Recalled for tracks such as “Shame, Shame, Shame”, “Bright Lights, Big City” and ”Big Boss Man”, bluesman Jimmy Reed influenced more mainstream acts including Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones. He died today in 1976.
Death of blues guitarist, vocalist/harmonica player Mathis James Reed aka Jimmy Reed, at the age of 50. Born in rural Mississippi, Reed took his cue from teenage friend Eddie Taylor and began playing locally before moving to Chicago in 1943.
Following military service with the US Navy, Jimmy found employment in Gary, Indiana and became a regular performer on the local blues circuit there and in nearby Chicago. Signing with Vee-Jay Records after being rejecting by Chess, Reed’s no frills almost minimalist approach soon found favour with record buyers and he began to feature on the R’n'B hit parade.
Commercial success however went hand in hand with Reed’s drinking and stories of his scrapes and misadventures became the stuff of legend. Many of his recording sessions being made whilst distinctly “under the influence”, requiring prompting from those present to remember his own tunes and lyrics – with his wife “Mama’s” vocals appearing on some tracks to try and drag him along….
For all that, he’s credited as an influence on groups that grew up in the British blues boom including the Yardbirds, Pretty Things and John Mayall – partly for the unadorned simplicity of his music. A 1961 appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall proved to be a highpoint – although a live album released later was nothing more than a compilation of studio cuts sequenced in the running order of his set list.
By 1966 though, Reed’s audience were tuning in to those younger pretenders and his record company was on the skids. Clearly struggling when visiting the UK for live shows in 1968, ironically the Elvis Comeback Special TV show was simultaneously showcasing Reed material to an uncomprehending audience.
Belatedly diagnosed with epilepsy and finally receiving help for his alcoholism, Reed continued to record and tour until his death in 1976. He’s buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois – also the final resting place of blues great “Big” Bill Broonzy and boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons.
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And here’s some footage of Jimmy in action: