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Jimmy Reed

There's simply no sound in the blues as easily digestible, accessible, instantly recognizable, and as easy to play and sing as the music of Jimmy Reed. His best-known songs -- "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," "Bright Lights, Big City," "Honest I Do," "You Don't Have to Go," "Going to New York," "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby," and "Big Boss Man" -- have become such an integral part of the standard blues repertoire, it's almost as if they have existed forever. Because his style was simple and easily imitated, his songs were accessible to just about everyone from high-school garage bands having a go at it, to Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Lou Rawls, Hank Williams, Jr., and the Rolling Stones, making him -- in the long run -- perhaps the most influential bluesman of all. His bottom-string boogie rhythm guitar patterns (all furnished by boyhood friend and longtime musical partner Eddie Taylor), simple two-string turnarounds, country-ish harmonica solos (all played in a neck-rack attachment hung around his neck), and mush-mouthed vocals were probably the first exposure most white folks had to the blues. And his music -- lazy, loping, and insistent and constantly built and reconstructed single after single on the same sturdy frame -- was a formula that proved to be enormously successful and influential, both with middle-aged blacks and young white audiences for a good dozen years. Jimmy Reed records hit the R&B charts with amazing frequency and crossed over onto the pop charts on many occasions, a rare feat for an unreconstructed bluesman. This is all the more amazing simply because Reed's music was nothing special on the surface; he possessed absolutely no technical expertise on either of his chosen instruments and his vocals certainly lacked the fierce declamatory intensity of a Howlin' Wolf or a Muddy Waters. But it was exactly that lack of in-your-face musical confrontation that made Jimmy Reed a welcome addition to everybody's record collection back in the '50s and '60s. And for those aspiring musicians who wanted to give the blues a try, either vocally or instrumentally (no matter what skin color you were born with), perhaps Billy Vera said it best in his liner notes to a Reed greatest-hits anthology: "Yes, anybody with a range of more than six notes could sing Jimmy's tunes and play them the first day Mom and Dad brought home that first guitar from Sears & Roebuck. I guess Jimmy could be termed the '50s punk bluesman."

Reed was born on September 6, 1925, on a plantation in or around the small burg of Dunleith, MS. He stayed around the area until he was 15, learning the basic rudiments of harmonica and guitar from his buddy Eddie Taylor, who was then making a name for himself as a semi-pro musician, working country suppers and juke joints. Reed moved up to Chicago in 1943, but was quickly drafted into the Navy where he served for two years. After a quick trip back to Mississippi and marriage to his beloved wife Mary (known to blues fans as "Mama Reed"), he relocated to Gary, IN, and found work at an Armour Foods meat packing plant while simultaneously breaking into the burgeoning blues scene around Gary and neighboring Chicago. The early '50s found him working as a sideman with John Brim's Gary Kings (that's Reed blowing harp on Brim's classic "Tough Times" and its instrumental flipside, "Gary Stomp") and playing on the street for tips with Willie Joe Duncan, a shadowy figure who played an amplified, homemade one-string instrument called a Unitar. After failing an audition with Chess Records (his later chart success would be a constant thorn in the side of the firm), Brim's drummer at the time -- improbably enough, future blues guitar legend Albert King -- brought him over to the newly formed Vee-Jay Records, where his first recordings were made. It was during this time that he was reunited and started playing again with Eddie Taylor, a musical partnership that would last off and on until Reed's death. Success was slow in coming, but when his third single, "You Don't Have to Go" backed with "Boogie in the Dark," made the number five slot on Billboard's R&B charts, the hits pretty much kept on coming for the next decade.

