Jimmy Reed

TrackSingle / Album
High And LonesomeVJ-100
You Don't Have To GoVJ-119
Ain't That Lovin' You BabyVJ-168
Little RainVJ-237
Honest I DoVJ 253
Baby What You Want Me To DoVJ 333
Big Boss ManVJ 380
Bright Lights, Big CityVJ 398
Blue Blue WaterJimmy Reed At Carnegie Hall
Shame, Shame, ShameVJ 509


Jimmy Reed playlist


Jimmy Reed poster 2


Contributor: Dave Stephens

Jimmy Reed was very distinctive. He was also repetitive; he was an alcoholic and he sold more records than “Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James or Little Walter” (and that quote comes from Cub Koda in the AllMusic Reed biography though it appears in other places too).

“Jimmy Reed is a stunningly original blues performer who has been for some unaccountable reason largely overlooked by blues critics and other writers on the folk blues tradition.”

Those words were written by highly respected music historian and record producer Pete Welding and they appear in the opening paragraph to the sleeve notes for the Jimmy Reed At Carnegie Hall LP which was released by the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1961. Think about them. They could apply just as strongly to John Lee Hooker who was also recording for Vee-Jay at the time (and would continue to do so for several years). They could apply too, to people like Muddy and The Wolf, not all that far away at Chess. Welding goes on to fire a polite blast at critics who hadn’t yet recognised the merits of a new(ish) stream of blues which was neither folk blues nor jazz blues, but drew strongly from the southern rural stream while making use of amplified instruments, principally guitars and harmonicas.

Such battles with critics are now a thing of the dim distant past and it’s not them that I want to draw attention to. Instead, it’s the quality of Reed’s work and that distinctiveness factor. I, like Pete, would put the man in that same grouping as Muddy, The Wolf and others who came from the country rather than the cities, and who established a whole new form of black music, one that wouldn’t really be recognised by white record buyers – and that’s both the public and the established critics – until several young British artists had flung it (back) in their faces during the Brit Invasion of 1963/64.


The LP

… on which those notes appear is one I indelibly associate with Jimmy. It was released in the UK via the Stateside subsidiary of EMI. in 1962. It was subjected to some changes en route – see footnotes – but those tracks from the original which related directly to the title were retained as was the 1500 word essay from Welding. It was the first Reed album to see release in this country and I can imagine the varied Jaggers, Relfs, Burdons and their like, snapping it up and showing it off to their friends. I recall ordering it from my local record shop – can’t remember the date but it must have been ‘62/’63 – and I also remember hurrying home to play it. Which has to prompt some music since we’ve gone five whole paragraphs without. Side 1, track 1 will do nicely.

Slow to medium – medium for Jimmy that is, a spidery guitar leading you in to the number settling down to a backdrop of guitars with one of them playing a familiar Chuck Berry riff but at a fraction of the speed, another sometimes giving us a two chord dropping riff– a feature emphasised by the Animals in their version – and two voices rather than one. One of those voices belonged to Jimmy’s wife Mary who was known as Mama Reed; her duetting was an occasional feature of his performances, deployed at times to remind her man of the words. But Jimmy himself was always strongly to the fore, slurry, wandering around the notes but insistent – he wanted you to listen, alright! – and deeply Southern. And a turnaround, always a turnaround (which, for those who are unaware, is the flurry of notes that come at the end of the 12 bars signifying that that verse is over, onto the next). Jimmy really, really loved his turnarounds. And he loved his harp breaks too, coming from that neck mounted harmonica. Again, very distinctive. High and at times shrill and piercing, single notes but with bends. No one else in the whole of the blues world sounded like this, other than a very slightly later grouping of musicians down in Southern Louisiana who based their style very largely on Jimmy. And, while I’m listing his characteristics, a way of phrasing his lyrics that was direct and simple and didn’t rely overly on blues clichés.

Bright lights, big city,
They gone to my baby’s head

If you thought track 1 was slow then its successor, I’m Mr. Luck, is reeeeeeaaall slow with that spidery guitar work again and a rhythm guitar playing little more than a backbeat – ska from Chicago even! – and on top of all this doomsville stuff there’s Jimmy with happy lyrics, yup this is just his way of saying all’s right with me as in “I used to be down but now I’m up / Just tip your hat at me, and call me Mr Luck”.

