Jimmy Reed

September 6, 1925 – August 29, 1976

Recording history: early 1950’s on Chance, early 1950’s through the mid 1960’s for the Vee-Jay label, later on RRG & ABC-Bluesway

Also recorded with: John Brim

Important/historic recordings: “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”, “Honest I Do”, “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, “Big Boss Man”, “Bright Lights, Big City”

Random fact: In the early 1950’s, Jimmy Reed was performing with several Chicago musicians including John Brim, Floyd Jones, and a drummer named Albert Nelson who had a hand in helping Reed get signed with the Vee-Jay label. Not long after, Albert Nelson switched to guitar & vocals, and became famous as Albert King (yes, THAT Albert King).

About: Born Maphis (or Mathis) James Reed in Mississippi, and one of ten children. Joined a gospel group at a young age, and started fooling around on guitar and harmonicas as young as age 10. Blues legend Eddie Taylor was a young local kid also working on guitar and helped Jimmy at the time. After a short stint in the Navy, he returned to Mississsippi, got married and started a family. Not long after, he would move to Chicago to try to better his chances of supporting the family. Jimmy met up with Eddie Taylor again in Chicago and started working with him, as well as Floyd Jones, John Brim, and other Chicago blues artists (check out John Brim’s instrumental “Gary Stomp” for some rare “sideman harp” from Jimmy Reed. After the possibility of a Chess recording deal fell through, he visited another local company looking to make records – Vee-Jay.

Jimmy’s unmistakable style was an instant hit on Vee-Jay. With his lazy shuffle beat and laid-back harp riffs, his sound was instantly recognizable, and somewhat of a contrast to the more aggressive sound of other Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. In addition, Jimmy Reed also became known for high-note melodic licks & high-note bending techniques in some of his songs such as “Honest I Do” and “Sun Is Shining“, which are played in 1st position on the harmonica. His influence was so widespread that artists as diverse as The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Bill Cosby, Neil Young, Charlie Rich and Rod Stewart have covered his material. Jimmy Reed died eight days short of turning 51 years of age. In 1991 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “Vee-Jay Years”- Charly (definitive 6-disc set)
  • “I’m Jimmy Reed” - Charly (great collection of Vee-Jay sides)
  • “Best of the Vee-Jay Years” – Shout (great collection of some of his biggest Vee-Jay hits)

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