Mathis James Reed, better known in this world as Jimmy Reed, would have been 98 years old today. However, he died at the age of 50 back in 1976 at the age of 50.
Happy birthday, Boss Man!
Reed, who like so many of his generation of blues singers migrated from Mississipoi to Chicago, left behind an amazing catalogue of songs, some of the most recognizable blues tunes this side of Muddy Waters.
He began recording on the Chicago-based label Vee Jay in 1953 (Hey, they had The Beatles for a short time!) Encyclopedia Brittanica --not usually my first go-to blues history source --described his tunes:
"They almost invariably featured the same basic, unadorned rural boogie-shuffle rhythm accompanied by his thickly drawled "mush-mouth: vocals and high, simply phrased harmonica solos."
Mush-mouth? I dunno ...
Jackie Meyers of Mississippi Writers & Musicians wrote:
Much of his success can be credited to his friend Eddie Taylor, who played on most of his sessions, and his wife, Mama Reed, who wrote many of his songs and even sat behind him in the studio reciting his lyrics into his forgetful ear as he sang. His hits appealed to blacks and whites. Many of his blues songs were even adopted by white R&B groups during the early 60’s. He was the first of the Chicago electric bluesmen to break through to the pop/rock market. Reed had fourteen hits for Vee Jay on the R&B charts between 1955 and 1966.
Among those who have covered Reed tunes are Elvis Presley, Count Basie, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Grateful Dead, Waylon Jennings Sonny James and scores of others.
But nobody sounded like mush-moth Jimmy!
Here are a few of my favorite Reed songs.
Honest, I do love this one:
And if you don't love Jimmy Reed I'm going to ask you to Hush:
I'm amazed no insurance company never tried to use this one in a comercial:
But my favorite has always been Big Boss Man. I always have imagined some bone-weary Egyptian slave defiantly shouting this into the air while working on some pyramid.