height of his popularity. The band consisted of guitar, Baker on bass, drums, organ, and trumpet. During the 1970s the guitar player, whom Baker had taught, left for Texas, and most of the other band members scattered also.

During this time that his own band was active, Baker used to sit in with various white bands, playing either bass or lead guitar, and also observing the music of other kinds of bands. One of these bands was Hezekiah and the Houserockers. Baker watched Jesse Ware closely and managed to learn his style of playing and his unusual "cross Spanish" tuning (E-E-B-G#-E-B). By 1978 he was ready to replace Ware.

A long time ago when I was a kid, I used to slip down to where Peewee and them was. They had this fellow, Jesse Ware, with them. I always did play guitar. I got a chance to hear him play some music. I went back home and fell on my guitar, and I got it to where Jesse Ware was. I played in that tuning, learned a few records. Another band I played with, I would go back to different keys, you know. When I got with Peewee and them, that's the key everything was in. One night I was sitting around the house, and I said, "I'm gonna call Peewee and see what's going on." I got in contact with Peewee, and he said they were not playing anymore. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he didn't have no guitar player. I told Peewee I'm a good guitar player. Always did play what Hezekiah play. He wouldn't let me play. I knew Jesse Ware couldn't get away from me, because I had already been practicing by myself and playing Jesse Ware's style of music. And so I begged Hezekiah to come to a nightclub where Jesse Ware and them had been playing. Jesse Ware wanted to let me play. Jesse Ware knowed I could play, but Hezekiah didn't. I used to stay over in Natchez close to Jesse Ware's mama's house. Hezekiah wouldn't let me play. So when I got in contact with Peewee, Peewee called him. Peewee let me play a couple of numbers. He called on the phone the same day. He went on over to Hezekiah's and told Hezekiah we got a man over here that could play. Hezekiah said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm gonna look into it, and I'm gonna come over there." Hezekiah, he came, and we practiced one night uptown at a place up here. We been together ever since.

On off nights Baker often sits in with other bands. He has high praise for a contemporary-styled blues singer and guitarist named Peterson in Tallulah, Louisiana, from whom he has learned some pieces. He believes that Peterson's group could become famous, but "They haven't got sense enough to go nowhere." Baker has also sat in with a band in Vicksburg, Mississippi, that plays blues and rock & roll.

Baker's role in the Houserockers is to play powerful bass lines on the guitar. He rarely plays lead in the standard sense, although some instrumental numbers feature him. Most of his bass lines are based on boogie woogie, rhythm & blues, and disco riffs. On a few songs Baker lowers the first string to D in order to play seventh chords more easily. He continues to bring new musical ideas to the band, and his presence probably helps greatly to hold the interest of younger members of their audience.

Repertoire of Hezekiah and the Houserockers

The following is a list of songs recorded by the group or mentioned as part of their repertoire. This is only a small part of their total repertoire, although it probably represents most of their most "active" pieces. Individual members of the band each know many more pieces, but these are not listed below unless they are actually performed by the full band. Also not listed are a number of instrumental boogies and disco pieces, such as the piece called "Closing Time" on this album. The band performs quite a few such pieces, many of them without regular titles. The titles listed below are grouped roughly into categories. It should be kept in mind, however, that many of the pop and country songs are actually blues tunes. On the other hand, a tune like "Sitting on Top of the World" is often done by country and western groups. In other words, several of their pieces could appeal to a number of different kinds of audiences. The original recording artist and date of issue are given where known. It is possible that some of the blues songs claimed as original compositions by Peewee or Hezekiah have been influenced by earlier commercial recordings. Hezekiah is the vocalist on all of the country and pop pieces.

Peewee Whittaker's Blues

St. Louis Blues (W.C. Handy, comp. 1914; updated by Whittaker)

Married Woman Blues, also called Low Down Dirty Shame (Ollie Shepard, 1937); Louis Jordan, 1942)

Leaving in the Morning, also called Midnight Blues and Worried Blues (original composition)

I'm Gonna Rock my Blues Away (original composition)

Racetrack Blues (original composition)

Hezekiah Early's Blues

Trouble in Mind (Richard M. Jones, comp., 1926; Bertha "Chippie" Hill, 1926)

Sitting on Top of the World (Mississippi Sheiks, 1930)

I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town (Casey Bill Weldon, 1936; Louis Jordan, 1941)

Roll Me, Baby (Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, 1944)

