William “Bill” Ferris / Photo by Talbot Easton Selby

Noted scholar, author, historian and folklorist William “Bill” Ferris served as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Clinton and was the founding director of the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The Vicksburg native’s love of Mississippi arts and culture runs deep and has made him this year’s recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement. Ferris, our Portrait feature for The ‘Sip’s Spring 2015 issue, contributed his top music loves by his fellow statesmen and women for a special online-only ‘Sip Sounds.  Listen up!



Bill Ferris talks us through his Top 10 musical moments from Mississippi artists.

Elvis Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel”

“The first and most powerful rock and roll song” Ferris ever heard, Presley’s biggest early hit came in 1956 and spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

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Jimmy Reed, “Hush Hush”

This electric bluesman influenced The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and many more with what Ferris deems, “The truest sound of blues that was part of my discovery of rock and roll.”

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Jimmie Rodgers, “Blue Yodel No. 1”

Now recognized as the Father of Country Music, this was the “first clear sound of country music,” with a haunting yodel refrain from the Singing Brakeman from Meridian.

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Rufus McKay and the Red Tops, “Danny Boy”

This celebrated Vicksburg band provided dance-floor magic for Ferris’s generation in auditoriums across Mississippi, and “Danny Boy” was a universal fan favorite.




Muddy Waters, “Hootchie Cootchie Man”

After taking the Delta blues to Chicago, Waters recorded this tune composed by Chess Records’ in-house songwriter — and fellow Vicksburg native — Willie Dixon.

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Mississippi Fred McDowell, “Shake ‘em on Down”
Popularized in recent years by North Mississippi Allstars, this Hill Country classic relies on a simple, bottleneck-slide riff.

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John Lee Hooker, “Boogie Chillen”

Ferris describes this 1948 boogie from Tutwiler native Hooker as, “a hauntingly beautiful, repetitive rhythm that cannot be forgotten.”

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Bo Diddley, “Hey Bo Diddley”

Featuring his trademark shuffle, a driving rhythm that uses the “shave and a haircut” beat, this 1957 single has been covered by the Grateful Dead and Kenny Rogers.

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Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang”

Cooke’s “cry of protest over brutal prison conditions,” as Ferris describes, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the Clarksdale native’s second-biggest American hit.

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B.B. King, “The Thrill is Gone”

With a blend of blues and orchestra strings, this classic blues “brings tears to my eyes when I hear it,” says Ferris. It became one of King’s signature songs.

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Jim Beaugez

Jim Beaugez is a Mississippi-based writer whose work has been published by Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Oxford American, Garden & Gun, Guitar World and other publications. He also created and produced "My Life in Five Riffs," a documentary series for Guitar Player that traces contemporary musicians back to their sources of inspiration.