Jimmy Reed: Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall

The blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll. Jimmy Reed was one of the few visionaries to make it happen, as this outstanding 23-song compilation proves.

Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall

Label: Shout! Factory
First date: 1961/09/01
US Release Date: 2007/11/13
UK Release Date: Available as import

Shrill country-blues harmonica, a languorous shuffle-groove and raw emotional, half-mumbled vocals -- there are those who accuse Jimmy Reed of being a one-trick pony. When that one trick still makes the hairs on your arms stand up well over forty years later, however, it's no wonder the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored the Delta bluesman by naming his recordings "Bright Lights Big City" and "Big Boss Man" as two of the 500 songs that laid the foundations of rock 'n' roll. As Neil Young eloquently described the singer, "Jimmy Reed proved that it doesn't matter what you play, it's the feeling. 'Cause he played the same thing almost every fuckin' song ...".

Possibly that's what made the Mississippi sharecropper's son so popular with crossover audiences and a thorn in the side of "serious" blues purists: his instantly recognizable, simple approach and easy accessibility. Here was a musician who lacked the gutsy, vocal delivery of Howlin' Wolf (in fact there were times when Reed, a chronic alcoholic, relied upon his wife and longtime backing singer Mary "Mama" Reed to whisper the lyrics to songs he'd composed but forgotten) and the dexterous guitar playing of Muddy Waters, yet scored more R&B chart toppers than either legendary bluesmen. Between 1955 and 1961, after Chess Records, the R&B label of choice at the time, had already decided to pass on the artist, Reed had an astonishing 13 Top 20 R&B hits for the then fledgling Vee-Jay Records, 11 of which made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts.

Initially released as a double album by Vee-Jay in 1961 to capitalize on this success, Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall is an outstanding 23-song compilation of all the hits and then some (though neither live as the title suggests nor recorded anywhere near Carnegie Hall). In fact, the first 12 numbers were actually "recreated" stereo tracks laid down at Bell Sound in Manhattan, purportedly taken from a set list Reed used when headlining the Blues at Carnegie Hall festival the previous May, while the remaining cuts constitute a "Best of" collection taken from earlier mono recordings and given the stereo treatment. Whatever marketing ploys were initiated, however, make no difference to the excellent quality of the music and its subsequent importance as a touchstone recording for scores of artists including British bands like the Rolling Stones and the Pretty Things, not to mention a diversity of homegrown talent such as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll", Elvis Presley, and the "Queen of Soul", Aretha Franklin.

Leading off with one of the above-mentioned building blocks of rock 'n' roll, "Bright Lights Big City", Reed's reigned-in electrified backporch blues, backed by regular rhythm guitarist Eddie Taylor, a boyhood friend and longtime musical collaborator who taught Reed his first guitar licks, shimmers with Delta heat, while "Mama" Reed stands in the shadow of his guitar backing up her man.

Elsewhere, the prolific and influential Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon provides throbbing, rock-steady, slap bass on "I'm a Love You" and the outstanding "Big Boss Man", while the soon-to-be legendary blues guitarist Albert King plays drums, keeping the beat on both "You Don't Have to Go" and "Boogie in the Dark". Then, as Reed's caterwauling harmonica and high-pitched drawl introduces the listener to one classic up-tempo blues tune after another, you slowly come to realize Muddy Waters was right all along: "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll". And if this collection proves anything, it's that Reed was one of the few visionaries to make it happen.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.