Turn Your Hair Down (T-Bone Walker, 1947)

For You, My Love (Larry Darnell, 1949)

Every Day I Have the Blues (Lowell Fulson, 1950; B.B. King, 1955)

Dust My Broom (Elmore James, 1952)

I Woke Up This Morning (B.B. King, 1953)

Stormy Monday (Bobby Bland, 1962)

Baby, Don't Say No More (Jimmy Reed, 1955)

Baby, What You Want Me to Do (Jimmy Reed, 1959)

Early One Morning (Little Richard, 1959)

Bright Lights, Big City (Jimmy Reed, 1961)

Scratch My Back (Slim Harpo, 1966)

Cross Cut Saw (Albert king, 1966)

Down Home Blues (Z.Z. Hill, 1982)

I'm Gonna Will My Love to You (source unknown)

I've Got a Right to Love My Baby (source unknown)

Don't Talk Me to Death (source unknown)

Do Your Thing (original composition)

Going to California (original composition)

Lonely, Lonely Baby (original composition)

Baby, Don't You Want to Go (original composition, inspired by "Sweet Home Chicago" and other similar pieces)

I Don't Want to Go (source unknown; in the style of Jimmy Reed)

Worried All the Time (source unknown)

I Want a Girl Like That (source unknown)

You Know I Love You (original composition)

Look Here, Baby (original composition)

Soul Around Blues (original composition)

Rock & Roll/Pop/Disco

Lawdy, Miss Clawdy (Lloyd Price, 1952)

Got My Eyes on You, Baby (The Clovers, 1954; transformed to a blues)

Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino, 1956)

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (Jerry Lee Lewis, 1957)

Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry, 1958)

Peter Gunn Theme (Ray Anthony, 1959)

The Twist (Chubby Checker, 1960)

Stand by Me (Little Junior Parker, 1961; Ben E. King, 1961)

Raining in My Heart (Slim Harpo, 1961)

When You Got a Heartache (Bobby Bland, 1970)

When the Saints Go Marching In (traditional)

Country and Western

Boogie Woogie Baby (Delmore Brothers, 1947)

Blues Stay Away from Me (Delmore Brothers, 1949)

Jambalaya (Hank Williams, 1952)

Album Selections

Side 1

  1. Racetrack Blues. This is a collection of traditional blues verses sung by Peewee, who claims the song as an original composition. The verses deal with the contract between the generous and trusting singer and his mistreating woman and his indecision over whether to leave her or to stay and let her have her way.
  2. Turn Your Hair Down. A version of this piece was recorded as "T-Bone Shuffle" by T-Bone Walker in 1947. Walker's record has a boogie bass with trumpet or saxophone lead alternating with Walker's guitar. Hezekiah remembered only the tune and first verse of Walker's record and has added other verses of his own. Baker maintains the boogie bass, while Peewee contributes some of his standard riffs and choruses.
  3. Soul Around Blues. This is an original blues by Hezekiah for dancing. Notice how he maintains continuous rhythmic patterns on the cymbal and the snare drum and how Peewee sometimes sets up a second melodic line on the trombone and at other times plays answers to Hezekiah's harmonica or voice.
  4. I'm Gonna Move To the Outskirts of Town. This piece was originally recorded by Casey Bill Weldon in 1936 and has since become a blues standard. Peewee's friend Louis Jordan had a hit with a version in 1941. Hezekiah has rearranged the verses and added some of his own. Notice the fine interplay between Hezekiah's harmonica and Peewee's trombone.
  5. Married Woman Blues. This was first recorded in 1937 as "It's a Low Down Dirty Shame" by Ollie Shepard and His Kentucky boys. It was covered by Louis Jordan in 1942. Peewee has added some new verses and calls it an original composition. Notice how he maintains the same rhyme scheme throughout the song.
  6. Closing Time. This is one of the Houserocker's typical closing instrumentals. It is built around a guitar riff played by Baker. Hezekiah switches at one point from the cymbal to playing the rim of his snare drum.