Like many a blues man both before and after him, Jimmy was never one to shy away from reuse of lyrics and/or themes and much of the positive stance (and several of the words) from “Mr Luck” are echoed in track 4, Found Joy, which climaxes with “Now I’m just as happy as a kid playing with a toy”. Medium tempo this time and more in line with the lyrical thrust (and not to be confused with another Reed song Found Love which uses different lyrics altogether).

The track I skipped, What’s Wrong Baby – that’s what it says on my LP but it’s Baby, What’s Wrong in other places – also borrows slightly lyrically from Baby What You Want Me To Do but it’s a more playful affair than the warhorse. Genuinely medium pace this time with the drummer adding spark plus another new riff from one of the guitarists, using a variant on the chord drop I mentioned earlier.

The word “guitarists” prompts me to mention that (a) in case you were wondering where was the audience, they seemed awfully quiet, that’s because they weren’t present; technical issues had prevented live recording of the concert so the set list was recorded in the studio after the event. And (b) for the bulk of the time two guitarists were present in addition to Jimmy himself; Lefty Bates and Jimmy’s regular sparring partner Eddie Taylor who also supplied bass. However, there were permutations and changes in the musicians since they actually drew tracks from more than one session.

The final track on side 1, Kind Of Lonesome, is almost up tempo (for Jimmy) with lyrics dripping with blues phraseology – “I feel kinda lonesome, baby I feel so blue / (repeat) / Won’t somebody tell me, tell me what to do” – it’s a defiant strut with attitude exemplified by drummer (Earl Phillips) cymbal bashing.

Highlights of side 2 include the genuinely up tempo I’m A Love You with a surprise appearance of a (presumably overdubbed) vocal group within Jimmy’s harp break, Tell Me That You Love Me – the structure of which has echoes of swamp pop land like Honest I Do, and Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth which sometimes gets in the “best of” compilations. But the final track, Blue Blue Water, is something different again. I don’t know of another Reed track where he attempts, and achieves, such a degree of intimacy. The voice is so soft it could almost be Josh White singing, and one of the guitars at the start sounds like it might be acoustic (though I’m probably mistaken). And for a change, the structure isn’t 12 bars, it’s one of the alternatives beloved by folkies and jazzers alike. Lyrically, it’s simplistic but fantastical at the same time; how can blue water make such an impact when the sky is dark enough to reveal a silver moon?

Blue, blue water
Silver moon
Tell me darling, tell me soon
You’re my darling, you’re my sweetheart.
My heart’s desire

I could easily have named several tracks from this set in the Ten but there are too many better-known songs which, deservedly, warrant their places. To quote Keith Richards from his autobiography “Life”:

“Jimmy Reed was a very big model for us. That was always two-guitar stuff. Almost a study in monotony in many ways, unless you got in there. But then Jimmy Reed had something like twenty hits in the charts with basically the same song. He had two tempos.”


The Hits

Suspecting a degree of exaggeration in the Richards estimate of hits, I counted the chart entries in the Wiki feature on Jimmy: there were 19 in the R&B Chart, 8 of which also made the Hot 100 plus 3 Hot 100 entries which didn’t make the R&B Chart. So, apologies Keith, you were pretty well spot on.

The most popular of the lot or the one that has weathered better than the others must be Big Boss Man. Only #13 R&B and #78 Hot 100 at the time (1961) but it’s lasted. Wiki doesn’t give a comprehensive list of who’s covered it, the writer merely mentions Presley and few others but a quick count of the Secondhandsongs list for the song gives us 150 or so and from my experience with the site that’s probably an understatement. And the reason for its appeal? Well, the catchy descending intro from unison harmonica & guitar must have helped as did the bubbly bass from the one and only Willie Dixon, but it might well have been those lyrics which, for a change, weren’t written by Jimmy. The gents responsible were Luther Dixon and Al Smith. I suspect Jimmy wouldn’t have written such lyrics which were intended to reflect his life back in the cotton picking days:

Got me working, boss man, working ’round the clock
I want a little drink of water, but you won’t let Jimmy stop
Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
Well, you ain’t so big, you just tall, that’s all

I suspect that the second “you” in the final line was originally a “you’re” but Jimmy shortened it which undoubtedly increased the identification factor – and it made the line punchier.

