Personalities | Jimmy Reed | Fifties | Jazz & Blues
(Guitar, harmonica, vocals, 1925–76)
Mathis James Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi. His friend Eddie Taylor taught him guitar and harmonica, but he rarely played professionally until he moved to Gary, Indiana in 1948 and gradually worked himself into the Chicago blues scene. He recorded on harmonica with John Brim and, after failing an audition for Chess Records, recorded his own session for Chance Records in 1953. At this point, he reunited with Eddie Taylor.
Reed recorded for Vee Jay from 1953 until the label folded in 1965. His most successful period was 1955–61, when he had seven top 10 R&B hits (‘Big Boss Man’, ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ etc.). Reed’s formula was simple: a lazy tempo with a boogie figure on the bottom, harmonica solos and his slurred, almost unintelligible vocals. He was the most consistently popular Chicago bluesman, his records routinely making the pop chart, but credit must also go to his faithful guitarist Taylor and his wife, Mama Reed, who helped to write many of his songs.
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