Jimmy Reed. A prodigy in the world of Blues music.
Honest I Do
Baby What You Want Me To
Bright Lights, Big City
Big Boss Man
Not only are they his signature songs, evident by the fact that they have appeared on both Billboard magazine’s R&B and Hot 100 charts, but they are a few of many songs that define his legacy.
Born in Dunleith, Mississippi, on September 6, 1925, Jimmy would spend up until the age of 15 learning the harmonica with a friend and up-and-coming musician, Eddie Taylor. Eventually, he would go on to become one of the greatest Blues musicians of his time. His unique style of electric Blues and was prevalent with non-Blues audiences as well. His formula was unique and one that audiences would cling to. There was no question that you were listing to Jimmy Reed when you heard that slack-jawed singing, strong harmonica, and lulling guitar patterns. This recipe would become a recognizable Blues sound of that era.
Before his music career, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy after moving to Chicago in 1943 and subsequently served in the Second World War. After being discharged in 1945, he returned to Mississippi and married his girlfriend, Mary. She would go on to become a background singer on many of his hits, including some of the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article.
He never gave up on music. He would secure his first record deal in the mid-1950’s signing with Vee-Jay Records, a local Jazz, Blues, and R&B label. At Vee-Jay, Reed began playing music with Eddie Taylor once again. His bond with Taylor was unique, and the two would be partners until the very end. At first, success was not coming at lightning speed. However, that all changed when he released his third single, You Don’t Have to Go followed by Boogie in the Dark, as they made the Billboard’s charts. From then on, Jimmy would produce hit after hit. He became so successful he would outsell the likes of Muddy Waters and Elmore James.
Unfortunately, in 1957, Jimmy would develop epilepsy but it would go undiagnosed for quite some time. His doctors believed it was a case of delirium tremens, a state of confusion usually caused by the effects of alcohol. There was a reason they thought this. As success would now come at lightning speed, as too did alcohol consumption. Pair this with the decline of Vee-Jay Records, and it’s safe to say that Jimmy Reed was a mess. By the mid-70s, he started to slowly become more sober and ready to resume his career pre-alcoholism. However, he died of a grand mal seizure after a gig in August of 1976.
In addition to the several hits throughout his career, Reed would go on to produce 11 songs that would break the Billboard Hot 100 Pop charts, a feat unheard of at the time for an artist of his prominence. He became a major influence on legendary performers. Elvis Presley would cover a handful of Reed’s songs such as Big Boss Man which would become a hit of his own! The Rolling Stones, in addition to citing Jimmy Reed as a major influence on their sound, would cover Reed’s songs to use as demos for their record labels. Their first album, The Rolling Stones, released in April 1964, featured their cover of Reed’s infamous hit, Honest I Do. In 1991, Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He would also become a member of the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and his hit songs Big Boss Man and Bright Lights, Big City were both voted onto the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Most recently, the legendary Bob Dylan paid tribute to him with a tribute song titled Goodbye Jimmy Reed on his ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ album, released in June 2020. In the track, Dylan is remembering the late artist and looking back at his own life and career in comparison. After listening to it, it’s evident that Bob has great admiration for a fellow legend.
https://www.allmusic.com/artist/jimmy-reed-mn0000076881/biography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Reed https://www.mswritersandmusicians.com/mississippi-musicians/james-jimmy-mathis-reed https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jimmy_Reed#Legacy https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/jimmy-reed-story-unlikely-blues-hero/ https://www.songmeaningsandfacts.com/goodbye-jimmy-reed-by-bob-dylan/