Released a year or so prior to Big Boss Man, Baby What You Want Me To Do received a piggy back into the white buyers domain via the song’s appearance on the Everlys’ second Warner Bros LP A Date With The Everly Brothers and it’s likely to have been the boys’ fine version which ensured its acceptance with a rock audience. But in terms of worldwide audience recognition it has to be the exuberant take from Elvis in the jam portion of the ’68 Comeback Special which absolutely takes the biscuit. If any single number from the famous ‘session’ demonstrated that El had still got the magic of the Memphis days, it was this one. Other rockers performed the song, with Chuck, Jerry Lee and Little Richard among them, and the slightly later generation of Them, the Byrds and Neil Young also had a crack, or often multiple cracks, at a song that had become a rock and roll standard. (With the award for most unusual of the lot probably going to Dale “Susie Q” Hawkins for his take on the album L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas in ’69.)

None of this in any way detracts from an excellent original. A fine Wiki feature makes two significant points both on the record and the Reed oeuvre in general. Firstly, that the title of the song appears nowhere in the lyrics of the original; the Reed full final line is “You got me doing what you want / Baby why you wanna let go”. The clip selected below includes some pre-take chat on the title which hadn’t been agreed at the time (and the uploader informs the world that this was the version of the song included in the Jimmy Reed 6 CD Vee-Jay Box Set). Secondly, the writer states: Jimmy Reed received the sole credit for the song, although blues historian Gerard Herzhaft points out “like almost all of Reed’s pieces and whatever the official credits are, it is an original composition by his wife, Mama Reed.”

The statement can be found under the heading “Blues Standards” in Herzhaft’s book, “Encyclopedia Of The Blues”. Within the section specifically on Reed are the following words: His sensitive and original repertoire, for the most part due to the imagination of his wife “Mama” Reed gained him local success.

I’d add a couple of comments: the performance was livened up again by the harmonising – or as good as – from Mama R; was this what caught the attention of Don and Phil? And those phrases “You got me peepin’ / You got me hidin’ / You got me peep hide / Hide peep /any way you want me, let it roll” were effectively hooks which got you at the start of the verse rather than the more common, end of the chorus.

The highest position that Jimmy achieved in the Hot 100 was #32 back in 1957 with Honest I Do. Although its minimalist chord sequence is evocative of a positive multitude of swamp pop numbers, the dating tells us that it was around well before that intriguing genre would manifest itself at any form of chart level. Which strongly suggests that the pattern of misery that comprised swamp pop was around in at least the black communities (and possibly the white ones too) of Louisiana and Mississippi earlier than generally supposed. The song is also highly unusual (for Jimmy) in that it contains a middle eight or bridge which is certainly not common in his Vee-Jay oeuvre. I note that also on this number there is an “Ewart Abner” credited along with Jimmy for the composition. If you Google that name you’ll find an Ewart Abner as part owner and general manager of Vee-Jay at that time which rather hints that the EA contribution to the composing of the song (and some of Jimmy’s others) was along the same lines as Norman Petty with Buddy Holly.

Quiztime: that was Jimmy’s highest ranking hit, what was his first? (It didn’t see release in the UK; nor did any until 1960.) To which the answer is You Don’t Have To Go, a record which was cut in his second session for Vee-Jay which is thought to have been held over 29/30 December 1953 but with the record not released until the best part of a year had transpired. While there was nothing unusual about it – well there was but I’ll come to that in a moment – it’s an excellent early example of the Jimmy Reed slowish to somnolent blues; note the remarkable upwards bend he gets out of his mouth harp in the opening. And the unusual thing? The Stefan Wirz sessionography on Jimmy states that the drummer on the session was a gent called Albert King. Couldn’t be the same man surely? Check the Wiki entry for Albert and what do you find but “In 1953, he moved north to Gary, Indiana where he briefly played drums in Jimmy Reed’s band and on several of Reed’s early recordings”. AllMusic say something similar which tends to confirm the statement. To illustrate the fact that the record is remembered by gentlemen of a certain age, here are Jerry Lee Lewis plus Neil Young telling their babies they don’t have to go in 2006 (from Last Man Standing). Not many people attempt to yodel within a blues! Jimmy didn’t need to do that. He just did his thing.

Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby was another early hit. Once again it was one which spawned plenty of cover versions from the expected – Dale Hawkins (again) – to the less expected – the Beau Brummels. I’d single out the one from Betty Everett & Jerry Butler for the reader’s delectation. I’d also point out that Bobby Bland’s Ain’t That Loving You isn’t a version of the same song (though it’s a fine record, nevertheless). Perhaps what attracted such a range of interpretations was the fact that the song wasn’t a blues or, to put it another way, didn’t use a conventional blues structure. It had more of a pop song format, two verses then a chorus cum middle-eight (where the title line is chanted) then alternating verse/chorus. All this managed in two chords! Jimmy was nothing if not economical. Lyrically (and unusually), the song seems to be about devotion from afar which is why the title line is followed by “But you don’t even know my name”. However, there’s a conflict: the word “home” gets two mentions – “I would rob, steal, kill somebody / Just to get back home to you” and “They could drop me in the ocean / I’d swim to the bank / An’ crawl home to you”. Does this mean she is deliberately claiming that she doesn’t know him any more or is “home” not a shared house but an ideal of a perfect destination? Or is this apparent anomaly merely accidental? And if you haven’t picked out the original from the wide range of covers then you’ll be surprised at its high pace: another atypical thing for JR.

I was introduced to the song by live London club performances from Rod “The Mod” Stewart appearing with Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men prior to the mutation into Steampacket. I was pleased to find it on YT but don’t remember Sir Rod singing the song at such a clip.

My final selection has personal connotations too. I well remember purchasing Shame, Shame, Shame in summer ’63 and it’s still my perfect Jimmy Reed record; from that perfect introduction, to that perfect rhythm, that perfect instrumental mix, that perfect voice, that perfectly pleasing harp solo, perfect turnaround and those perfect lyrics.

Well I tried to tell you baby
But it make no sense
Know you got me baby
Up against this fence

An’ ain’t that a shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame the way you do
Well, it’s a shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame, on you

I don’t care if those lyrics were penned by the Missus. This was R&B (or so we were told back then). Within that same year I’d lay my hands on Smokestack Lightning, Help Me and more, but nothing nudged Jimmy’s Shame, Shame, Shame as the perfect record. And yes, I’m repeating myself but that’s what the best blues often do too.


Wild Cards …

… or a couple that don’t align with the headings so far. Little Rain was one I discovered via the Stones 2016 album Blue And Lonesome which demonstrated to us that they could still hack it when it came to blues, and that they had a particular penchant for artists who toted harmonicas – Little Walter mainly but Jimmy got a look-in too (with that Abner name again appearing in the credits). Even more minimalist than usual with what sounds like a single guitar and foot tapping until the drummer reveals himself just prior to the harp solo with a second guitar following seconds later with a turnaround – and Stefan Wirz tells us that these guys playing those instruments were Earl Phillips and Eddie Taylor, Jimmy’s most frequent and probably most simpatico accompanists. Jimmy sounds pensive: perhaps he’s pondering the meaning of the first line which is repeated as per 12 bar blues norm – “Little rain fallin’, little cloud keep away the time”. That was from hand transcription. Doing the same with the Stones version reveals Mick (in the same key) singing something slightly more like “Little rain fallin’, little clock can’t weigh the time”. The second, of course, is only an interpretation itself and neither seems to make a lot of sense. Further verses, of which there are few, tend towards the cheery apart from a reference to “underneath the deep blue sea” at the close after which the plug is abruptly pulled. A mystery, but one that’s part of the charm of the overall record.

For my final selection I’m going right back to the beginning and High And Lonesome in 1953. I’d love to be able to say that this was Jimmy bringing together Mississippi/Chicago blues and country music – Wiktionary tells us that the phrase “high and lonesome sound” denotes “An expressively emotional, powerful and earthy style of musical expression associated mainly with bluegrass, old time and country music” – but it wasn’t. As it appears in the first line, “High and lonesome” is a descriptive phrase Jimmy is using directly to his lady’s face, as in:

High and lonesome, be on your merry way
High and lonesome, be on your merry way
Well now, you’re back a-wanting me and I’m not gonna let you stay

As a musical experience, Jimmy’s first record comes across as more boisterous than much of his later fare and is perhaps more in line with how he would have sounded in a rowdy club setting. But if you were a total neophyte, what a way to start listening to the man.