Side 2

  1. I'm Gonna Rock My Blues Away. Peewee claims this piece as an original composition, saying, "It just come to me." The Houserockers often use this piece as an opening number to set an up beat mood for dancing.
  2. Blues, Stay Away from Me. This was recorded by a country and western group, the Delmore Brothers, 1949, and has ever since been a harmonica player's standard among both white and black players. Hezekiah used to hear it on the radio when he was a youngster. The Houserockers added it to their repertoire within the last few years, probably when Hezekiah resumed playing harmonica and the band began playing mainly for white audiences. This performance has a second harmonica played by John Wilds, a white man who had never played with Hezekiah previously. Although this occurred at a folklife festival, it is typical of the kinds of "sitting in" between black and white musicians that Peewee, Hezekiah, and Baker have experienced in the past.
  3. Leaving in the Morning. This is a collection of traditional blues verses that Peewee claims as an original composition. Hezekiah sets up a beautiful rhythmic pattern on the cymbal and adds some fine harmonica playing.
  4. I Woke Up This Morning. B.B. King recorded this piece in 1953, but Hezekiah has changed many of the words. King consciously adopted a New Orleans rhythm & blues sound for his record, which probably accounts for the tune's appeal to Hezekiah and the Houserockers. Baker plays powerful bass lines on this recording, and Hezekiah uses the toms more than he usually does in his playing. John Wilds adds a second harmonica.
  5. You Know I Love You. This is an original composition by Hezekiah with some superb trombone playing by Peewee. It is somewhat similar in style to "Closing Time" on Side 1. This piece nicely illustrates Hezekiah's use of the cymbal for maintaining a time line, using the following rhythmic pattern: ||xŸ xxŸ xxŸ xxŸ xxŸ xŸ ||. The rhythm pattern has sixteen pulses. The x's are struck, and the asterisks are not. John Wilds adds a second harmonica.
  6. St. Louis Blues. W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," composed in 1914, was one of the first pieces Peewee learned. Peewee consciously changed the lyrics and tune and now calls it "New St. Louis Blues." He states, "You can't be hurt in it as long as you put something in there different from what the old man ahead of you made. He's got to have some words, some changes in there. If they don't, they liable to arrest you, try to make you do this, that, and the other, take part of your playing at night. But as long as you got something in there different, a word or two different from what the publisher made at that time, you got it made." John Wilds adds a second harmonica on this performance.

Louisiana Folklife Bibliography

Broven, John. Walking to New Orleans. Blues Unlimited: Bexhill-on-Sea, England, 1974.

Evans, David. "The Fiddlin' Joe Martin Story." Blues World. No. 20 (July 1968), 3-5.

_____. Tommy Johnson. London: Studio Vista, 1971.

_____. Big Road Blues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Groom, Bob. "Natchez, Mississippi Blues." Blues World. No. 38 (Spring, 1971), 3-7.

Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who's Who. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1979.

Martin, J.S. "William Carradine - Cat Iron?" Blues World. No. 43 (Summer, 1972), 9.

LaVere, Stephen C. "Alexander George Papa Lightfoot." Blues Unlimited. No. 68 (December 1969), 12.

_____. "Papa Lightfoot." Living Blues, No. 13 (Summer, 1973), 6.

Titon Jeff. From Blues to Pop: The Autobiography of Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston. JEMF Special Series, No. 4. Los Angeles: The John Edwards Memorial Foundation, 1974.

Tosches, Nick. Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story. New York: Dell, 1982.

Wilson, Al. Son House. Collectors Classics 14. Bexhill-on-Sea, England: Blues Unlimited, 1966.

Zur Heide, Karl Gert. Deep South Piano. London: Studio Vista, 1970.

LP Discography

Cat-Iron. Folkways FA 2389.

Mississippi River Blues. Flyright-Matchbox SDM 230.

Papa George Lightfoot, Natchez Trace. Vault 130.

Rural Blues, Vol. 2. Imperial LM-94001.

Rural Blues, Vol. 3. Imperial LM-94006.

Peewee Whittaker and James Baker are now deceased. Hezekiah Early's performing and recording career has continued to the present, often in partnership with Elmo Williams.

This essay was originally published in 1982 as the liner notes for the LP. Dr. David Evans is Professor Emeritus of Music at University of Memphis. He is also a producer of blues records for the university's High Water Recording Company. Evans has done fieldwork with blues singers for many years, beginning in Louisiana 1965. He has written three books on blues, Tommy Johnson (1971), Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues (1982), and NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Blues (2005). He has produced over forty albums and CDs of his recordings of blues, gospel, and other types of folk music. He has also written any number of articles and reviews on various folklore topics and is a former Record Review Editor of the Journal of American Folklore. Professor Evans received his Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA in 1976.