Jimmy Reed is one of those artist that even if you don’t his name and don’t think you’ve heard a lick of his music, chances are, you actually have. The blues are something that has been talking to me since I was in my early twenties. The music slowly crept into my life a song or two at a time and now has a firm hold of my heart and understands my soul like no other kind of music. God, that sounds pretentious but its true
Jimmy Reed was probably one of the first blues artist that made me ears prick up.
I heard a few of his songs in a movie that spanned decades and in such an amazing way used the music to help them. Jimmy Reed was thankfully one of the artist they used. So Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby & Little Rain entered my life but didn’t make an impact bigger then – that sounds kinda cool – and I went on my merry way through life and forgot about it. That was until I had brought that soundtrack for another artist. One night I was lying in bed unable to sleep – normally that would bother me because it happens all the time but it was a work night and I had three hours until I had to get up again so I reached for the ipod hoping that the music would distract my thoughts so on go shuffle mood and bam, Little Rain started playing. I did listen while it played in the background – in that moment it was me, Jimmy Reed and early morning darkness. I never looked back.
So who is he?
Jimmy Reed was born in, 1925, on a plantation near Dunleith. He started learning the harmonica and acoustic guitar from his friend Eddie Taylor. In 1943 he moved to Chicago and was quickly drafted into the Navy. He served two years and thankful came home. He married the love of his life Mary, who was known as Mama Reed. The early ’50s found him working as a sideman with John Brim’s Gary Kings and played on the street for tips with Willie Joe Duncan. He auditioned for a deal with Chess Records but when that fell through he found success with the help of the John Brim’s Gary Kings drummer and was signed to newly formed Vee-Jay Records. He sold more records than Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James or Little Walter which brought the rewards of fame to his doorstep. He fell apart and fell in to alcoholism. Which was so bad that sometimes his wife – who was one of his backup singers – had to help him remember the lyrics to his songs while recording. Jimmy Reed’s personal problems prevented him from achieving the level of fame that some others found at the time but oddly enough he had more hit songs than many others. When Vee-Jay Records closed down he signed with another record label but was unable to find another hit as the music scene was changing as quickly
He died in 1976 in California of respiratory failure, eight days short of his 51st birthday but thankful that wasn’t the end of his story. In 1991 he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I think his greatest legacy other then his own music, are the artists we now have because of Jimmy Reed, because of his influence.
Neil Young plays Reed’s music to his audience before his shows. “Baby What You Want Me to Do” was also frequently performed by Etta James. Van Morrison’s group Them covered “Bright Lights, Big City” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do”. The Yardbirds recorded an instrumental dedicated to him entitled “Like Jimmy Reed Again” The Rolling Stones have cited Reed as a major influence on their sound, and their early set lists included many of Reed’s songs, playing covers at the infamous ‘ 1969 Altamont concert. The Steve Miller Band and Elvis. British punk pioneer Billy Childish and his band Thee Headcoats released an EP of Reed covers entitled The Jimmy Reed Experience – that list goes on.
If you think of the influence that Jimmy Reed has had on the music we love and then think of the influence that The Stones and Eric Clapton and the many others have had on bands now formed or yet to be form. Jimmy Reed has done and will do more for music then I think he ever would have imagined