And Finally

For the vast bulk of the coming together of this document, particularly during and after the striking out of certain titles due to the size constraints, I had it in mind to briefly mention other tracks from Jimmy’s record oeuvre but at the last minute I stayed my hand, thinking that to do that could emphasise the repetition angle. In addition, I feel that to stick largely to the ten selections plays to the minimalist approach favoured by Jimmy as in, doing a lot with not a lot is more in tune with his approach.

But I have two more things to say:

Jimmy/Mama wasn’t/weren’t bad lyricists. Okay, not perhaps at the exalted heights of Willie Dixon but he – and for simplicity’s sake I’ll keep it singular and male – could string together words and phrases at a level that was well beyond many blues performers:

Well the sun is shinin’ on both sides of the street / They could drop me in the ocean, I’d swim to the bank / Oh go ahead, pretty baby, a-honey, knock yourself out / Six o’clock in the mornin’, you come walkin’ home / I want to love, love you baby, like a soft, soft summer breeze / Goin’ to New York, get on the New York quiz show, gotta win myself all o’ that dough / I went down in Virginia, honey, where the green grass grows / Hush, hush, yakky-yak all the time / Don’t pull no subway, I’d rather see you pull a train / Wait a minute babe, don’t you bip or bop / I found true love, one worth waitin’ for, I’m gonna sign it to a contract, you won’t find one little flaw / I told ya I love you, stop drivin’ me mad / Aw shucks, hush your mouth, baby you knockin’ me out / Go to work in the morning, you know, ’bout 4 o’clock, uh, if the mule don’t holler, yeah, I don’t know when to stop / Well now ya don’t treat me darlin’, like you used to do

The final words go to Keith Richards; they’re from the same book and amplify his earlier statement:

“But he understood the magic of repetition, of monotony, transforming itself to become this sort of hypnotic, trancelike thing. We were fascinated by it, Brian [Jones] and I. We would spend every spare moment trying to get down Jimmy Reed’s guitar sounds.”


Jimmy Reed poster 3


1. Mathis James Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi on September 6, 1925. He learned harmonica and guitar from childhood friend Eddie Taylor (though has been reported as saying he was self taught). His did his draft in the US Navy between 1943 and 1945. On his discharge he married his girlfriend Mary, who picked up the sobriquet Mama Reed at some indeterminate time and never relinquished it. The pair moved to Gary, Indiana where Jimmy found a day job at Armour Foods meat processing plant and attempted to supplement his income by using his musical skills in clubs and bars in Gary and Chicago – the city centres are only 25 miles apart. During this timeframe he developed his technique based on playing guitar and harmonica on a neck-based rack at the same time. In the early fifties he got himself a regular gig in the Gary Kings along with singer/guitarist John Brim and it was via the drummer in the band, Albert King – see earlier reference – that he landed his first recording contract with Vee-Jay Records of Chicago, having failed an audition with Chess.

The hits then flowed with Eddie Taylor often appearing with Jimmy both on record and on stage. However, such success had largely faded by the time the Brit R&B boom started in the early sixties. Shame, Shame, Shame was his last R&B Chart hit in 1963 apart from a late one-off with Knockin’ At Your Door (on Exodus) in 1966. Jimmy was let go when Vee-Jay collapsed that same year and appeared briefly on a variety of labels in the years that followed.

Jimmy’s ravages from alcohol started relatively early on in his career and what AllMusic refer to as a “back-breaking road schedule” to promote his hits, didn’t help. He was prone to forget lyrics when he was recording and Mama Reed often used to sit behind him in the studio whispering the phrases in his ear. Eddie Taylor, too, sometimes had to direct Jimmy what to do and when, in terms of guitar and harmonica. In ’57 his health took a further turn for the worse when he developed epilepsy, initially without getting proper medical attention. Although the epilepsy eventually got addressed properly, and he managed to stop drinking, he died of what was recorded as respiratory failure in 1976, just short of the age of 51.

