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Jimmy Reed

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Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed (September 6, 1925 – August 29, 1976) was an American blues singer, guitarist, harmonica player and songwriter, notable for bringing his distinctive style of blues to mainstream audiences. Reed was a major player in the field of electric blues. His lazy, slack-jawed singing, piercing harmonica and hypnotic guitar patterns were one of the blues’ most easily identifiable sounds in the 1950s and 1960s, and had a significant impact on many rock and roll artists who followed, such as Elvis Presley, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) and the Rolling Stones.

Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi, in 1925, learning the harmonica and guitar from Eddie Taylor, a close friend. After spending several years busking and performing in the area, Reed moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1943 before being drafted into the US Navy during World War II. In 1945, Reed was discharged and moved back to Mississippi for a brief period, marrying his girlfriend, Mary “Mama” Reed, before moving to Gary, Indiana to work at an Armour & Co. meat packing plant. Mama Reed appears as an uncredited background singer on many of his songs, notably the major hits “Baby What You Want Me to Do”, “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City”.
By the 1950s, Reed had established himself as a popular musician and joined the “Gary Kings” with John Brim, as well as playing on the street with Willie Joe Duncan. Reed failed to gain a recording contract with Chess Records, but signed with Vee-Jay Records through Brim’s drummer, Albert King. At Vee-Jay, Reed began playing again with Eddie Taylor and soon released “You Don’t Have to Go”, his first hit record. This was followed by a long string of hits.

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