Featured Artist: Jimmy Reed 3/14/99
Jimmy Mathias Reed was born on September 6, 1925
in Dunleith Mississippi. He was one of the most influential bluesmen of the post-World War
II period. With a blues style that was rhythmically relaxed and uncommonly accessible,
Reed sold more records in the 1950s and early 1960s than any other blues
artist save B.B. King. His "sweet" style of blues, rooted in traditional Delta
groundwork, made its mark on listeners, both black and white, and had a profound effect on
rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and solo artists like Bob Dylan.
Where Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf confronted their listeners
with gritty, urgent blues, Reed was more apt to stroke them with laid-back blues grooves
that hit a responsive chord almost instantly. Its no surprise that Reed was able to
cross over regularly onto the pop charts. With non-threatening vocals, gentle harmonica
riffs, and walking bass passages, Jimmy Reed and his blues were down right difficult not
A big chunk of credit for Reeds success must go to guitarist
Eddie Taylor, his near-constant companion and the creator of the rhythms that fueled
Reeds blues, and to Reeds wife, Mary Lee "Mama" Reed, who wrote many
of his songs. Yet it was Reed who delivered the goods. It was he who set the feet of the
songs and projected the warmth and the easy flow that made the Jimmy Reed repertoire so
distinctive and popular.
Reed was born and raised in Mississippi, where he became boyhood
friends with Eddie Taylor. It was Taylor who taught Reed the rudiments of the guitar. Reed
moved to Chicago in 1943, shortly thereafter he was drafted and served in the navy until
the end of World War II. After he was discharged, Reed returned to Chicago, but then moved
to nearby Gary, Indiana. In 1949 he teamed up with old chum Taylor, who had recently moved
to Chicago, and the two began playing small clubs with Reed on guitar, harp and vocals and
Taylor on Guitar. Reed resettled in Chicago in 1953, and a recording session for the
Chance label that year was followed by an audition with Chess, which the duo failed. Reed
and Taylor next tried Vee-Jay Records. Recognizing the pair was an interesting alternative
to the harsher blues acts that Chess was concerned with, Vee-Jay signed Reed.
Beginning in 1955, Jimmy Reed amassed an impressive string of hits that
stretched into late 1961. It began with "You Dont Have to Go," continued
with "Aint That Lovin You Baby," "You Got Me Dizzy,"
"Honest I Do," "Baby What Do You Want Me to Do," "Big Boss
Man," and ended with "Bright Lights Big City." "Honest I Do" made
it all the way to number 32 on the pop charts and "Baby What Do You Want Me to
Do" peaked at number 37.
In the early 1960s Reed played Carnegie Hall and the Apollo
Theater and toured England, where he was a big star thanks to covers of his songs by the
Rolling Stones. Although his tenure with Vee-Jay Records had ended by then, Reed continued
to record. He cut sides for Exodus and ABC-Bluesway, though none of his records had come
close to matching the critical and commercial success of his Vee-Jay output. In the
1970s Reed continued to tour and perform regularly, though his bouts with alcoholism
began to take a toll on his music. Reed died in 1976. He was inducted into the Blues
Foundations Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Tune in on Sundays from 3 - 6 AM when I play the best music from
the 50s and 60s, including blues, R&R, R&B, jazz and folk with
featured artist profiles for the first half of each show. Feel free to call and request
artists for this feature.
Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1999