2. The original US version of Jimmy Reed At Carnegie Hall was a double LP, something of a rare beast in those days. The second disc was an attempt at a ‘best of’ compilation. Quite why Stateside decided to effectively strip off the second slab of vinyl when they released the album in the UK I don’t know – perhaps they just weren’t ready packaging-wise for such an innovation.

3. The grouping of musicians in Southern Louisiana that I referred to include names like Lazy Lester and Jimmy Anderson who recorded out of Jay Miller’s studio in Crowley, LA and whose records were released on the Excello label. Collectively, the music these musicians made has been labelled ‘swamp blues’. Regarding their output, the Wiki writer states, “It is characterized by simple but effective guitar work and is influenced by the boogie patterns used on Jimmy Reed records and the work of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters.”

4. In terms of targeting sales of Baby What You Want Me To Do, Vee-Jay were happy to aim at the teenage pop sector (and black or white didn’t matter) as evidenced by the track’s appearance on Vee-Jay LP 1021, entitled Teen Delights, alongside doo wop goodies for followers to drool over from the likes of the Moonglows, the Flamingos and the Magnificents. This information was found in the Stefan Wirz sessionography, which I should add is illustrated and there’s a very suitable picture of this LP sleeve.

5. I hadn’t come across the name of Gerard Herzhaft before but the Discogs writer describes him as a “French author, historian, musician, musicologist, journalist and ex librarian born 8 November 1943 in Meyzieu (Rhône)” who “specialized in blues, country and american music”. They also list blues vocal records by him plus productions. I was pleased to find that the small but to my eyes, accurate, section on Jimmy Reed in his “Encyclopedia Of The Blues” could be Googled in its entirety.

6. According to Stefan Wirz, a personage even more famous than Albert King appeared on a small number of Jimmy’s records (including At Carnegie Hall) with that gentleman being Curtis Mayfield. Though I’ve not seen confirmation that this was the Curtis Mayfield, there are a number of factors which make it most likely:

* Both Reed and Mayfield operated out of Chicago over a coincidental and lengthy period,
* Both recorded for Vee-Jay – the Abner label that the Impressions were on was a subsidiary of Vee-Jay (and we’ve already come across the gent who gave rise to that name) and Falcon was the first name of the Abner label which had to be changed because it was already in use,
* Mayfield is known to play guitar, and a bass guitar or even bass (which Wirz said he played on 1960 session(s) for Reed), wouldn’t be too big a leap,
* The author of the Wiki article on Mayfield states that “he grew up admiring blues singer Muddy Waters and Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia”.

7. The reason for Jimmy’s first record, High And Lonesome, appearing on Chance Records rather than Vee-Jay in the clip selected, was because, at the time, Vee Jay felt that Chance were established whereas they (Vee-Jay) were not – according to 45 cat, High And Lonesome was their first release – so a distribution deal was agreed with Chance.

8. To bring the Jimmy Reed saga up to date and to explain why Jimmy might have gained some new fans in relatively recent months, I would draw the reader’s attention to a song without which I feel that this document would be incomplete. The song, Goodbye Jimmy Reed, appears on Bob Dylan’s 2020 album, Rough And Rowdy Ways. As the writer of a fine Wiki entry explains, the number is both a tribute to a man who “Dylan has long admired” and more than that. The latter is explored by Tony Attwood in the Untold Dylan site but I’d add a few words to Tony’s erudite and flowing addition to the vast world of Dylan commentary.

Firstly to comment on the “three beat bar” section: I don’t think the fact that Reed himself was sometimes wont to add or subtract the odd bar in a song though not to the same extent as his label-mate (for a spell), John Lee Hooker (with whom such practices were seen as part of the fascination with the man’s music), should be ignored. Regular accompanists to Jimmy, Eddie Taylor being the prime example, were so used to it that they just went with the flow. Hence this device from Bob could be a reminder of Jimmy’s musical practices.

Secondly, regarding the “cause I didn’t play a guitar behind my head” section, I think that Bob is making the point that Jimmy didn’t resort to this sort of showmanship unlike peers including T-Bone Walker, Guitar Slim and Buddy Guy. He didn’t feel any need to. He let his music speak for him. As has Bob who, as we all know, has resisted attempts to explain his songs over the years. That’s an odd comparison but you never know with Bob.