But if selling more records than Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, or Little Walter brought the rewards of fame to his doorstep, no one was more ill-equipped to handle them than Jimmy Reed. With signing his name for fans being the total sum of his literacy, combined with a back-breaking road schedule once he became a name attraction and his self-description as a "liquor glutter," Reed started to fall apart like a cheap suit almost immediately. His devious schemes to tend to his alcoholism -- and the just plain aberrant behavior that came as a result of it -- quickly made him the laughingstock of his show-business contemporaries. Those who shared the bill with him in top-of-the-line R&B venues like the Apollo Theater -- where the story of him urinating on a star performer's dress in the wings has been repeated verbatim by more than one old-timer -- still shake their heads and wonder how Reed could actually stand up straight and perform, much less hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Other stories of Reed being "arrested" and thrown into a Chicago drunk tank the night before a recording session also reverberate throughout the blues community to this day. Little wonder then that when he was stricken with epilepsy in 1957, it went undiagnosed for an extended period of time, simply because he had experienced so many attacks of delirium tremens, better known as the "DTs." Eddie Taylor would relate how he sat directly in front of Reed in the studio, instructing him while the tune was being recorded exactly when to start to start singing, when to blow his harp, and when to do the turnarounds on his guitar. Jimmy Reed also appears, by all accounts, to have been unable to remember the lyrics to new songs -- even ones he had composed himself -- and Mama Reed would sit on a piano bench and whisper them into his ear, literally one line at a time. Blues fans who doubt this can clearly hear the proof on several of Jimmy's biggest hits, most notably "Big Boss Man" and "Bright Lights, Big City," where she steps into the fore and starts singing along with him in order to keep him on the beat.

But seemingly none of this mattered. While revisionist blues historians like to make a big deal about either the lack of variety of his work or how later recordings turned him into a mere parody of himself, the public just couldn't get enough of it. Jimmy Reed placed 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts and a total of 14 on the R&B charts, a figure that even a much more sophisticated artist like B.B. King couldn't top. To paraphrase the old saying, nobody liked Jimmy Reed but the people.

Reed's slow descent into the ravages of alcoholism and epilepsy roughly paralleled the decline of Vee-Jay Records, which went out of business at approximately the same time that his final 45 was released, "Don't Think I'm Through." His manager, Al Smith, quickly arranged a contract with the newly formed ABC-Bluesway label and a handful of albums were released into the '70s, all of them lacking the old charm, sounding as if they were cut on a musical assembly line. Jimmy did one last album, a horrible attempt to update his sound with funk beats and wah-wah pedals, before becoming a virtual recluse in his final years. He finally received proper medical attention for his epilepsy and quit drinking, but it was too late and he died trying to make a comeback on the blues festival circuit on August 29, 1976.

All of this is sad beyond belief, simply because there's so much joy in Jimmy Reed's music. And it's that joy that becomes self-evident every time you give one of his classic sides a spin. Although his bare-bones style influenced everyone from British Invasion combos to the entire school of Louisiana swamp blues artists (Slim Harpo and Jimmy Anderson in particular), the simple indisputable fact remains that -- like so many of the other originators in the genre -- there was only one Jimmy Reed. ~ Cub Koda, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Essential Boss Man

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3

Comments

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Even though I'm at the point now of culling down the number of songs I have from my favourite artists/band s on my stations, I think I'm still gonna have more from Jimmy Reed than from anyone else - because a lot of his music is just so good!!
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Deborah, if you were referring to blues in general - I think some people think that all blues music sounds like Albert/BB/Fr e d d i e King... when that's really not the case at all. There's a lot of blues music I love that really doesn't sound at all like these guys... including, of course, Jimmy Reed.
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That being said, one can hardly say that songs like Big Boss Man and Going to New York are depressing. The main reason why I find some of his songs to be bittersweet is because I really can't fathom walking out on Jimmy Reed. I know, in real life, he and his wife did separate a few times - but they always worked things out and got back together.
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To be fair, Jimmy Reed does have some bittersweet type songs - but, man, that voice!! There's just something about that voice that really touches the heart. I think he was so cute back in the '50s, and he passed away before I was even born (sadly). But even so, I have sort of a crush on him... for a very loose definition of the word crush.

Sure, he had troubles with alcohol - but he was a very nice man. He was a very loving husband and father.
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Jimmy Reed was often played by the Bossman Porky on WAMO in Pittsburgh
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I wish i could of seen him play some people say this kind of music depressed them makes them sad..... and it just takes me to another level i love it rip bbking love this music
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Only a black man with a southern-acc e n t e d soft voice could sing like Jimmy Reed. That's the secret to his charming vocal style.
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Although, come to think of it, I dunno if Jimmy Reed is exactly old-school. His music career started a few years before rock and roll arguably started, but I know the blues as a genre existed for a few decades prior to him. As someone who is also a hard rock fan, though - the late-'40s is about as far back as I go, as far as blues music goes.
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Anyone looking for contemporary blues artists that build more off of Jimmy Reed's style than Albert King's style, I'd recommend these following: Mark Hummel, Charlie Musselwhite , William Clarke, Gary Primich, Dennis Gruenling, and Teddy Morgan... to start out with.

