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The University of Hartford

Notes from Night Train
Sunday 3-6AM by Mike Marti March/April 1999

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 1950’s and early 1960’s 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. It’s 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 to like.
    A big chunk of credit for Reed’s success must go to guitarist Eddie Taylor, his near-constant companion and the creator of the rhythms that fueled Reed’s blues, and to Reed’s 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 Don’t Have to Go," continued with "Ain’t 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 1960’s 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 1970’s 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 Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
    Tune in on Sunday’s from 3 - 6 AM when I play the best music from the 50’s and 60’s, 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

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