9. There are very few live Jimmy Reed clips on YouTube and those that are there are not of the highest quality. The one below features Jimmy singing and playing Big Boss Man backed by Eddie Taylor (guitar), Jerome Arnold (bass) and J.C. Lewis (drums). The clip is from the American Folk Blues Festival in Cologne on 14th October 1968. The positioning of a screen on which are projected close-ups of the performers behind them doesn’t help with the visual fidelity.


Jimmy Reed poster 1



Jimmy Reed (1925-1976)


Jimmy Reed Illustrated Discography

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Jimmy Reed (1991)

Jimmy Reed biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #955


  1. David Lewis
    May 12, 2021

    Another great toppermost. In his memoirs, Keith Richards mentions Jimmy Reed a fair bit, as you have confirmed here. My favourite thing Keith says about Jimmy is this bit, which really does explain his brilliance:
    “When he gets to it, Jimmy Reed produces a haunting refrain, a melancholy dissonance. Even for non–guitar players, it’s worth trying to describe what he does. At the 5 chord, instead of making the conventional barre chord, the B7th, which requires a little effort with the left hand, he wouldn’t bother with the B at all. He’d leave the open A note ringing and just slide a finger up the D string to a 7th. And there’s the haunting note, resonating against the open A. So you’re not using root notes, but letting it fall against a 7th. Believe me, it’s (a) the laziest, sloppiest single thing you can do in that situation, and (b) one of the most brilliant musical inventions of all time.”

  2. Ilkka Jauramo
    May 12, 2021

    About awfully quiet audience. I ordered my first blues album from Finnish Blues Society in mid-sixties. It was an odd compilation of studio recordings where audience was added afterwards; hand-clapping, shouting, applause. Jimmy Reed’s ‘Shame Shame Shame’ was one of the songs. The album is long gone now … shame shame shame! Thanks for telling Jimmy’s story.

  3. Andrew Shields
    May 12, 2021

    So hard to capture the style of someone who was so utterly distinctive – but you do it brilliantly here. Superb Toppermost…

    • Dave Stephens
      May 13, 2021

      Thanks for those comments gentlemen. I have to say that this was one I enjoyed heartily and maybe a bit of that came through. And David, re. that quote from Keef, I very nearly did include it but held back because (a) I thought another statement from chairman Richards might be overload, and (b) I did find other writers commenting on just that “trick move” by Jimmy and although Keith did the best job in terms of descriptive work, I felt that there was a risk of losing the average reader.

      • David Lewis
        May 13, 2021

        Hi Dave. My putting the quote in was merely to show how your article reminded me of that quote. I didn’t think your article was deficient in any way. Although Jimmy isn’t a favourite of mine I have acknowledged his genius and your article moved the needle significantly for me.

  4. John Chamberlain
    May 13, 2021

    Another enjoyable Toppermost. Thanks.
    I remember seeing Jimmy Reed at the Bure Club near Christchurch on the south coast. I think the Yardbirds were on the bill.
    No doubt Cal and/or Merric will add the details as I’m sure they were there, too. It was a very long time ago!

    • Merric Davidson
      May 13, 2021

      It was November 1964 John. This website suggests it was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers on the bill with Jimmy Reed that night. Long time ago as you say. Great times.

      • Ilkka Jauramo
        May 14, 2021

        About John Mayall & co. – British blues is still underrated. Even if someone said something like “British youngsters wanted to play the blues so bad. . . and they did”.

  5. Steve Paine
    May 25, 2021

    Well done, sir. Reed was one of my buddy, Lonnie Mack’s, favorites. Lonnie covered memorable versions of “Baby What’s Wrong?” and “Baby, What You Want Me to Do” early in his career and performed them often throughout his career. I’m embarrassed to say I was almost unaware of Reed except through Lonnie. He made sure I “got educated”. Thanks for this piece.

  6. Dave Stephens
    Jun 2, 2021

    Thanks Steve. Lonnie had good taste. I posted his “Baby What’s Wrong” on Twitter last night. It reminded me that Lonnie didn’t just do covers; he made any song he covered, a Lonnie song.

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