There was an afternoon gathering Thursday, Dec. 19, at the Lewis Ranch on Malone Road in Nesbit, with people brought together to honor and recognize the music legend who lives there, in Jerry Lee Lewis.
The purpose of the get together was the celebrate and unveil the 34th Mississippi Country Music Trail Marker for the man whose iconic piano and musical sound brought us songs like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin.” The marker will be placed alongside the road at the Lewis home.
But as you heard the stories and the remarks of those on hand, such as DeSoto County Supervisor Michael Lee, a Lewis bodyguard for 17 years, Grammy-award winner Marty Stuart, a native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and outgoing Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, one also got the sense there is one more honor the 84-year-old performer really needs to have.
Stuart, Commissioner of the Mississippi Country Music Trail, first brought it up and he was followed by Bryant in support that Lewis should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Nashville is way behind in getting Jerry Lee Lewis in the Country Music Hall of Fame,” said Stuart.
“Today we honor you (Lewis) on this Country Music Trail,” Bryant added. “But, somehow it just seems not enough for what you have done. If Marty will tell me how to do it, I’ll call my friend the governor of Tennessee and find out who’s on that board. We’re going to put you in that Country Music Hall of Fame if it’s the last thing we do.”
“There is an ever-growing collective in Music City who recognize, honor, and fight for his legacy,” added Lewis publicist Zach Farnum, “Together, we’re making strides. Jerry Lee Lewis is an American music stylist, a worldwide icon, and a country music legend.”
The Mississippi Country Music Trail was started in 2010, recognizes the state’s contributions to country music and now total 34 markers. Other recent additions to the trail honors the Bristol Sessions, in Bristol, Tennessee near the Virginia border, and Steve Azar, with a marker in Greenville.
Bryant, acknowledging his short time remaining as Mississippi’s head of state, said it was important for him to be a part of Thursday’s event.
“I have had a lot of blessings in my eight years as governor, meeting presidents and world leaders,” Bryant said. “I have toted B.B. King’s coffin to his grave. I wanted to recognize him (Lewis) for the great things that he has done and the music that he brought to our soul.”
The speakers quickly pointed out Thursday that as much as Lewis is known as a rocker, he also influenced country music, as well.
Lewis’s 1956 rock ’n’ roll classics “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” and “Great Balls of Fire” both topped the country charts, and Lee pointed out that many audiences wanted to hear the country hits.
“Everybody wants to hear ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’’ but the audience would holler out, ‘You Win Again,’ or ‘Middle Age Crazy!’’’ said Lee. “They wanted to hear the country songs that Jerry Lee has sung and had hit records on over the years. Those have always stuck in my head.”
It was in 1968 that Lewis was impacting the charts with country music hits like, “To Make Love Sweeter for You,” “There Must Be More to Love Than This” and “Would You Take Another Chance on Me?”
A native of Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis settled in Nesbit in 1973 and established the Lewis Ranch, which is now open for tours by appointment.
“I knew he was born in Louisiana, but he got here (Mississippi) as soon as he could,” Bryant said.
Also on hand for the Thursday marker unveiling were Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith, Visit Mississippi Director and Mississippi Country Music Trail Chairman Craig Ray, and Visit Mississippi Tourism Development Bureau Manager Kamel King.
Find out more about the Lewis Ranch at thelewisranch.com.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.