But, if you like only the old-school blues... that's fine, too.
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If you like Jimmy Reed... you might also like Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, and Duster Bennett. Some of their songs really have the Jimmy Reed vibe to it, and all seemed to be directly influenced by him.
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Jimmy Reed big with the Bossman Porky
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Jimmy Reed one of the best blues players of all time !
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He is the best and Big Boss Man is the best song, a favorite dance sound at Carolina Beaches
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love it
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reed the man rog the real deal
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Love this song
Hahaha
Obsession
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Jimmy Reed.....
A true bluesman, it just does not get any better,Mr Reed thanks for all the great music you gave us.
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I'm gonna ruin you.
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ikr
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nice way 2 began my weekend
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love me some jimmy reed puts me in a zone
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lol
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back in my garage band days there was a term called the reed beat and every one knew what you meant.




















































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There was only one and there will never be another Jimmy Reed, the blues godfather.
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Alright Now
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really good
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Proper paragraph breaks are essential to writing that flows well
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lol
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Bright Light , Big City ANOTHER great one by Jimmy Reed
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Shame Shame Shame...anot h e r great one
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Big Bossman>>>>A n o t h e r one of Jimmy Reed's best
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one of about 100 great songs Jimmy Reed turned out
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Jimmy Reed...it don't get much better than Down In Mississippi
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kvons1
Hey Boss Man----you ain't so big, you just dumb that's all!
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Jimmy Reed the king of the blues. The best of the best.
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Honest I Do another one of Jimmy Reed's great ones
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USE TO WATCH JIMMY AT THE WEBWOOD INN IN DETROIT BACK IN THE 50-60'S
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Baby, What you want me to do? one of Porky's favorites { and mine too }
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dymentedfrea k
If you love the blues, then check out my youtube channel and leave me some love? :> I play guitar much like jeff healey. Over the top and I'm in a wheelchair. http://www.y o u t u b e . c o m / u s e r / B r o c k D a v i s s o n 1 9 7 8
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just speed up jimmy reed and you've got rock 'n roll -- he's the godfather
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usedkarguy
The Nighthawks did this as an instrumental and called it Two Bugs and a Roach.
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1955 thru 1960's Big big in Atlanta GA ...love Jimmy Reed...Big Boss Man
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sounds like Porky on WAMO
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What a great feel he had. I love his voice and his songs are so great to play and sing. Easily accessible even to novices like me. Love me some Jimmy Reed!
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I grew up in western Canada where my father and grandfather were both champion fiddlers who played old time dance music. At 17 my family moved to Wisconsin and it was on a Memphis station in about 1960 that I first heard the southern blues . It was so different from what I had know but I was sold on old Jimmy from the start and have collected as much of his music that I can find. Thanks Jimmy.
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bigdade42
THE GREATEST BLUES SINGER OF ALL TIME MY MAN MR. JIMMY (CON PEACHES) REED.
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He was big with Porky Chedwick...i n the 50's
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kvons1
Great tune from the dinosaur age. You just tall---THAT' S ALL!
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just starting listening to blues I am 38 years dold and first heard jimmy read when i was like 26 yrs old till thennever reeally paid attention to blues music, now i cant stop listening to it jimmy reed' is the s**t ! but alll blues music i love now fromm jimmy reed , b. bking , muddy waters , eric clapton , and many more ! thanks jimmy reed for bringing the beautiful sound of music (the bluese ) to my hears now I look for place like restraunts (like lucillees bbq ) just to watch and listen
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I started listening to Jimmy back in the early 50s when I was a lad. My Father rest his soul, introduced me to it by telling me that if I ever wanted to hear honesty in music listen to Jimmy Reed. Technically he's pitiful vocally he's real bad, so bad till it's magnificent. Mr. Reed has gotten me through some hard times, Thanks,Jimmy Reed
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