The Very Best of Jimmy Reed
The Big Boss Man of the Blues
Jimmy Reed (1925–1976) turns up on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll—for his loping, swaggering 1960 hit "Big Boss Man." But the illiterate Mississippi-born bluesman, who got his break in Chicago in the early 1950s, probably deserves to be there for "Honest I Do," which was one of the first tunes the Rolling Stones ever recorded. Or for "I Ain't Got You," a hit for the Yardbirds. Or for "Baby What You Want Me to Do," a sexy slow strut that's been covered by countless acts, including Elvis Presley and Neil Young.
Reed's gut-level anthems feel eternal; it's hard to imagine the blues without them. Their simplicity made it easy for Reed, who was a notorious alcoholic, to remember the words even when he was half crazed. It also makes them perfect for rock and roll: Billy Vera, the rock songwriter and historian, once noted that "anybody with a range of more than six notes could sing Jimmy's tunes."
Still, Reed's original versions have something extra—a smooth sense of flow, a buoyant and irrepressible rhythm. Indeed, none of the covers completely captures the effortless swing that Reed and his longtime rhythm guitarist (and secret weapon) Eddie Taylor made a signature—if other bluesmen clomped around, Reed and Taylor moved in a perpetual slink, like tomcats prowling. This anthology offers a healthy sampling of Reed's great original tunes and a few lesser-known works, like the instrumental "Odds and Ends." Listen closely, because on several of the tracks, it's possible to hear Reed's wife, Mary "Mama" Reed, singing gently along, keeping her often-inebriated man on the beat. From time to time, she actually whispers the words he's supposed to sing next. That's true love right there.
Released: 2000, Rhino
Key Tracks: "Baby What You Want Me to Do," "Bright Lights Big City," "Shame, Shame, Shame," "I Ain't Got You"
Catalog Choice: Live at Carnegie Hall
Next Stop: Otis Rush: The Classic Cobra Recordings
After That: Peter Green: Man of the World
Book Pages: 637–638
#1 from Adam Herbst, New Jersey - 12/16/2008 6:53
One of the signs of great art is the ability to convey complex messages in what seems to be a simple way. This year we lost one of the purveyors of such great art: Bo Diddley. Another such artist, long gone is Jimmy Reed. Listen to his music and it seems simple, as if every song were as similar to the next as could be possible. But parse them out and you find what may be the entire mid-century rural to urban move that the African-American community took. And you can drink to it.